Derby‘s second season in Division Three North saw them on more familiar ground. During the 1955-56 season they had played a number of clubs they had never previously met and visited grounds they had never played on before. Once again many of the programmes were simple affairs, but what they often lacked in reading matter, they more than made up for, in my opinion, with iconic and attractive covers. What a shame Derby persevered with their dull grey covers. Only the Christmas issues showed any artistic imagination. The Rams started their second season in the old Third Division North on 11 August with the traditional pre-season friendly game where the potential first X1 played the reserves. The game was billed as ‘Whites v Blues’ that year. Single sheet programmes were normally issued for these games, but I do not have a copy and don’t know if one exists for this game.
The season started well with a 5-3 home win over Gateshead in front of 19,049 spectators. The following Wednesday Derby drew 2-2 away at Chester. In those pre-floodlight days the kick-off was an unusual time of 6.30. The programme is a simple 8 page issue with the outer cover light green and the inner pages on white paper.
The following Saturday, Derby suffered their first defeat, losing 3-2 away at Bradford Park Avenue. Another 8 page programme with an attractive cover, printed green on white with a line drawing of a player in Bradford kit kicking a ball.
After this defeat Derby went on a 7 game unbeaten run, in which Ray Straw began a run of form which was to be a feature of the season. Starting with a goal in the away draw at Wrexham on 5 September, the former coal miner signed from Ilkeston Town in 1951 scored for 6 games in a row to equal the record for scoring in consecutive games for the Rams. The run came slightly off the rails at the end of September with defeats at Workington on 22 September and again away at Rochdale the following Wednesday. The programmes from these games are typical of the style of the time. Both feature players’ drawings in club colours on the cover, Rochdale in blue and Workington in red.
Interestingly Derby played 13 games before the end of September covering a 43 day period – a ratio of a game just over every 3 days. I could imagine today’s managers with their 25 player squads complaining of ‘tired players’ with a schedule like that. Derby used only 16 players during this period, with 5 playing in all 13 games and a further two only missing one game.
The poor form continued into October with two more consecutive losses away at Hartlepool and at home to Bradford City. The Hartlepool programme (then known as Hartlepools United, a throwback to the formation of the club following the merger of West Hartlepool with Old Hartlepool in 1908), was a simple 4 page issue, one of a number of away programmes that now prove hard to find. The game against Bradford City was the first of four games against the club that season, including one abandoned because of snow in February.
On 20 October the Rams returned to form with a 2-1 win against Mansfield Town. As was common throughout these two seasons, the attendance was comfortably the home team’s highest of the campaign. A crowd of 16,347 saw Derby win 2-1 – Mansfield’s average attendance that season was 9,040. Derby were clearly the star attraction in the division and were often boosted by a strong away following.
A 0-0 draw away at Accrington, where the typical Accrington Stanley programme of the time was issued, was the prelude to a successful month of November with 3 wins and one draw, including a 2-1 win over Bradford City at the Baseball Ground in the first round of the FA Cup. Ray Straw was back on form with 5 goals over this period. The winning run came to a halt with a 3-2 defeat away at Stockport County on 1 December. Stockport issued their usual large sized programme which has proved difficult to keep in good condition as most copies have been folded.
The following week Derby crashed out of the FA Cup to non-league opposition at the Baseball Ground for the second season in succession. Following on from the previous year’s disastrous 6-1 defeat at home to Boston United, Derby lost 3-1 at home to New Brighton. The Cheshire club had lost their league status in 1951 and now played their games in the Lancashire Combination. These embarrassing FA Cup results against non-league opposition barely 10 years after winning the competition were a real low point in the history of our club.
Following a 1-1 draw away at Gateshead, Derby recovered and over Christmas hit top form. They achieved home wins over Bradford Park Avenue (6-1) and Scunthorpe on Christmas Day (4-0). The programmes for these two games included the attractive Christmas cover that the club used for their festive games in the 1950s.
The run continued with the return game at Scunthorpe on Boxing Day where the Rams won 4-1. Derby ended 1956 with a 1-1 draw away at Darlington and were amongst the leaders at the top of the division. It was very tight with little to choose between Derby, Bradford City, Hartlepools, Workington and Accrington Stanley. The Rams would have to be on top form in the second half of the season if they were to achieve their ambition of a return to Division Two.
Derby began 1957 with a resounding 5-2 win away at Crewe Alexandra. The programme is a simple 8 page black printed on white issue. No frills but a simple line drawing on the cover.
They followed that up with two consecutive 3-3 draws, at home to Barrow and away at Hull City with Ray Straw hitting top form, his goal at Hull his 6th in 5 games. The Hull programme was a colourful item, with a more modern feel to it than many in the lower leagues at the time. It cost a penny more than most of the programmes in the Third Division North, at 4d.
The Rams entered February in second place, one point behind leaders Hartlepools United. However, they hit a poor patch with losses at home to Workington and away at Halifax Town. When Hartlepools visited the Baseball Ground on 16 February, Hartlepools were still top of the league, 3 points ahead of the Rams, who were in third place behind Workington. Derby won 2-0 and from that point onwards they were unstoppable. The Rams were unbeaten in the remaining 14 matches apart from an Easter Saturday loss away at Southport as they stormed to the top of the table.
The following Saturday Derby travelled in poor weather to Valley Parade to meet Bradford City. They nearly did not get there as their bus became stuck in the snow on a hill and the players had to walk the final half a mile, arriving only ten minutes prior to kick off. The game was played in a snowstorm and after 70 minutes with the score at 2-2 the referee abandoned the match. This probably worked out in the Rams’ favour as they were defending in the face of the strong snowstorm and could easily have lost the game had it continued to its conclusion. When the game was replayed on 3 April Derby won 2-0. Both programmes are fairly easy to find. They are similar internally, with 8 pages with no staple. The covers both have different and quite distinctive colourful drawings.
In between the two Bradford City games, Derby played away at Carlisle and Tranmere, winning both games. When Derby travelled to Tranmere, they were top of the table and would remain there for the rest of the season. The Tranmere programme had 12 pages and no colour but once again there was a nice line drawing on the cover. A 1-0 win with a penalty from Denis Woodhead consolidated Derby’s position at the top.
A 2-1 win away followed at Oldham on 6 April, and the programme was unusual for the time in that it was a large sized 8 page issue. The large size gave more opportunity for more content, but it was mainly taken up by adverts. The size makes it difficult to find copies in good condition as they are often folded or worn at the edges.
And so to the decisive Easter period which saw the Rams play three games in four days. The first was a short trip to Saltergate to play neighbours Chesterfield. The attendance on that Good Friday afternoon was 22,916, comfortably their highest of the season. Chesterfield’s average attendance that season was 9,989, and their second highest was for the home game against York City which attracted 16,106, illustrating the interest in the fixture. 2-0 down with only 15 minutes remaining, the Rams pulled back to gain a point in a 2-2 draw with goals from Glyn Davies and the ever reliable and proficient Ray Straw. The programme is a typical Chesterfield programme with a drawing of Saltergate. These changed little from the early 1950s through to the early 1970s.
The following day Derby made the trip to Haig Avenue, Southport. A surprise 3-2 defeat was a setback, but two days later on Easter Monday the Rams took a huge step towards regaining their place in Division 2 with a 7-1 win at home to Chesterfield before an attendance of 26,512. They confirmed their place as Third Division North champions with a 2-0 win at home to Southport before ending their season with a 1-1 draw away at York City.
The Rams finished top with 63 points, 4 points ahead of second place Hartlepools. They scored a record 111 goals, with Ray Straw scoring a record equalling 37 in 44 games. After the season ended, they went on a tour of Holland and played the following games; Utrecht on 22 May 1957, Tilberg on 25 May, Bondselftal on 27 May, Racing Club Haarlem on 29 May and Venlo on 30 May. I do not have any programmes from these games and I can’t recall ever seeing any.
Many people who are old enough to have followed the Rams in the old Third Division North look back on those two years with particular affection. I would imagine that having won the division they returned to the higher level with some optimism. Derby struggled over the next few years however, never really threatening to gain promotion to Division One. It would take the arrival of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, ten years later, for us to return to the highest level.
This article first appeared Derby County Memories magazine. Individual copies can be purchased on eBay for £1.99 post-free. A near complete collection of issues 2-21 can be purchased for £19.99 plus postage. For further details, see the About section.