Tim, a true gentleman, was probably too nice a person to bring the success that Rams fans craved, not helped by the board of directors at the time, seemingly content to see their cash-strapped club coast along in the old Second Division. His five year tenure might have been a frustrating one for him but he left behind a huge legacy. As well as bringing the splendid Alan Durban to the Baseball Ground, Tim was responsible for signing Kevin Hector, arguably the most popular and influential player in the club’s history.
Although I have been following the Rams regularly since the mid-1950s with its numerous ups and downs, some of the happiest days in the sixty-odd years were spent standing on the terraces in the middle tier of the Normanton End directly behind the goal watching Tim Ward’s modest Derby County side ploughing through the Baseball Ground in the old Second Division between 1962 and 1967. By the time the popular ex-player had arrived from Grimsby Town to take over from the legendary Harry Storer, the surge of enthusiasm amongst supporters that had greeted Storer’s remarkable feat of winning promotion back to Division 2 at the second attempt in 1958 had all but disappeared. Any chance of promotion back to the top flight after ten years in the wilderness seemed remote. The best we could realistically expect was the dreaded consolidation and if the Rams were going to get out of the old Second Division the most likely route was downwards. There was very little cash available and although the board of directors may have had the best interests of the club at heart, there appeared to be a distinct lack of ambition at a lethargic Baseball Ground. It might sound rather depressing today but it wasn’t to us at the time. We loved every minute of it and the players, almost without exception, were heroes.
Tim Ward had been an extremely popular player at the Baseball Ground from 1937 to 1951 although, sadly, his career had been interrupted by the Second World War which was to some extent responsible for him missing out on the 1946 Cup Final. A stylish wing-half, equally comfortable wearing the number 6 shirt at left-half before the War or at right half after the resumption of football in 1946, he had been good enough to win two England caps. Tim was transferred to Barnsley in 1951 and a couple of years later was appointed manager at Oakwell. It must have been a great disappointment to everyone concerned when the South Yorkshire outfit were relegated in bottom place 15 points adrift at the end of his first season but two years later, he was defying the pessimists by guiding them back to the Second Division. Sadly, another relegation followed four years later at the end of the 1958-59 season and shortly afterwards he was appointed manager at Grimsby Town. It was after guiding them to promotion in 1962 that Derby came in for him.
Harry Storer had done an excellent job at the Baseball Ground but after finishing 16th at the end of the 1961-62 season he decided it was time to retire and in came Ward to replace him. There had been over fifty applications for the manager’s job at the Baseball Ground in June 1962 but in the end the directors opted for Tim Ward. He was a popular choice to take over from Storer as Derby County manager, particularly amongst older fans who had watched the ex-England international as a player before and just after the War. Although it was definitely time to make a change, the sixty-five year-old Storer would be a hard act to follow. In today’s parlance his departure would probably be greeted with words ‘he had taken them as far as he could’. One thing was fairly certain; the style of play would be different. Storer had always favoured the muck or nettles approach typified best of all by his preference for the combative, rugged Les Moore to the elegant, cultured Ray Young at centre-half. The likes of full-back Geoff Barrowcliffe and the versatile Jack Parry, both highly respected and firm favourites of mine, were coming towards the end of their long and distinguished careers with the club and although there were a couple of promising youngsters in Ron Webster and Mick Hopkinson coming through, the squad as a whole was decidedly thin. Most worrying though had been the refusal in the close season of almost half of the squad to accept the £20 per week plus bonuses offered following the ending of the maximum wage a few months earlier. Not the ideal situation for Ward to inherit.
Like most of my chums at the time who supported the Rams, I had been counting down the weeks and days to the beginning of a new season since early July when the players reported back for pre-season training. I suppose we knew that challenging for promotion was highly unlikely but by the time the season started maybe there would be some sort of improvement now the problem over wages had been sorted out, although Curry apparently was still unhappy. The season began with a 3-3 draw away at Huddersfield with goals from Barrowcliffe (penalty), Curry and Hutchinson. Four days later on the Wednesday evening the Rams were at home to Stoke City. Burton, where I lived, had a healthy Derby County fan base and there was a large contingent at the railway station for the train to Derby via Peartree and Normanton where most of us would get off before making the short walk to the stadium. A crowd of over 24,000 packed into the Baseball Ground and considering a paltry 6,739 had turned up for Harry Storer’s last match at home to Brighton the previous April it was a remarkable attendance, albeit boosted by a good turn-out from Stoke. Out came the players a few minutes before the 7.30 pm kick-off (why was it ever changed to 7.45?) but it took an own goal from Stuart to scrape a 1-1 draw. A defeat at home to Cardiff the following Saturday was extremely disappointing but four days later two goals from Curry and one from Hutchinson was enough to earn a 3-3 draw in the return fixture at Stoke.
One of the better players during Ward’s time as manager at Oakwell had been John McCann so it was no surprise when the left-winger moved to the Baseball Ground in September and later in came left-back Bobby Ferguson and inside-forward Mick Cullen. After the high scoring draw at Stoke, only five goals in eleven games saw the Rams slide down the table. After losing at home to a Chelsea side that included Derby old-boy Frank Upton, they were bottom of the league with seven points from fifteen games. Relegation was already looking a distinct possibility and Ward needed to use all his experience to guide his side to safety. Derby ended the 1962-63 season in 18th place thanks to a large extent to a revitalised Curry and Hutchinson who eventually started to rattle in the goals on a regular basis after the campaign had been seriously disrupted by bad weather throughout January and most of February.
By now it was clear that if progress was to be made Derby had to bring in better players so the arrival of winger Gordon Hughes from Newcastle and Cardiff City’s Welsh midfielder Alan Durban before the 1963-64 season began seemed to indicate a welcome change of policy by the club. In a mixed start to the new campaign a glut of goals from Hutchinson saw the Rams off to a reasonable start although, worryingly, Curry seemed a shadow of the player who had thrilled his legions of admirers ever since his arrival from Brighton in 1960. The introduction of Player of the Year awards at the Baseball Ground was six years away, but if fans had been asked to cast their vote at the end of a campaign which saw the Rams finish in mid-table then keeper Reg Matthews would have won by a mile, the brilliant ex-England keeper putting in a series of sensational performances. As for Alan Durban, he was already looking like a shrewd signing although maybe even his greatest admirers wouldn’t have expected him to end the decade as the club’s most prolific goal scorer of the 60s with a total of 94 between the beginning of the 63/4 season and the end of the 69/70 campaign, many of them drifting in unnoticed rather like Martin Peters or, more recently, Frank Lampard. That’s how good he was.
Tim Ward’s first two seasons at the Baseball Ground might best be described as ones of consolidation although finishing in mid-table at the end of the 63-64 campaign represented a modest improvement over his first year in charge. But it was the sheer number of goals that Ward’s revamped side rattled in during the 64-65 season that made it one to remember, helped by a bonus scheme for goals scored. A year later in came Welsh international inside-forward Eddie Thomas from Swansea for just £6,000. It was a match made in heaven as Durban and Thomas proceeded to rattle in twenty-odd goals apiece. By now Curry, much to the dismay of his admirers (including me), had been shunted out to the left wing before his departure to Mansfield in February and Hutchinson wasn’t anywhere near as effective either but with footballer-cricketer Ian Buxton (Curry’s replacement) chipping in with a few at centre-forward, goals were pouring in.
Thomas, who had started off by scoring seven in his first six matches, was an inspired signing. Unfortunately, the directors expected more of the same which was easier said than done. Ward, who later said that he had to get permission from the directors to even buy a postage stamp, had probably made a rod for his own back when he signed him.
A highlight of the season was doing the double over a resurgent Coventry City who were really going places under the charismatic Jimmy Hill. Over 70,000 fans watched the two fixtures between the clubs in October and the attendance of 32,803 in a dramatic 2-1 victory for the Rams under the Baseball Ground floodlights was the highest in a League game for many years. I can still remember watching the match standing in middle tier of the Normanton stand with my dad who had been supporting the Rams since the early 1930s. He was particularly pleased for Tim Ward because he had been his favourite player. Six days later Derby completed the double against the Sky Blues with goals from Durban and Thomas. Ward’s revitalised side were third briefly at the end of October but even ninth place at the end of the season represented a significant improvement, particularly with the restriction on funds made available by the directors. Things were definitely looking up under Tim Ward.
The only new signing in the close season was winger Billy Hodgson from Leicester City. In a foreword in the yearbook for the 1965-66 season Sir Robertson King, club President, wrote ‘The groundwork of establishing a first class team has, at last, been accomplished and every credit must be given to Mr Ward and his colleagues for the remarkable progress they have made’ and chairman Harry Payne described ninth place as ‘a platform or springboard to an all-out effort to reach the target we all desire and nearly grasped – the First Division’. Ward had certainly delivered when it came to attacking, entertaining football. The Rams’ total of 84 League goals from 42 matches (exactly two per game) was the highest in the Division. Unfortunately, the defence with stalwarts like Barrowcliffe and Young past their best had been leaking almost as many.
Derby went one better the following season finishing eighth despite a disastrous start through to the end of September during which time they accumulated a paltry four points from ten games – two wins and eight defeats. By then alarm bells were well and truly ringing but a 2-1 victory at home to Bristol City at the beginning of October was followed by a remarkable run of results and by the end of November Ward’s men had shot up from twenty-first to tenth helped by the return of the ex- Derby favourite Frank Upton from Chelsea.
Tim Ward paid tribute to Geoff Barrowcliffe and Ray Young in the 1966-67 yearbook. ‘Both’ he wrote ‘had been a credit to the club, on and off the field’. The manager was already getting a reputation for encouraging young players such as full-back John Richardson, Bobby Saxton and Peter Daniel. He had been delighted with performances of the youngsters that he had brought into the team during the season. ‘A number of the young lads’, he said, ‘had grown up, almost overnight, helped by the experienced players around them’ and with new chairman Sam Longson assuring supporters that there would be no lack of effort on behalf of the directors, management and players everyone was looking forward to first match of the new campaign at home to Blackburn Rovers.
Derby had lost just once in the last seven games of the season and everyone, including Ward, was hoping that the new one would start off, as he put it ‘in the same mood’. It didn’t and by early September, after losing 4-3 at Ipswich, the Rams were bottom of the League with one point from six games. Maybe it was this that prompted ambitious new chairman Sam to persuade his notoriously parsimonious board to lash out around £40,000 for a young striker from Bradford (Park Avenue) by the name of Kevin Hector. Ward and chief scout Sammy Crooks, who had been watching Hector for some time, must have been as astonished as we were. Hector’s home debut in the 4-3 victory against Huddersfield was sensational. He even stole the headlines from Durban who scored a hat-trick. Later an illness to Hector prompted one director to enquire whether the club still had to pay him. Unfortunately, Derby had slipped down to 17th by the following May and the board announced that Ward’s 5-year contract which was running out would not be renewed. Not just that, the legendary Crooks (who had spotted Hector) and trainer Ralph Hann were unceremoniously sacked. No wonder the manager who had had to put up with all sorts of problems with the directors was upset.
Shortly afterwards Ward was offered the manager’s job at Carlisle United and spent 15 months up in Cumbria before opting for a well-deserved retirement. A few weeks after leaving Derby County, chairman Sam Longson was introducing a promising if controversial young manager from Hartlepool called Brian Clough. Just as Harry Storer five years earlier after retiring and being replaced by Tim Ward had said, it was time to make way for a younger man.
Tim Ward spent his retirement living in a modest cottage in the village of Barton under Needwood near Burton. An extremely popular and highly respected man in the local community, he was still playing for a local team in the Burton and District Sunday League until well into his sixties and was also turning out for the Ex-Rams All Stars, mainly to raise money for local charities. By then he had been instrumental in forming the Derby County Former Players’ Association becoming its first president. Happily, it still thrives today.
Those who played with him around that time said that he was still as enthusiastic about the game as he had been when playing for the Rams in his prime before and just after the War. One of them told me ‘The only difference was that you had to pass the ball straight to him instead of expecting him to sprint after it. Once he had the ball at his feet you could still see his sheer class shining through’. On match days at the Baseball Ground he could invariably be spotted standing on the pavement opposite the main entrance with some of his old teammates and friends, always happy to chat away to any stranger who had recognised him.
Tim Ward died in January 1993 aged 75. A year later his son, journalist Andrew Ward, wrote an extremely interesting book about his father called Armed with a Football – a Memoir of Tim Ward, Footballer and Father. Maybe he should have added two more words – true gentleman.
This article first appeared in issues 15 & 16 of Derby County Memories. If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy copies of the magazine? See the About section for further details.