Aston Villa

Aston Villa

In this series of articles, Steve McGhee takes a look at some of the programmes issued covering matches between Derby and those who, back in 1888, along with the Rams, were founder members of the Football League.

1924/25 Aston Villa v Derby County [reserves]

In pre-war days, when there were far fewer leisure activity options available, reserve team games often attracted attendances of over 10,000 at major clubs such as Villa. Accordingly, the programme issued for a reserve team game was often exactly the same format and size as that for a first team fixture.

Back on January 6th 1925, whilst the first team were in action against Portsmouth at the Baseball Ground, the Rams second XI travelled to Villa Park for a Central League fixture. Both clubs were in mid-table but that was no indication of entertainment value as, between them, they had already scored 81 goals for the season. And conceded 80!

Villa issued one of the best pre-war programmes and this one, number 605 (volume XV), is no exception. 16 pages in length, it contains detailed match reports, league tables from all 4 divisions, a “scoring board” (in other words, a H/T scoreboard) and some interesting articles on FA Cup second replays, the criticism the FA had received from the Australian media for charging £6,000 in expenses prior to their summer tour and “Things in General”, a look at the sporting world as a whole.

The programme is quite light on advertising content – what there is revolves around a couple of pantomimes at local theatres, a bespoke footwear specialist and train excursions to London run by both the Great Western Railway (14/2d day return) and LMS (13/10d day return). I wish I knew the score in this game but my records don’t stretch that far back. As the oldest programme I own for a Villa/Rams game, though, it remains rather special to me!

1930/31 Aston Villa v Derby County

On November 8th 1930 the Rams, lying in 4th place in the First Division, travelled to Villa Park for the game of the day against their hosts, who occupied 2nd place. Both teams were scoring goals for fun [66 between them in their 26 games] so an exciting tussle was forecast, the above-average crowd of 37,563 reflecting this. Few could have forecast the eventual result though, a 6-4 victory for Derby, which is still the highest aggregate goals scored in any game between the two clubs. Sammy Crooks with two, Johnny McIntyre, Jack Bowers, Jim Randall and George Stephenson were on target for the Rams.

The programme [no.806, volume XXI), cost 2d for 20 pages and includes, as the highlight, a full page photograph of the 18-man Derby first team squad. It also covers the upcoming friendly between the home side and an “Army F.A. Eleven”. There is also a whole page devoted to the history and current players of Derby, a “Between Ourselves” article which looks behind the scenes at Villa Park and a very sportingly penned report entitled “A Wonderful Match” which heaps praise upon league leaders Arsenal, who had recently beaten Villa 5-2. Railway advertising still predominates but there is now the inclusion of ads from numerous restaurants as well as a full page one devoted to “the new P&H bicycle lamp” costing just 4/6d. The 6-4 victory moved the Rams up to 3rd in the table, Villa dropping to 4th.

1933/34 Aston Villa v Derby County

Fast forward 3 years and another First Division match at Villa Park as 30,478 watched Sammy Crooks and Arthur Groves net the goals in a routine 2-0 win for 3rd placed Derby over their mid-table hosts.

The main reason I include this programme is to do with the rather unusual advertisement or the home club’s upcoming fixtures. If one looks closely, the border round the notice is made up of a series of little swastikas! Whilst well aware that the swastika had long been a symbol of peace, 1933 was the year when it took on somewhat more sinister overtones. I expect this was purely coincidental and most likely a standard printers design but, as a historical curio, and with the additional benefit of hindsight, it does rather stand out! And I do wonder whether anyone at Villa Park actually noticed? Another splendid Villa pre-war issue though, full of reading material and which also, as in 1930, included a full page photograph of the contemporary Rams squad. “Ye Aston Olde Silver Prize Band” were on hand at the ground to entertain the crowd at half-time.

1938/39 Derby County v Aston Villa

As 1938 drew to a close, there was real optimism that perhaps this was the season the Rams might finally secure the First Division title. Already 3 points clear at the top of the table, the 2-1 victory here, combined with Everton’s surprise defeat at Brentford saw Derby go into the New Year 5 points clear. And this in the days when there were only 2 points for a win. Ronnie Dix and Dai Astley scored the goals that day but the real surprise was the attendance – 25,759 appears healthy enough but was over 10,000 down on the home game with Everton 4 days earlier. Sadly, the Rams lost 11 of their remaining 19 games to eventually finish 6th, 13 points adrift of champions Everton.

The 16 page programme is the standard pre-war Derby issue with the lineups on the front page and the reading material limited to the “Here and There” article which is spread over a number of pages. Advertising predominates but is, in itself, interesting reading. Everything from local theatres and cinemas to tobacconists, from cafes specialising in sausage ‘n’ mash to ex-Ram Tommy Davidson’s new pub The Nottingham Arms on London Road. This was also the last full season that Derby would give their programme a number – in this case, Volume 10 number 23 implying, of course, that all reserve team home games had similar programmes issued.

1952/53 Aston Villa v Derby County

At the time nobody realised it, but it would be almost 25 years before the two clubs would meet again in a top-flight fixture. As 1953 came around, both clubs found themselves in the thick of a relegation battle. A slight upturn in form had seen the Rams slowly move up to 17th in the table with Villa two places beneath them. 27,425 turned up on a freezing cold afternoon to see Villa adapt better to the conditions underfoot and, minutes after missing a penalty, Tommy Thompson gave them the lead. Ray Middleton kept the home forwards at bay with a string of fine saves but late goals from Johnny Dixon and Ken Roberts sealed the points for Villa.

The programme issued for the game was number 20 in Volume 40 and 12 pages in length. Much smaller than its pre-war equivalent, it featured an artist’s representation of Villa Park on the cover – a cover Villa would use throughout the 50s and into the 60s.

As well as a mass of statistical information, there is a report on the club declining the invitation of a tour to Canada and the United States that summer. The directors felt that travelling 15,000 miles over a two month spell would “put too great a strain on the players”! Although there is a full page photograph of Villa winger Colin Gibson, what’s most noticeable is the complete lack of any pen-pictures or articles on the visiting team. A far cry from the issues before the war. Mitchell & Butlers beer still prominent amongst the advertisers, though.

1968/69 Derby County v Aston Villa

Nine years on from the 2-2 draw and, by now, Derby and Villa were moving in opposite directions. Villa were in their second season back in Division 2 and going through some fairly turbulent times with much player rotation and rapidly falling gates. The arrival of a certain T. Docherty as manager, just weeks after this game, would, some might say as a consequence, see the club slip down to Division 3 in the very near future. Derby, of course, would end up being promoted at the conclusion of this season.

It’s often forgotten that the Rams started off season 68/9 very slowly and were lying 16th in the table when Villa, three places below Derby, arrived at the Baseball Ground. A crowd of 23,723 saw the Rams win their second game of the season 3-1 thanks to two goals from Kevin Hector and one from Alan Hinton.

The programme, at 9d for 16 pages, is still somewhat sparse in terms of reading material. What there is relates to the visiting team as well as a “Spotlight on…” feature which, in this issue, gives some background on club secretary Malcolm Bramley who, at just 21 years of age, was far and away the youngest holder of that post in the League. He was also due to get married in 7 days’ time! There is also an interesting advert for “The Rams Shop”, where supporters could buy a range of items including, amongst many, a blazer badge at 55/-, a club tie at 17/6, a “Rammy Bank” for 9/6, a Derby County troll for 5/6 and even a club ashtray for 5/-. It goes without saying that many of these items would fetch good money on eBay nowadays!

This article was first printed in issue 4 of Derby County Memories (March 2014). If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy copies of the magazine? See the About section for further details.