Derby County’s first Christmas game was at home to Bolton Wanderers at the County Ground on Boxing Day 1888. Until Bolton were relegated in 1899 they provided the Christmas opposition every year; in 11 meetings, the Rams won six to Bolton’s one. Derby’s first league game on Christmas Day was in 1894, a 4-1 win at Sheffield United. Two years later, the first Christmas Day fixture at the Baseball Ground saw Steve Bloomer hit a hat-trick in an 8-1 win against West Bromwich Albion.
Derby’s first Christmas game after the war was played at the Baseball Ground on Boxing Day 1946, with Everton the visitors. The Rams won this Division 1 tie 5-1, a surprise perhaps as they had lost the away fixture 4-1 just 24 hours earlier. Other than the date, there is no indication in the match programme that this was a Boxing Day game. The eight page issue, costing two pence, contains only adverts, the teams and the fixtures. The one article of note, ‘Amusing incidents from the football field,’ unfortunately is not amusing enough to recount.
Still in Division 1, the Rams drew 1-1 with Tottenham Hotspur on Christmas Day 1950. The 8 page issue was the first to feature the special ‘Seasons Greetings’ cover, a design used by several other clubs including Wolves. Inside there are pen-pics of the Spurs players along with a player profile of Derby’s Hugh McLaren, with team lineups in the centre pages in the gung-ho 2-3-5 formation of the time. “How to get to the Baseball Ground car park” includes a map and directions – apparently there were three car parks capable of holding a total of 1,300 vehicles.
The Christmas fixtures in 1962 were a complete non-event as all of Derby’s games were called off due to the big freeze. In fact, the Rams did not play a league game for two months between December 22 and February 23, although they did host Peterborough in the FA Cup fourth round on 4 February. Consequently, the team had to play 18 games between 2 March and 18 May, including three games in four days. Little wonder Derby finished 18th in Division 2 that season.
A programme was produced for the 1962 Boxing Day game against Walsall, despite it being called off. The scarce 16 page issue, costing 4d, has the ‘Seasons Greetings’ cover, again containing little readable content.
The same scenario occurred two years later on Boxing Day 1964 when Derby were due to play Rotherham at home. The match was postponed due to bad weather with a 16 page programme available, also considered a rare issue. Still priced at 4d, this time the cover was the normal design for the season featuring a drawing of half a player on the left-hand side.
Fast forward to 21 December 1968 and Clough and Taylor’s team, still in Division 2, were top of the league with 29 points from 22 games going into the match against Portsmouth. The 16 page programme, costing nine pence, was the last to feature the ‘Seasons Greetings’ cover which is identical to the 1962 Walsall postponed issue. Inside, Chairman Sidney Bradley stated that “We all hope it may be ‘Promotion Year’ but we must not overlook the fact that there are nineteen matches still to play, and they are all tough at the top.” In the end, Derby won their last nine games on their way to promotion, keeping seven clean sheets in the process, scoring 21 and conceding only two.
The most eventful home game involving Derby over Christmas is probably the 4-4 draw against Manchester United on Boxing Day 1970. A crowd of 34,068 saw the Rams take the lead in the second minute from Mackay’s free kick and they went into half time 2-0 up after Wignall scored following another Mackay free kick. United then scored three times, before Hector equalised and Gemmill gave Derby the lead, with Kidd equalising for United. Derby finished 9th in Division 1, one place and one point behind United, before winning the league for the first time the next season.
Les Green, the goalkeeper, was blamed for some of the goals and, after 136 consecutive games, it proved to be his last game for Derby before Colin Boulton stepped in. In ‘For Pete’s Sake,’ Wendy Dickinson’s excellent biography of her father Peter Taylor, it is stated both Taylor and Dave Mackay once agreed that the 5’8 Green was only just short of international class but that he had some “serious personal problems.” Taylor said he “saw him shaking at half-time that Boxing Day. We were 2-0 up and I said to Brian that something was wrong with Greeny ‘upstairs’.” The book also details the ‘ugly altercation’ that followed between Green and Clough, before he moved to South Africa. Green died in 2012 aged 70.
The programme from this famous game features John O’Hare and Alex Stepney on a green cover, with the same design used for many of the home games that season. The 20 page issue, costing one shilling/5 new pence is a big improvement from the programmes of the previous decade. There is a team photo of the United players, as well as pen pictures. A short match report and four large photographs summarise the previous home game, a 2-4 loss to West Ham, and a full page player profile features Alan Durban.
The editor, David Moore, writes an article on Derby’s forthcoming FA Cup 3rd round game away to Chester on January 2. There is even space for an interesting tale about Colin Boulton (reserve goalkeeper at the time) whose car was stolen a month previously. He managed to get it back, complete with the undisturbed joint of lamb on the back seat!
A year later, on 18 December 1971, an Alan Hinton brace defeated Everton 2-0 in front of 27,895. This of course was Derby’s first Championship winning season, the team finishing just one point ahead of Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City. This was also the first season of the Ram newspaper programme with the Everton edition costing 7p and consisting of 12 pages. Inside, Peter Taylor discusses the need for a mid-season break. The rigours of 42 league games plus cup matches, Taylor said, can leave players drained and unable to unwind when away; “I have watched them at the bar, in groups on the beach, and been emotionally affected as I saw them struggle, consciously, to relax. They are like zombies…set-faced, and very much in a mental rut.”
December 27 1986 saw the Rams defeat Barnsley 3-2 with goals from Gee, Gregory and Davison. Arthur Cox masterminded two back to back promotions to return Derby to the top flight at the end of the 1986/1987 season. The cover of the 28 page programme, costing 70 pence, features a cartoon of several Rams players in the team bath with Rudolph. Santa is standing in front of the bath wearing just a towel – I’m sure you can make your own jokes!
Inside, the old programme feature is from 31 August 1957 with a short match report of Barnsley’s 4-1 win. The centre poster is of Gary Micklewhite and the subject of Player Spotlight was Phil Gee. In Rampost, a letter to the club from a season ticket holder was printed entitled ‘Cherry Outburst angers fans’. This concerned the Rams’ former goalkeeper Steve Cherry’s “antics and fist waving” when he played for Plymouth against Derby two weeks previously. The fan claimed Cherry received “banter” from fans because of “his attitude when he played here for Walsall against us last season” due to his reaction to a little mild ‘Rams reject’ ribbing.
The cover of Derby’s Boxing Day game in 1988 at home to Liverpool (36 pages, 80p) features a selection of Christmas cards received from “Barclays League friends”. Dave Cartwright, the Ram programme Distribution Manager, describes how he organised 50 programme sellers and dealt with 500 postal subscribers. Sales were 8,000 on average, but 15,000 for games against Manchester United or Arsenal – figures likely to be much higher than many clubs today. Inside View interviews Nigel Callaghan and Rampost featured a letter from Alex Donaldson in Allestree, who asked readers to help him complete his programme collection back to 1966.
The league table showed Derby fourth after 16 games behind Norwich, Arsenal and Millwall, and the Rams were to eventually end the season in fifth place – their highest league position since finishing fourth in 1976. Ian Rush scored the only goal for Liverpool in a 1-0 win.
The programme from the game against Sunderland on 23 December 1995 featured Ron Willems on the cover, and cost £1.50 for 40 pages. The Rams won 3-1 to go top of Division 1 and finished the season in second place to achieve promotion to the Premier League for the first time. In his notes, Jim Smith comments on Marco Gabbiadini’s role as captain against his old club in place of Van Der Laan who was suspended.
Programmes of the Past featured images from Derby v Sunderland on 31 August 1929 and the centre page poster shows Stimac, Willems and Van der Laan with ‘Merry Christmas’ written in both Dutch and Croatian.
The Boxing Day 1997 game against Newcastle (52 pages, £1.80), shows Stefano Eranio on the cover. Inside Jim Smith says goodbye to Aljosa Asanovic, who was sold to Napoli, and thanks him for his contribution to Derby’s first season in the Premier League. The five non-EC player ruling at the time meant that only three players from Stimac, Asanovic, Solis, Wanchope and Poom could be selected in matchday squads. With the 1998 World Cup in France coming up it proved a good decision by Asanovic as he played a key role in helping Croatia to third place.
The player profile/poster featured Eranio, and Old Moore’s Anorak’s covered the psychology of home and away form. ‘Mad for It’ featured Mat Allen, a Rams fan living in Dortmund after joining the army in 1991. A collector of Rams memorabilia, the article shows an impressive collection of framed photographs, programmes and other items in a display case.
This article was first printed in issue 3 of Derby County Memorabilia (later renamed Derby County Memories) in December 2013. If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy copies of the magazine? See the About section for further details.