The 1970s remains Derby County’s most glorious decade with two First Division championships and those great European nights. And it arguably contains their most consistent sequence of results in the FA Cup since formation, albeit without going all the way to the final – but they went so, so close.
Brian Clough’s Rams team had adapted well to life in the First Division having won promotion at the end of the 1968/69 campaign. Marshalled by the icon that was Dave Mackay, their league position was comfortable by the time the FA Cup third round started in January 1970. Their first task was a trip to Preston North End, who were on their way to relegation from the Second Division, and a 1-1 draw with Alan Durban scoring sent the teams back to the Baseball Ground for a replay four days later. Durban scored twice, as did Kevin Hector, to earn a 4-1 win and set up a home tie against Sheffield United, who were having a much better season in the second tier. They were no match for Derby, who eased to a 3-0 success thanks to John O’Hare’s brace and another goal from Durban, earning a place in the last 16 for the first time in 20 years.
Their opponents, Queens Park Rangers, were also a Second Division side but they made light of their status to win 1-0 at Loftus Road and send Clough’s men to what turned out to be their final defeat of the season. Draws against Chelsea and Burnley followed and then the Rams won eight of their last ten fixtures in the First Division. It was enough to see them finish fourth in the table and earn a UEFA Cup place – only for that to be taken away from them by a Football League disciplinary commission because of administrative irregularities.
They struggled to reach those heights in 1970/71 and were winless in over a month when they kicked off their FA Cup campaign away to Fourth Division Chester City. Frank Wignall and Archie Gemmill were on target in a 2-1 win, which was also the scoreline in the fourth round as Alan Hinton’s penalty and an O’Hare effort saw off top-flight opposition at the Baseball Ground in the shape of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Derby’s league form had picked up a bit by the time they headed to Goodison Park to take on Everton in the fifth round but they were undone by David Johnson’s goal in a 1-0 reverse. They did at least come back well after a poor March and ultimately finished ninth in the First Division, giving no real indication of what was to follow.
An unbeaten start which ran until mid-October set Derby up for a 1971/72 season that brought the ultimate prize to the Baseball Ground for the first time. But they appeared to be losing momentum the longer 1971 went on and a 3-0 defeat at Leeds United just after Christmas marked the continuation of a run alternating between victory and defeat stretching back to the start of November. The FA Cup gave the Rams a little respite and they kicked things off in the third round by easing past Third Division Shrewsbury Town at home thanks to two goals from Hector. There was a hat-trick for Alan Durban in round four and he was joined on the scoresheet by Hector, Hinton’s penalty, and full-back John Robson as Notts County – also of the third tier – were beaten 6-0.
So, Derby were into the last 16 for a third successive season, and they had a third successive home tie in 1971/72 when Arsenal headed to the Baseball Ground. The Rams had been beaten 2-0 in the First Division at Highbury just a fortnight prior to the fixture but put up a better fight this time around and earned themselves a 2-2 draw with Hinton again scoring from the spot and Durban also netting.
Arsenal’s two goals came from future Rams favourite Charlie George but in the replay at Highbury three days later, there were no goals at all despite extra time being played. The country was in the midst of strikes by the miners, causing power shortages and restrictions on electricity usage, meaning no football matches were taking place under floodlights. Instead, this replay was scheduled for the following Tuesday afternoon and attracted a huge crowd of over 63,000. And in the days of as many replays taking place as would be required, the teams then headed to a neutral venue – Leicester City’s Filbert Street – for another attempt to settle the tie. This time there was a winner, although the Gunners went through thanks to Ray Kennedy’s goal, leaving Derby to concentrate on the First Division.
They did that successfully, eventually rising to the top of the table and finishing their season off with a 1-0 home win over fellow challengers Liverpool on 1 May. Liverpool and Leeds both still had games to play so off the Rams’ players went on a holiday to Majorca with Peter Taylor, while Brian Clough went to the Isles of Scilly with his family. While away, they got the news they hoped for – Leeds and Liverpool had both slipped up in their last matches and the Rams were champions of England for the first time in their history.
It was a remarkable achievement for a club from a small Midlands town, as Derby was at that time, and the hope was that they could challenge for honours again the following season. They did so in the European Cup, reaching the semi-final stage in the club’s first venture into continental competition, and bowed out after a controversial defeat to Italian giants Juventus. In the First Division, they failed to mount a serious challenge to retain their title and, in the end, had to settle for finishing seventh. But in the FA Cup they looked like real contenders and also produced one of the most stunning comebacks you will ever see. Roger Davies had scored the only goal in a victory at Peterborough United in the third round and was starting to make a name for himself having broken into the team the previous November. The former Worcester City man then netted the equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth round. Highlights from that tie can be seen here.
So off the teams went to White Hart Lane for a replay, which Spurs led 2-0 at half-time before Kevin Hector got a goal back in the second half. Spurs extended their lead to 3-1 and looked to be heading through but a pair of smart finishes from Davies had the tie level again by the full-time whistle. Davies completed his hat-trick with a towering header in extra time and then set up Hector for the Rams’ fifth, wrapping up a remarkable comeback. Highlights are available here.
They were into the fifth round once again and this time hosted Queens Park Rangers at the Baseball Ground. Davies opened the scoring but this day was Hector’s as he scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win against the Londoners, setting up a quarter-final at home to Leeds United. Highlights of the QPR game are here.
The rivalry between Brian Clough’s Derby and Don Revie’s Leeds had been growing over recent years and was heightened by the Yorkshire side winning 3-2 at the Baseball Ground in an ill-tempered First Division affair to kick March off. Derby then followed that defeat up with a 1-0 reverse at Spartak Trnava in the first leg of their European Cup quarter-final, and there was a danger that their season might unravel quickly if they did not get their act together. A goalless draw at Leicester City did not help, and they then went a third successive match without finding the back of the net as they exited the FA Cup to Leeds. Peter Lorimer struck the only goal just before the half-hour mark, albeit with some controversy over a possible offside against Allan Clarke. Derby kept plugging away but their recent struggles in front of goal continued and they could not find the breakthrough, although they might have had a late penalty on another day. Highlights and analysis can be seen here.
You will see on the footage that Derby wore an all-blue kit and Leeds were in all-red owing to a curious FA rule, only in place from the quarter-finals onwards, which meant that both teams would have to play in their change kits in the event of a clash. A lengthy match report can be read here. The Rams did at least recover four days later, roared on by a vociferous Baseball Ground crowd, to beat Trnava 2-0 thanks to a pair from Hector and reach the semi-finals of the European Cup.
The whole landscape of Derby County Football Club had changed by the time the 1973/74 FA Cup third round got going. Brian Clough’s incendiary relationship with chairman Sam Longson had come to a head in the previous October, leading to the manager and his trusted assistant Peter Taylor resigning from their positions a little over a year after guiding the Rams to the First Division championship. There were protests from supporters and rumours of the players going on strike in a bid to force the pair’s return, such was their standing in everyone’s eyes. But the club’s board would not be swayed and had to appease the dissenters while also finding a character big enough to fill Clough’s shoes.
In the end there was only one man they could turn to – Dave Mackay, a galvanising figure at the Baseball Ground just a few years previously and by now Nottingham Forest’s manager. Mackay, assisted by Des Anderson, took a bit of time to stabilise the team and its performances and a goalless draw at home to non-league side Boston United in the third round of the FA Cup didn’t help matters. Boston had beaten Derby 6-1 at the Baseball Ground in the second round of 1955/56, a record scoreline for a non-league team against professional opposition in the competition. That they included six former Rams players in their team, including 1946 FA Cup winner Reg Harrison, just added to the drama of that result. The score was 6-1 again in the 1974 replay at York Street but this time Derby were not on the receiving end. Archie Gemmill scored a hat-trick for Mackay’s men, added to with a brace from Jeff Bourne and one from defender David Nish.
Once again, the United Kingdom was in the midst of industrial troubles because of the 1973/74 oil crisis, leading to the introduction of the Three-Day Week – which, much like 1972, meant that floodlit football was off the table so the replay at Boston took place on a Wednesday afternoon.
Indeed, the initial encounter had also kicked off early on the Saturday so that it could be finished before the lights would be needed. The Rams’ run in that season’s competition came to an end in the fourth round against Coventry City, however. A goalless draw at Highfield Road was followed by a 1-0 defeat after extra time in the replay, although Derby did recover to finish the season in solid form and end up coming third, despite the turmoil of the previous few months.
Mackay’s team were inconsistent at times during the first half of 1974/75 and had already exited the UEFA Cup to Velez Mostar before the turn of the year. In the FA Cup they were handed a third-round tie against Second Division Leyton Orient at their Brisbane Road home. And they were given an almighty test by the Londoners, who opened up a two-goal lead with only 16 minutes on the clock. Colin Todd pulled one back seven minutes before half-time and then levelled the tie on 82 minutes, before Francis Lee and Bruce Rioch saw Derby through 2-1 in the replay. Highlights of the first match can be seen here.
Bristol Rovers were beaten 2-0 in round four, Hector and Rioch scoring, only for old foes Leeds to put them out with a 1-0 win at the Baseball Ground in the last 16. But Derby only suffered two more defeats in their remaining First Division fixtures after that fifth-round tie and with one round of matches still to play, they were top of the table.
Their crowning as champions arrived a few days later while they were enjoying their end-of-season awards night, when results elsewhere meant that they could not be overhauled. A second title in four seasons was in Derby’s possession and Mackay had matched Clough’s achievement.
The summer signing of Charlie George from Arsenal proved inspired and the longer the 1975/76 season went on, the more it looked like Mackay might then go further than Clough and retain the championship. George scored twice to see off Everton 2-1 in the third round – watch the highlights here – and then the Toffees’ cross-city rivals Liverpool were next at the Baseball Ground for round four. Roger Davies scored the only goal of the game – see it here – and then Third Division Southend United were seen off in the last 16 by Bruce Rioch’s effort.
Derby then served notice of their credentials as not only title challengers but also potential FA Cup winners when they hosted Newcastle United in the quarter-final. Rioch thundered them into a two-goal lead and although the Magpies got one back before half-time, Henry Newton’s long-range stunner restored the Rams’ advantage in the second half. Newcastle did score a late second, but not before some silky football had put George through to score Derby’s fourth. Watch the highlights here.
Derby were through to the semi-final of the FA Cup for the first time since 1947/48 and would face Manchester United at Hillsborough for a place at Wembley – just as they had done 28 years previously. They were strong contenders for the Double but a couple of weeks before the semi-final, in a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City, Charlie George suffered a dislocated shoulder. George had already scored 24 goals in all competitions and would be ruled out for the rest of the season – a crushing blow to Mackay and his squad. The Rams’ loss of their talisman was huge and a goal in each half from Gordon Hill saw United through to the final, although that doesn’t tell the full story.
Derby were trailing 1-0 and pushing for an equaliser after the break when David Nish picked up the ball, lifted it over the United defence and ran on to it before going clean through into the box. As he lined up his shot, play was pulled back for offside. Several Derby players were behind the United defensive line as the ball was cleared out to Nish, although many felt that the left-back should have been allowed to continue as he was clearly going on his own rather than involving his team-mates.
It was harsh on Mackay’s men, and when Hill added his second of the afternoon with a deflected free kick it was game over. You can see highlights of the semi-final – the Rams’ last at the time of writing – here.
Derby limped towards the finish line and finished fourth in the First Division, seven points adrift of eventual champions Liverpool. The glory days were at an end.
Dave Mackay only lasted in his role until November 1976, sacked after a slow start to the new campaign, and Colin Murphy was installed in his place. Murphy’s biggest challenge across the season was winning matches. Derby’s total of nine league victories was the lowest in the 1976/77 First Division – even worse than the three relegated sides. Murphy’s side finished in a lowly 15th, only three points outside of the bottom three, although they did have a good run to the FA Cup quarter-final. They drew 0-0 at Second Division Blackpool in the third round before seeing them off 3-2 in the replay thanks to goals from Derek Hales, Leighton James and Charlie George. See the goals here.
Colchester United of the Fourth Division were next up and after a 1-1 draw at Layer Road – Hales on target – the Essex side were beaten 1-0 in a replay at the Baseball Ground by James’s goal. Second-tier Blackburn Rovers then headed to Derby in the last 16 and were dismissed on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline as George netted twice, one a penalty, and Kevin Hector added the other.
So, a quarter-final berth was Murphy’s but for the first time in their run the Rams came up against top-flight opposition – and their hopes of progress were ended. A trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton was their reward but goals from Bob Latchford and Jim Pearson sent them to a 2-0 defeat. You can see footage here.
That quarter-final defeat was Murphy’s last FA Cup tie in charge of the Rams and he was out of a job by mid-September in 1977 after a winless start to the new season. Tommy Docherty, who had been Manchester United’s manager when they beat Derby in the 1976 semi-final, was appointed as his replacement and soon set about dismantling what remained of the title-winning side. Only four of the champions took to the field for the third-round tie at home to Fourth Division Southend United, when an own goal was added to by Don Masson and Gerry Ryan in a 3-2 win.
Masson was again on target at home to Birmingham City in the fourth round, as was Gerry Daly, and when the Blues were beaten 2-1 Derby found themselves in the last 16 for the eighth time in the decade.
But that’s where it came to an end for Docherty’s team, both for the 1977/78 season and also the rest of the 1970s in terms of winning FA Cup matches. Bruce Rioch scored twice at home to West Bromwich Albion but the visitors added three goals of their own to go through to the quarter-final.
Docherty went on to take Derby to a 12th-place finish in 1977/78 but the decline was setting in and they finished 19th to end the decade, as well as losing 3-0 away to Second Division Preston North End in the third round of the FA Cup. A period that had brought the highest of highs had come to a flat ending – and there was much worse to follow.