It started from somewhere deep inside, or rather, it had never gone away. A feeling or a memory that was stored in my mind from being 7 or 8 years old. It was the feeling of happiness, the kind of feeling that you can only really get when you are a kid as once you are an adult you take most things for granted.
I was born in the 70s, quite literally just four days into the seventies. It was era of change and hardship in the UK, certainly in an engineering town like Derby (as it was back then). Derby became a city, Rolls Royce nearly went bankrupt, there were three day weeks, strikes and power cuts. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom – there was our football team. Derby County under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had taken the First Division by storm and were champions in 1971/72, and then again under Dave Mackay in 1974/75. By the end of the 70s under Tommy Docherty, then followed by Colin Addison, we had gone full circle and found ourselves back in the Second Division.
As a young lad it didn’t really matter what league you were in. If you were born in Derby and your Dad was from Derby then you supported Derby, it wasn’t optional and it is still that way now. I just missed out on the great days with my earliest memories of Charlie George being the idol of the Derby fans. So imagine my delight when in 1977 my dad came home and handed me a bag and said “is this any good to you ?” It was an Umbro shirt complete with the diamonds down the arm and the snorting Ram on the chest. I had a feeling of complete contentment, like something had come over me and taken me into its power as I took it out of its plastic bag and tried it on. It didn’t matter that it was as uncomfortable as hell – in my mind I had just become a Derby County player! Now some people reading this may cringe but that’s how it was back in the day when you had very little but you were not aware of it as everybody was in the same boat. To get a football shirt was a big thing, a very big thing.
Anyhow, that feeling stuck. The following Christmas I got the Le Coq home kit and for my birthday the away kit, then it was the Patrick kits and then the centenary kits. Derby County may not have been great on the pitch in those years but we did have some great football shirts. That’s where my habit unknown to me started and would rear its head again some thirty years later!
It was 1997 when we left the Baseball Ground that it all began again. I won a competition to win Chris Powell’s shirt that he had worn most of that season and against Arsenal in the last league game at the stadium. It had been signed by the squad and had the Premier League arm patches. Once I got it home, I had that same excited feeling but this time I was 37 not 7!
I had some of my old shirts in the loft that my mum and dad had saved for me and I started looking on eBay and asking around for shirts from back in the day. It was nowhere near as big a past time as it is these days, the internet and eBay were still a relatively new thing and there were lots of opportunities to be had, lots of people who were having clear outs had somewhere new to sell their items rather than taking them to the tip or the charity shop.
I used to have favourite shirts but not anymore, there are that many good ones. The best I suppose are the ones that can strum up an evocative feeling from within. When I got a player worn 1977 Umbro shirt and realised they were made of a nice soft thick Egyptian cotton and not the scratch nylon that I had as a kid I felt a bit cheated. The Le Coq and Patrick player worn shirts were far more true to form of the replicas and I suppose if pushed I would say that the Patrick home and away shirts are my favourites.
In terms of most valuable, I would think that it would be the 1968/70 John O’Hare number 9 shirt with the old ram’s head logo, when Clough & Taylor started putting Derby County on the world football map.
There’s also the 1971/72 Ron Webster number 2 shirt from the magical first Championship winning season, and the Admiral made Centenary Paul Blades shirt from 1984 also with the number 2.
I’m not over keen on the modern shirts with modern day sponsors other than the Puma shirts when we first moved to Pride Park. I still ensure that I add one of each home, away and third shirt each year and always try to bag a few player shirts. Getting Mason Mount’s was probably the best of the last few years, and also one of his England shirts.
One thing that the shirt collecting has enabled me to do is to meet so many of the players and the legends of Derby County, hundreds of them. Obviously only a certain few meet the legend criteria but I am proud to say that I have shaken hands with many of them and have mementos from a number of them. There was Mr Clough and Mr Mackay, I never got to meet Peter Taylor though. I used to keep a record of everybody I had met, many of them in their own homes, some even came to my home or my Dad’s home. My Dad bought me a picture in that last season at the BBG titled “A Farewell to The Baseball Ground”. He was mates with Roger Davies who at that time worked with him at Rolls Royce in Derby and asked Roger if he would get it signed by a few of the older players before giving it to me as a Christmas present. It was that, cemented with the Chris Powell shirt, that really ignited the whole memorabilia thing. In my job at that time I was travelling all over the country to see clients when it dawned on me to track down ex-players and get them to sign the picture for me if I was in their neck of the woods. That then furthered my opportunity to ask about shirts and allowed me to form close contacts and many friendships built upon trust that last until this day. This is the photo of the Derby County legends who have signed the picture and I have had the pleasure of meeting in person.