Sheffield United

Sheffield United

Steve McGhee takes a look at some of the programmes issued covering matches between Derby and Sheffield United.

Formed in 1889 to take over the Bramall Lane ground vacated by their neighbours The Wednesday, Sheffield United entered the Football League in 1892. Promoted in their first season, their first-ever home game in the top flight of English football was also their first meeting with the Rams, Steve Bloomer one of the goalscorers in a 2-1 victory. Within 5 years, however, the Blades had won their first League title.

1899/00 Sheffield United v Derby County

The latter years of the 19th century were eventful ones for the Blades. They won the League in 1898, narrowly escaped relegation the following season whilst beating Derby in the FA Cup Final and followed that up with a runners-up place in the League, two points behind Aston Villa and 12 ahead of the Rams who finished sixth.

The match programme for the home game with the Rams that season, played on Jan 13th 1900, is the oldest football programme I own and it’s a sobering thought that everyone involved in this match, both player and spectator, are all long since deceased. This was the third season that the home club had issued a programme and, at 1d for 16 pages, it’s a splendid read, packed full of information as well as, simply from the advertising alone, being a mirror into a different age.

Derby arrived at Bramall Lane on an unbeaten run of 5 games and lying ninth in the table. The home side topped the table – 4 points ahead of Aston Villa – and had yet to lose a league game. The outer covers of the programme, in dark pink unusually, are on paper much thicker than the inside pages.  The first article, on page 3, is entitled “Boys of The Old Brigade” which waxes lyrical about some of the names in the club’s (albeit brief) history.  The editor’s notes below include the reminder to home fans “don’t forget to cheer if we beat Derby County today”. Next to that is the rather alarming quote from reserve player Thompson that taking chloroform is like “being in an express train and suddenly rushing into a tunnel”. Intriguing. I wonder what befell him that he had to suffer so? Page 7 is devoted to listing all those Football League players who were, at that point in time, taking part in the Boer War. Around 20 are listed including Colonel Baden-Powell who had won the Kadir Cup for something called “pig sticking”. The mind truly boggles. Attendance figures for the season to date are then detailed – Manchester City had seen the highest aggregate crowds (210,000), Glossop the lowest (36,000). Derby were 7th on the list (106,000). The second half of the programme is taken up with statistical matters and concludes with a remarkable “scoreboard” (for 10 matches) similar to the old half-time one…. except at Bramall Lane, they would put up the latest scores after every 15 minutes of play. I need to do a little bit of research into how the club managed to acquire these latest scores.  Team line-ups are on the back cover (no shirt numbers, of course). Some of the advertising is particularly evocative – “Elliman’s Embrocation” (praised by Forfar Athletic!), Mr. Wreighitt who describes himself as a “hatter, glover and hosier”, a full page ad on page 6 for Colman’s mustard, Davy’s polony sausage (weekly sales – 6 tons!) and an intriguing advert for “The Footballers’ Hospital” in Manchester where 90% of those injured over the last few seasons have been treated. The centre pages are devoted to the various theatrical offerings in Sheffield including the 1900 pantomime “Twinkle Little Star” at the Lyceum which stars no less a personage than Mr. Picton Roxborough. What a wonderful name!

The match itself is almost incidental – a crowd of 12,000 watched a 1-1 draw, John Boag on target for the Rams.

1930/31 Sheffield United v Derby County

1930/31 saw the Blades begin their 34th consecutive season in the top flight. Derby, on the other hand, had spent the equivalent years yo-yoing between the First and Second Divisions. However, there were definite signs that the two clubs were heading in opposite directions. The previous season had seen Derby finish runners-up to eventual champions Sheffield Wednesday whereas the Blades had only escaped relegation on goal average (0.13 of a goal ahead of Burnley). The fifth game of the season saw the Rams head to Bramall Lane unbeaten to date and up against a Blades team who had yet to register a victory.

For the match, United issued a 20 page programme on light amber paper costing 2d and, as was the case 30 years earlier, crammed with reading material. “From the Pavilion” recalls previous meetings between the two clubs and is followed by a detailed list of all 33 professionals on the Rams’ books. It’s interesting to note that only 1 of those 33 (A. T. Scott) is listed as being over 5’11” (and I don’t think he ever made a first team appearance). Articles (with photographs) on the Rams’ Harry Bedford and the Blades’ Fred Tunstall are followed by the team line-ups which have now moved to the centre pages. The second half of the programme still includes the “every 15 minutes” scoreboard along with tabulated results from every First Division game and the league tables from all 4 divisions.

Compared to 30 years earlier, the advertising reflects the changes in society. Walter Wragg offers motorcycles from £28, Mr. Wreghitt now describes himself as a “gents’ outfitter” (here, advertising his hard-wearing dungarees at 6/6d) and numerous travel companies offering trips to Blades’ away games, the 1931 Cup Final (already?) and, for 45 shillings, a three day weekend break in Blackpool. Seems to have been a very entertaining match, a crowd of 22,459 witnessing a 3-3 draw. Sammy Crooks, Bobby Barclay and Peter Ramage were on target for the Rams.

1944/45 Derby County v Sheffield United

Season 44/45 saw Derby host Sheffield United twice, once in the “first period” of the Football League North (a 4-2 win in October) and this match, in the “second period”, some 6 months later. Derby were on a run of 22 matches without defeat during which time they had scored no fewer than 80 goals!

Paper rationing limited Derby to issuing a 4 page programme costing 2d. Team line-ups are on page 3, fixtures on page 4 but there is at least some interesting editorial on page 2 where it is noted that the club’s reserve side (on a run of 14 successive victories) had scored 124 goals for the season and had already wrapped up the Midland Senior League. There’s a welcome to the club’s new secretary, Mr. J. S. Catterall followed by an explanation of the misunderstanding which had resulted from many supporters arriving at the Baseball Ground for the previous game against Huddersfield then leaving again because they (mistakenly) believed the ground to be full up. “Socca-Flash 7” explains in detail the difference between a direct and indirect free kick. All the programme notes are penned by “Ronwin” who, though not listed on the front cover as an officer of the club, is, I assume, an employee.

The Rams continued to entertain, Lyman, Doherty and Morrison on target in a 3-2 victory watched by a crowd of 14,003. Both Blades’ goals were netted by Barclay (if the person who originally owned the programme I have is to be trusted!

1948/49 Sheffield United v Derby County

The New Year of 1949 opened for the Rams with a trip to Bramall Lane. Having commenced the season with an unbeaten run of 16 games, Derby had dropped to third with 4 defeats out of the next 8. The Blades were just above the relegation zone having lost 1-6 at Bolton in their previous outing.

The hosts issued a 6 page “foldover” programme for the match costing 2d, sadly much reduced from their pre-war offerings.  The editorial noted on page 2 are quite controversial in that they criticise Bolton as “determined to run serious risks” and reaching “a high standard of aggression” in the aforementioned 1-6 defeat.  There’s a brief introduction to the Rams’ players, team line-ups and a half-time scoreboard which has, sadly, done away with the 15 minute interval updates.  There’s a reminder to supporters that, a week later, the club would host New Brighton in the Third Round of the FA Cup. Advertising is much more industrial than was the case pre-war with steel (understandably) to the fore.

A healthy holiday crowd of 41,398 were in attendance to watch an upset 3-1 win for the hosts. Leon Leuty equalised after Warhurst had given United the lead in the first half. Jones and Hagan, in the 63rd and 80th minutes respectively, sealed the points for the home team despite them having to play with, effectively, only 10 men due to an early injury to centre-forward Collindridge. Though not a great result for the Rams, at least the two teams above them in the table (Newcastle and Portsmouth) also both lost.

The season got gradually worse for the Blades, however, their relegation meaning that it would be a further 8 years before the two clubs met at first team level. Here, a match photo from the Saturday evening “Green ‘Un” accompanies the programme scan. If anyone would like a scan of the full match report, please contact me and I’ll be glad to oblige.

1960/61 Sheffield United v Derby County

The opening lines of the programme notes leave the reader in no doubt as to the importance of this match for the Blades – “two more points and First Division football will be booked for Bramall Lane beyond any shadow of doubt whatsoever!”, the editor states. United were 5 points clear of third-placed Liverpool with 3 games remaining. But that’s not the reason I include this programme – more of that later. Derby had climbed from 14th in the table to 10th following 4 victories in their previous 5 matches. The Blades had won their previous 3 so this was a clash between two in-form sides. The Rams’ defence was, due to injury, without Ray Young, his place taken by Les Moore.

For the match, United issued a most readable 12 page programme – as was traditional for them, the first half of the publication was taken up with prose, the latter half concentrating on statistical matters. “Lines from The Pavilion” include (sketchy) details of the club’s end-of-season tour. In this instance, two matches in Holland, one in Luxembourg and one in Germany. There is also some detail behind the apparent chaos behind that season’s Sheffield County Cup. Indeed, Rotherham United had yet to play their preliminary match with Barnsley even at this late stage of the season. “In the last two or three years, the…public has accorded the County Cup very apathetic support”. A sign of the changing times in football?

Page 5 introduces the Rams players but the article opens with the intriguing statement that Derby County had been the subject of a takeover bid by “a local sportsman”. No further information is forthcoming but this is the main reason I’m including this programme here – on the off chance someone can provide us with any more background to this? Advertising within the programme is not overly intrusive and limited, mostly, to beer and razor blades though there is a rather quaint notice from Yorkshire County Cricket Club offering season ticket rates for 1961 including “gentleman and lady” for just over £3. More civilized days back then, compared to all these pyjama-clad players hammering the ball around for 20 overs nowadays!

As it turned out, United could celebrate promotion, winning the match 3-1 though the crowd of 21,773 seems surprisingly low given the fixture’s significance. Perhaps they didn’t care for midweek kick-offs in the Steel City?

1965/66 Derby County v Sheffield United [Friendly]

Up until the early 60s, clubs in England tended to play end-of-season friendly matches (such as Sheffield United in 1961 and as the Rams did at various points in the 40s and 50s and based very much on the concept that it was both a nice little earner for clubs as well as giving the players (and directors?) a well-earned holiday) rather than what we now routinely regard as “pre-season friendlies”. In Derby’s case, pre-season would consist of the “Reds v Whites” public practice match and that was your lot. By the mid-60s, however, attitudes were starting to change and more emphasis was being given to pre-season friendlies as a key factor in preparing teams for the start of the season. Season 65/66 was the first one that saw the Rams fully buy into this way of thinking. Four days after what was listed on the programme cover as a “Trial Match” at Oxford United, Derby entertained Sheffield United, by now an established top- flight club for the past 4 seasons.

Being objective, it is difficult to look at Derby’s programme production between, say, 1946 and 1971 and wish that, as an organ reflecting the club’s activities, we had something rather more impressive to archive. For this match, the 4 page format used for the club’s reserve games was employed.  There’s absolutely no editorial, just the line-ups, fixture lists and a season ticket application form.  Admittedly, at 3d, the programme was half the price of a first team issue but it’s still a bit of a rip-off! The programme is quite hard to find nowadays so perhaps there were a lot thrown away.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw, Billy Hodgson netting for Derby and Gil Reece for the visitors. Just as an aside, I read the other day that Gil Reece, a Welsh international winger who later played for Cardiff, had had his right leg amputated three years before his early death at the age of just 61. Very sad. Derby would move on to play friendlies at Ilkeston Town and Bradford City before opening the league season at home to Southampton. It’s worth noting that the Rams lost their first 4 league games of the season, conceding 14 goals. Accordingly, I wonder if the management of the club were tempted to revert to the old, less stringent pre-season arrangements?

1968/69 Sheffield United v Derby County [Reserves]

While the first team were beating Chesterfield 3-0 in the League Cup, the Rams’ reserves travelled to Bramall Lane for their first away fixture of the Central League season. So what, you may well ask, makes this fixture in any way memorable? Well, it could be argued that the Rams’ second string had a bit of a phobia about visiting this ground given that their previous 7 visits, going back to October 1961, had all ended in defeat. The full record was: P7 W0 D0 L7, goals scored 2, goals conceded 27. Barry Butlin’s goal, earning Derby a point in a 1-1 draw, brought to an end a run so dire that it never merits a mention anywhere. Then or now!

For the match, the Blades issued their standard 4 page reserve issue, costing 2d. No reading material, just line-ups, a half-time scoreboard, fixture lists and, on the back cover, an advert for Tennants beer. It’s interesting to note that, despite this being a memorable season for the first team, the reserves had to wait until October 12th (their 13th game of the season) before recording a victory. Which took place in Sheffield but at the “other” ground!

1975/76 Sheffield United v Derby County

The League Champions opened up the defence of their title in August 1975 at Bramall Lane following pre-season friendlies at a fairly diverse series of venues ranging from Margate to Glasgow Celtic. Nine of the eleven players who played the final game of 74/75 were named in the line-up, the only changes being Jeff Bourne for Roger Davies and the debut of Charlie George (replacing Kevin Hector).

For whatever reason, Sheffield United reclassified their programmes, for filing purposes, from August 1970 so this was the first issue of volume six. The 15p cost price got the reader a 24 page programme which, with hindsight, in terms of both design employed and font used, belongs firmly in the 1970s. Nothing wrong with that and the programme opens with manager Ken Furphy’s notes cover a number of issues including the new grandstand (increasing capacity by 8,000), the Blades’ part played in stimulating interest in the game in Oceania, Tunisia and Kuwait during their summer tours and how much work had been undertaken over the summer to rectify the pitch’s drainage problems. “It’s simply humming” is how page 4 describes the re-vamped Bramall Lane! The three pages covering the Rams includes an article penned by Dave Mackay which seems to be reaching out to football fans to display a little bit more patience. I wonder how he’d cope with today’s game? Line-ups are in the centre of the programme, much of the second half is taken up with statistics and page 22 has a football crossword which, by the looks of it, would have had a lot of people searching on Google had it been around back then.

Interestingly, advertising has shifted well away from the steel industry and on to motor cars, ads for the Ford Escort, Datsun Sunny and Renault 5TS being prominent. One other ad which dates this programme is that for “Typewriter Services” offering ribbons, carbons, new and used typewriters. I can just about remember the racket these machines made in an office! The match itself ended in a 1-1 draw in front of 31,316 spectators, Charlie George scoring on his league debut for the club. For Sheffield United, the optimism so evident on every page of this programme was premature. They were relegated at the end of the season – 11 points adrift of safety – and, by August 1981, just 6 years following this fixture, were playing in the Fourth Division.

This article was first printed in issue 19 of Derby County Memories (December 2017). If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy copies of the magazine? See the About section for further details.