When Derby County went tabloid by David Moore

When Derby County went tabloid by David Moore

David looks back at the Ram newspaper matchday programme introduced by Derby County in August 1971. What was undoubtedly a brave and risky experiment turned out to be a huge success and the format continued virtually un-interrupted for 13 seasons despite reservations from certain quarters, particularly programme dealers and collectors.

Almost everything at Derby County had changed out of all recognition in the first four years of Brian Clough’s reign at the Baseball Ground but there was one exception and that was the matchday programme which at best could only be described as barely adequate. The old black and white programmes, which had run from the 1951-52 season through to 1967-68 with only minor modifications, might have been emotive to older supporters but, in truth, offered very little to the reader except for the likely line-ups. Disappointingly, their replacements introduced part way through the 1970-71 campaign which featured a green cover were little different. Presumably Stuart Webb, Derby’s ambitious club secretary, was underwhelmed with them too but instead of attempting merely to bring them up to the standard of the more impressive glossy offerings of, say, Manchester United or Arsenal, he opted to change the format completely and move to a tabloid newspaper style publication that could be bought from local newsagents just prior to the match or outside the Baseball Ground before kick-off on matchday. It was a brave decision.

Right from the beginning it was fairly obvious that one group of people who would not be particularly enthusiastic with the new concept would be football programme collectors and dealers. Not only would they be difficult to store, they were also bound to deteriorate, particularly if they had been on sale on a wet Saturday afternoon outside the Baseball Ground. Understandably, this would have been regarded as a minor issue by Mr Webb and the club.

A ‘taster’ for what was to come was a very modest four-page effort for a pre-season friendly match on 7th August 1971 with German side Schalke 04. In fact, referring to it as a four page publication is something of an exaggeration because only two sides carried any words or pictures, the two inside pages being left completely blank. It seemed a strange way to introduce the new concept to potential customers.

The first full sized 12-page edition was for the first match of the 1971-72 season against Manchester United a week later on Saturday 14th August. Priced at just 7p, there was a detailed explanation on page 1 for the fundamental change of format. Under the headline ‘WHY WE’RE HERE’, it was explained that Derby County were the first Football League Club to publish their own newspaper, an experiment that will be watched by everybody throughout the football world.  The orthodox matchday programme, it said, was outdated and fans deserved a publication that is available in local shops. It would allow full-colour pictures and ‘bang-up-to-date’ news. The aim was to make The Ram worthy of the team and the club.

On page 2 under the heading ‘Ram People’ it was stated that the editor was David Moore. No, not me. This David Moore of course was the well-respected journalist who later went on to cover football for various national newspapers. Editorial Directors were club Director Michael Keeling and Secretary Stuart Webb. Published by Derby Ram Ltd, a subsidiary of Cartmell Public Relations Services (UK Ltd) of Swinton, Manchester, it was actually printed in Widnes. One of the directors of Derby Ram Ltd was Harry Brown who also carried the title of Managing Editor for the Ram. Harry later took over from David as editor and continued in that role for many years.

The front cover of the Manchester United edition also carried the news that Terry Hennessey would be wearing the No5 shirt in place of the injured Roy McFarland and there was another piece under the headline ‘Soccer Carrot too Tasty’ which explained why young Steve Powell was quitting school to sign as a pro for the Rams. Steve was pictured “signing on alongside his famous (and proud) father Tommy”. The main features were the columns written by Brian Clough himself and Secretary Stuart Webb, which would continue for some time. So heavy was the demand likely to be that 50,000 copies were printed. Considering that the normal print run would have been around 10,000-12,000 for a potential attendance of around 40,000, it was a staggering amount. Apparently, it sold out and sales continued to be buoyant throughout the rest of that memorable First Division title winning season and to a similar extent, over the next few campaigns as well.

Inevitably, over the years the ‘character’ of the Ram changed somewhat and although it appeared to welcome letters and comments from supporters, even critical ones about the way the game was going (hooliganism was regularly hitting the headlines at the time) and even adverse comments about the club itself when it was going through particularly controversial times, there were also periods when it came over to the reader as being overly defensive (almost paranoid some might say) about any perceived criticism of Derby County. I have even heard it described, harshly perhaps, as a local version of Pravda, the old Russian propaganda paper.

The newspaper format continued uninterrupted through to the end of the 1978-79 season under the editorship of Harry Brown. Of course, there were minor design changes over the years, particularly to the front page, but for reasons that were never clear the club suddenly decided to revert to a traditional matchday programme in August 1979 and ten editions were printed, the last one being for the famous 4-1 victory against reigning European champions Nottingham Forest on 24th November in the old First Division. However, the newspaper-style Ram re-appeared for the match against Norwich City a fortnight later and it continued after that right through until the end of the 1982-83 season. Occasionally an edition was produced to cover two home matches, usually in a busy holiday period such as Christmas or the New Year. Serious collectors, at least the more pedantic ones, would of course have to purchase the same edition twice. I have!

Over the 12 years, special editions of the Ram newspaper were also published from time to time such as the one celebrating our First Division title triumph in May 1972 and the occasional summer editions too. Interesting to browse through as they were, they were not associated with particular matches and therefore cannot be considered genuine football programmes. Altogether over 300 newspaper-style Rams were produced between August 1971 and May 1983 including the special editions and there were quite a few others in various guises right up to the early 1990s.

Most newspaper style Rams are fairly easy to pick up although condition is always an issue. There are a few particularly collectable ones including, for some reason or other, the edition for the match against Carlisle in May 1975 just after Derby were confirmed as First Division champions again. The big European matches fetch more money and some of the later ones from the early 1980s used to be more difficult to find although these days they can often be picked up on eBay without too much trouble.

The main problem now is how to store them. Like any newspaper, they will deteriorate if they aren’t stored in dry conditions and preferably away from sunlight. I have found the simplest solution is to stack them all together in a neat pile, cover them in ordinary newspaper or brown paper, and keep them in a cupboard. Looking back, it was a brave experiment by the club, particularly Secretary at the time Stuart Webb, and although there were persistent criticisms of the format from a minority of readers and of course programme collectors, it has to be regarded as extremely successful, at least until the standard began to deteriorate in the early 80s as the club itself went into decline. Interestingly though, with the exception of a couple of half-hearted attempts the newspaper style matchday programme has never been employed by other clubs since.

This article was first printed in issue 8 of Derby County Memories magazine (March 2015). If you enjoyed reading it, copies of the magazine are available from eBay at https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/294379530277.

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