I wasn’t born when the Derby County team assembled by Brian Clough stormed out of the second division and rose onto become the champions of England. But my dad was and I’m surprised that he refrained from naming me Colin, Roy or Kevin, after one of his heroes.
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor may have only been in post at the Baseball Ground for a few seasons, but their influence upon the City of Derby is permanent. Down the generations some of the lads who stood on the Baseball Ground’s Pop Side during the halcyon days now take their grandchildren to the Pride Park Stadium. It comes with the knowledge that ‘If God had meant football to be played in the air, he would have put grass in the sky’.
The antipathy towards Leeds United, whose manager Don Revie came to be seen as anti-Clough, has resulted in that special edge between the two sides to this day. The East Midlands Derby against local rivals Nottingham Forest is now played for the Brian Clough Trophy, with the visiting fans in either direction making the trek down the A52 – Brian Clough Way.
I was born during the 1979/80 season which was when a line was drawn under the greatest period in Derby County’s history and they were relegated from Division One. It must have seemed like the blink of an eye – from sixties second division mediocrity, the Rams became with stunning speed, one of the very best teams in Europe during the early seventies, only to fade back into the shadows by the dawn of the eighties. Within a few years of the departure of Taylor, with his preternatural eye for a great player and Clough, the mercurial magician who inspired them to reach the heights, the truly great days were over.
For those who saw us beat Real Madrid 4-1, courtesy of a Charlie George hat-trick! It must have been incredibly depressing to watch the club fall from grace so completely, a decline which reached its nadir when the Rams fell into Division Three in 1984. A story my dad tells me is that the final straw for him came when he noticed Roy McFarland, one of the all-time Rams legends, laughing after the conceding another goal, during another sorry defeat.
Arthur Cox had hauled Derby back to the top flight before the eighties were out, but never again would they threaten to win the title. After Italia ’90, when dad took me to see the returning Derby heroes Peter Shilton and Mark Wright take the applause of the crowd from the balcony of a Council House, came the Premier League, commercialisation and the modern era of giant clubs so enriched by TV money and sponsorship deals that the likes of Derby will only catch them if a friendly oil baron arrives with billions to pour into their coffers.
A Tottenham Hotspur captain could never now be persuaded to reconsider his retirement and play on with a second division team, as Dave Mackay was by Clough. You couldn’t sign one of the top defensive prospects in the country by simply turning up at his house, informing his parents that you weren’t leaving until he signed, putting the pen in his hand and continuing to talk until he signed a contract – a modern-day McFarland would be insulated from that by agents, ensuring that every club in the land knew about his availability for transfer and haggling for the best deal they could get. And you could never take a team out of today’s Championship to finish fourth in the Premier League the following season, then go on to win it within three years.
Clough and Taylor’s deeds could never be repeated, but a generation of Derby folk had the amazing fortune to be in the right place at the right time and witness the transformative effects of genius at work. The glorious tales those supporters tell – some embroidered over the years, some apocryphal, some a simple matter of historical fact – inspire today’s Rams fans and will live on to inspire those who are yet to be born.