I’ve just seen this video on Facebook.
And a host of memories have come flooding back!
The game was a 6th round FA Cup replay played on the Tuesday following a 0-0
at Home Park the Saturday before – there was no nonsensical 10 day delay between
the first match and the replay in those days.
I was in my first year at college and was living in Gloucester at the time
and I’d journeyed back to Plymouth for the first game. We were unlucky not to
win after Gordon Staniforth spanked a long range shot towards the top left
corner only to be denied by Derby ‘keeper Steve Cherry getting his fingertips
to the ball thus diverting it onto a post, the ball then bounced down onto the
goal-line, hit the other post and was deflected away. It was a sensational
moment in a pretty drab game but plucky underdogs Argyle, struggling horribly in
the league below, had shaded it and Derby, who were something of a fading power
at the time, knew they’d been lucky to get out of the game with a replay.
Argyle, on the other hand knew Derby were there for the taking.
I suppose the most remarkable thing about the first game, Staniforth’s moment
apart, was the attendance: 35,000. Home Park was rammed with Derby being
allocated the Devonport End (and maybe the Barn Park too?). It was mayhem. These
were the days when football grounds were feral places, terraces were often vast
and the horrors of Hillsborough, Heysel and Valley Parade were yet to happen.
Things really could not have been any more different to how they are today. Back
then football was so much more raw than it is now. They say the past is a
different place well this might as well have been a different planet.
So a replay it was to be. I had to go. So, too, did many thousands of others.
Most of them travelling from Plymouth but me having to make my way from
Gloucester. The Plymothians would have been coached up, I guess, for the large
part but for me the only option was public transport so I bunked off college for
the day and got the train up to Derby. There was only one problem: no train
back. “Never mind” I thought. “What the hell! There’s no way I’m missing this
I’d never been to Derby before. In fact I don’t think I’d ever been that far
north before so on arrival I didn’t have a clue where anything was. I asked a
railway porter where the town centre was, he jabbered something I completely
failed to understand and with my mouth being kept firmly shut and my scarf being
securely stashed away out of sight – there was every chance that an away fan
going anywhere in those days would get a kicking if he took even the slightest
of liberties – I made for the town centre where I hoped to find the Baseball
Ground. This plan failed abysmally but I did find WH Smiths so I went in grabbed
a Derby A to Z road map (internet? mobile phone? google maps? Not even a gimmer on the horizon at the time!) looked up where the ground was, committed details to
memory and was off.
On leaving Smiths I bumped into an old school mate, Bod, who had made the
same journey as me but from London. We were now a crew of two. I seem to
remember that it was a fair old walk to the Baseball Ground but we had nowhere
else to go so off we toddled and we got there early. Very early. Ridiculously
early. I suppose it might have been about 1730 with kick-off at least 2 hours
away. Nothing else for it but to hang around which we did. It’s possible we were
the first ones there because the stadium wasn’t even open!
People eventually began to arrive. Bod and I continued to mope about – going
to a pub was unthinkable. Eventually we were approached by a few fellas. “Are
you from Plymouth or Durrrrrrrby?” “Gloucester” says I. “London” says Bod. Our
interrogator was a bit confused by our unexpected responses but by now it was
obvious they were from Plymouth and chances were they were looking to give any
stray Derby fans they could find a kicking. We sort of fell in with them. We
were now a group about 7 or 8 strong.
Neither Bod nor I had any way of getting back and our new friends were quite
impressed by our bone-headed commitment. “We have a space in the car – but only
one. There’s a lift, but only 1 place, back if you want it. Find us afterwards.”
That didn’t seem likely.
And so on to the game. 27,000 at the Baseball Ground (“we’ve got more fans
than you!”) crammed into the tightest of grounds imaginable. There’s nowhere to
compare today except maybe Loftus Road but the Baseball Ground had about twice
the capacity and its stands rose almost vertically from the touchline with
barely any track around the grass of the pitch at all. We were stood on the
lower terrace behind the goal we scored into, right behind the goal about 10
yards from the front. Behind and above us was a tier of seating also occupied by
Argyle fans and above that a third tier of seating filled by home fans who took
great delight in chucking stuff down on top of us: anything that came to hand
and coffee seemed to be a great favourite (I hope it was coffee – it was
certainly warm anyway). I’ve no idea of how many travellled up that night but it
must have been at least 5000 fans and if it wasn’t it certainly seemed like
There was much banter. Derby’s Archie Gemill came in for fearful, relentless
abuse some of which was good-natured. Blue Peter’s Simon Groom and his dog,
Goldie, put in an appearance and the atmosphere in the ground positively
crackled away into the night sky. It was a night of rare old passion.
We took a lot of abuse from the home fans above us and one of them had an
inflatable something or other… maybe a penguin or snowman or some such and they
were dangling it down on a length of string teasing us with it. Needless to say
everybody was trying to grab it and eventually they lowered it fraction too far
and the thing got ripped to pieces. “We’ve got Archie Gemmill!” was the song and
somebody put the head over his own and was hoisted aloft on shoulders as we
celebrated the triumphant destruction of our inflatable foe.
The game itself is a blur. They battered us, we defended desperately,
magnificently and with huge resolution. Our defence was not going to breached.
Andy Rogers fluked the goal direct from the corner and Cherry went from hero in
the first match to zero in the replay. Football can be so cruel. At the final
whistle scenes of unbridled joy: Chris Harrison climbing onto the fence around
the pitch; Johnny Hore dancing in delight on the pitch… It was like a mass
tellytubbies big hug sprinkled with angel dust. “What scenes!” as today’s
youngsters like to say.
As we filed out at the end of the match Bod and I bumped into our new friends
from earlier. “Want a lift then, boy? We ain’t going to London but Gloucester is
on the way home we’ll take you if you want.” What price friendship, eh? The
offer of a lift was too good to turn down (and it was free!) so I went with them
and Bod took his chances hanging around Derby all night dodging their
supporters, who had nought but murderous intent in mind, until the first mail
train the next morning. We stopped off somewhere on the way back for a beer.
Uttoxeter, maybe? And got there just in time to see the match highlights on
Sportsnight which was a definite result!
I got dropped off at my halls of residence where everybody was fast asleep
and I was all on me tod buzzing like I never had before and rarely have
Derby. 1984. What an occasion! Just… crazy. Absolutely stark-raving bonkers
in every single way imaginable. I'd like to think this blog gives a taste as to what it was like but I probably haven't even got near...