In 1884 Derbyshire County Cricket Club, in an attempt to raise money, formed a football club after noticing the large crowds which were attending matches at that time. After a series of notable FA Cup and friendly victories, Derby County were invited to become founder members of the Football League in 1888, making them the youngest of this illustrious dozen. Derby’s first match in the Football League saw them beat Bolton Wanderers 6-3.
It was in 1895 that Derby County moved to the famous Baseball Ground following difficulties in staging matches at the Racecourse Ground, home then and now of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
County’s landlords, the Derby Recreation Company, who themselves leased the ground from the local corporation, did not always give football priority. In 1895 the football team were forced to cancel an attractive Easter Monday fixture versus Corinthians because of a race meeting that had already been scheduled for the same day. Derby County had already occasionally played a few fixtures at the Baseball Ground which Sir Francis Ley had originally built it in an attempt to introduce the sport of baseball to Britain. The Ley’s baseball ground – no initial capitals were needed in those days – was part of a 12-acre area which included cricket and football pitches. Derby County finally left the Baseball Ground for Pride Park in 1997.
Derby County sported the Derbyshire County Cricket Club’s colours of amber, chocolate and pale blue in their earliest days and later changed to dark blue and red. When the team left cricket behind physically in 1895, they celebrated their freedom by adopting white shirts and black shorts, an outfit more in keeping with footballing conventions. When Brian Clough arrived in 1969 he replaced Derby’s black shorts with navy-blue ones to echo the England team strip, even down to red numbers on the shirts. In the club’s centenary season the white shirts bore a diagonal stripe of the orignal chocolate, blue and amber. The black shorts returned in 1984.
The reason the Rams are called the Rams dates back to the 1800s. When Derbyshire County Cricket Club was formed they chose to incorporate a ram’s head into their club badge because of the historical link between Derbyshire and the woollen industry. When the cricket club formed the football club, they adopted the same badge, which over the years has evolved into the badge it is today, from a ram’s head on a shield to the stylised image currently used.
One wonderful aspect of Derby is that unlike other cities and towns it does not have to rely on myths and fiction for its history. Nottingham’s Robin Hood probably never existed. The Welsh Dragon and Lincoln Imp certainly did not. But the Derby Ram, of course, did. He has been around as long as there have been sheep on the Derbyshire hills and he’s still very much in evidence today on the armorial bearings of the city, the regimental mascot of the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters and the proud emblem, logo and name of Derby’s football team.
The ballad of the Derby Ram is hundreds of years old and was extremely popular among the townspeople of Derby. This ballad, with a varying number of verses, accompanied an ancient Mummers play called ‘The Derby Tup’. The characters included a butcher with a knife and apron, a boy carrying a basin and the old tup represented by a performer covered with a sack through which protruded a broomstick with a ram’s head impaled upon it.
The highlight of the play was the slaying of the ram by the butcher stabbing it in the throat and the boy catching the blood in his bowl. The people of Derby used to gild the horns of the performing rams which seems to suggest that the play may be a survival of the Roman custom of gilding the horns of animals about to be sacrificed. This play was performed in many Derbyshire villages at Christmas time (which up to the 13th century represented “New Year”) and the ceremony and ballad seems to represent the sacrifice of a ram as the old year passed into the new.
Derby County have done much over the years to promote the town of Derby, and have kept the Derby Ram known to people throughout the world. And of course you can still find him round the town in statues, and of course on County’s shirts.