Celebrating 150 years of Derbyshire County Cricket Club
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 April 2020
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As Derbyshire County Cricket Club celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020, Nigel Powlson looks back at a long history of being the underdog and having to battle against the odds to bring success back home
All those Derbyshire cricket fans who enjoyed the county’s first ever-appearance at T20 finals day last summer owe a debt of gratitude for their big day out at Edgbaston to a group of men who had the foresight to form the club at a meeting at Derby’s Guildhall on 4th November 1870.
If that historic decision had not been taken 150 years ago, then we wouldn’t have had the chance to enjoy watching the likes of Wayne Madsen and Luis Reece smashing sixes over the boundary at the County Ground in last year’s T20 blast competition.
That’s why Derbyshire will be making the most of this special anniversary by savouring the great moments throughout the club’s history – such as the County Championship success in 1936, three one-day trophy triumphs in the modern era and a Division Two title in 2012.
David Griffin is the club’s Heritage Officer and statistician – and a Vice President and club photographer as well for good measure.
He has relished those historic moments because the club has always been one of the poor relations in the county game, often strapped for cash and forced to punch above its weight. He has seen some great players, outstanding cricket and famous victories and has savoured them all.
He said: ‘Derbyshire has always struggled from the early days. In the Victorian era, very early on in the history of county cricket, there was a period when the county was relegated from first class cricket, such was the lack of quality. They couldn’t win, they struggled to retain players and had no money and so it was always a fight against the odds from the start and that has never changed.
‘When they did win the County Championship in 1936 they broke the domination of the big six counties who had always won it – Lancashire, Yorkshire, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Nottinghamshire.
‘Even then, if you read Wisden the following year it offers a grudging admiration for what Derbyshire had achieved. They talk about Derbyshire’s grittiness, determination and granite-like qualities, it was very rare that anyone called them stylish – instead they were always a team of tough Derbyshire coalminers.
‘But it wasn’t a fluke at all, and they were probably the best side in the country from 1935-1937 and had six test match cricketers under the captain Arthur Walker Richardson, a Derby man.’
Derbyshire during that era had to battle against bigger clubs with more resources and long histories of winning, and in many ways nothing has changed.
David said: ‘Dave Fletcher at Radio Derby asked me what it meant to me when we reached the quarter final of the T20 in 2017 and when we got to finals day last year and I was waxing lyrical and was quite emotional because it does mean more. If you support Nottinghamshire you are used to going to finals day and winning trophies. It’s one of the great joys of sport when the underdog finally has its day.
‘In the last three years we are the fourth most successful team in terms of 20-over games won, so we are starting to play up there with the big boys, but it has been and always will be against the odds.’
In terms of the great players, who does David rate as the best to have turned out for Derbyshire? ‘My hero was Eddie Barlow as he came to the club when I was a teenager and revitalised Derbyshire in 1976-78.
‘In terms of the players I have seen, I would have to say Kim Barnett, John Morris, Chris Adams with the bat; Bob Taylor and Karl Krikken behind the wicket; and with the ball, people like Mike Hendrick and Alan Ward. We have also had some great overseas players like Peter Kirsten, Michael Holding, Mohammad Azharuddin and John Wright.
‘In the current side you have to say Wayne Madsen, the leading player in this generation of cricketers. He’s a one-club man who is setting records by the day.’
David is asked all the time what his most memorable matches are, and he always gives the same answer.
‘It’s simply when the sun is out, we are in good company and Derbyshire are playing well. The game for me has always been about fellowship.
‘In May 1975 the club had a dispute with Derbyshire Borough Council and played no first class cricket at all in Derby in 1976. I was 15 years old and it was a gloriously hot summer and Derbyshire had to play at Ilkeston, Chesterfield, Buxton, Long Eaton, Heanor and Burton. All the cricket was played at these wonderful outlying grounds. A deal was done by the time 1977 came around and they returned to Derby, but that summer filled me with the promise of what cricket could be about and how wonderful it could be.
‘For me it has always been about the setting, the company and enjoying the great game of cricket. That wonderment I had as a boy is still there as I approach 60.’
TITLES AND CUPS
Derbyshire’s one and only County Championship success came in 1936. They were long hard seasons back then without any one-day cricket distractions and Derbyshire played 28 games – so topping the table was certainly no fluke. It was also well deserved and was the culmination of five years of improvement under captain AW Richardson. Indeed, Derbyshire probably should have won the County Championship in 1935 when they recorded a better set of results but were still second best to Yorkshire. In 1936 they faltered in the final few weeks, recording only one win in the last five matches, but their early season form – including four wins and a draw in five games starting in mid-June – helped them hold off Middlesex and Yorkshire. Bill Copson’s 140 wicket haul for the season was a key factor in Derbyshire’s success.
Derbyshire is still waiting for a second County Championship title – something that became less likely after the introduction of two divisions in 2000. Derbyshire was crowned County Championship Division Two champions in 2012 – but relegated after just one year in the top flight.
There has been success in limited overs cricket, however. David Griffin remembers all of those successes and ranks the Refuge Assurance League success as the most significant.
Derbyshire won the 40-over league (long known as the John Player League) in 1990 when the competition took the name of the sponsors Refuge Assurance. Derbyshire were worthy winners, having won 12 of their 16 games. The top teams in the league at the time went into the Refuge Assurance Cup with Derbyshire losing in the final.
David said: ‘The champions were the champions as the league and the cup were two separate tournaments. I still believe that was Derbyshire’s greatest triumph in my 47 years of supporting them because it was a league and they are always harder to win than knockout tournaments. In cups it might just be your day but winning a league is a slog. I went to all 16 games up and down the country and each week you would come home and look at teletext to see where you were in the table. It was truly remarkable and a great side.’
Perhaps the most dramatic success though was the NatWest Trophy victory in 1981. After beating Nottinghamshire in the quarter finals, Derbyshire drew Essex and the match finished in a tie after 60 overs with both teams scoring 149 runs in the 60 overs. Derbyshire made it through to the final by virtue of losing fewer wickets and were grateful to Kim Barnett whose 59 runs proved crucial. The final at Lords on 5th September was an equally thrilling affair. Again, the scores were level with both teams getting 235 runs on the board after 60 overs but Derbyshire took the trophy, having lost six wickets to Northamptonshire’s nine.
David said: ‘Those wickets were important because if they had been level as well then it was based on your score after 30 overs and in both the semi-final and final we would have lost. There’s nothing like winning at Lord’s and it was a full house with 5,000 travelling down from Derbyshire.’
The 55-over Benson and Hedges final at Lord’s in 1993 saw Derbyshire play Lancashire and it was another thriller. Thanks to an unbeaten 92 by Dominic Cork, Derbyshire posted 252 for six which proved just too much for Lancashire who kept being pegged back as they lost seven wickets and fell six runs short.
David said: ‘People thought Kim Barnett had miscalculated by trying to get Neil Fairbrother out as he was seen as the best finisher in county cricket. He threw all his big guns like Devon Malcom and Dominic Cork at getting him out and failed. He got to the last over and only had his fifth bowler Frank Griffith left who wouldn’t have even been playing if Ian Bishop had been fit. Griffith had to bowl it, they needed 11 and he only conceded five runs so that ended a staggeringly wonderful occasion.’
150th anniversary celebrations
Derbyshire Chief Executive Ryan Duckett is looking forward to celebrating a landmark year for the club. He said: ‘It would be a massive year for any organisation, and we are going to do our best to celebrate it with a number of events through 2020 and some commemorative memorabilia as well. We want to celebrate the players who have been at the heart of what the club has been all about and bring them together with the members, supporters and sponsors who have backed us. The idea is to bring them all together over a number of events and celebrate the rich history of the club.’
This will include a big event on 4th November to coincide with the day in 1870 that Derbyshire County Cricket Club was brought to life.
A match involving current and past players is also part of the plans.
Ryan said: ‘Cricket is brilliant in so many ways at bringing people together. We have played here in Derby since 1870 and in 1884 our cricketers started playing football as well, which was the origins of Derby County, so we have had a massive part in shaping sport in the county.
‘In the early 1890s the ground staged the first FA Cup match played outside London. The ground is best known for cricket but there has been horse racing here, an England international football match and more recently great non-sporting events like the Elton John concert. We were a host venue for the Women’s World Cup in 2017 and building on the legacy of that we have hosted more women’s international games.’
Ryan is hoping that the celebrations will include a successful season on the pitch as well. ‘We are looking forward to a very good 2020. We have made some good signings and can build on the success from last year of reaching T20 finals day.
‘The guys did brilliantly to get there and although what happened on the day was a bit disappointing, it has only whetted our appetite to get back there again. We are hoping to compete in all three competitions.’
It’s an achievement for any organisation to last one and a half centuries, through thick and thin, world wars, recessions and changing tastes and fashions – especially in sport, where success on the pitch often dictates what happens off it.
Ryan said: ‘It’s a testament not only to all the achievements on the field but off it as well. A lot of people off the field have contributed massively to keep the club going and we hope a lot of members, volunteers, employees and spectators will engage with us during our 150th anniversary year.’
Ryan has been with Derbyshire since 2013, so what has been his favourite memory from those seven years? ‘Getting to finals day is right up there for me,’ he said. ‘We work hard off the field to enable us to invest in cricket and bring success on the field, so getting there was a great reward for a lot of people on and off the field.
‘The opening match of the ICC Women’s World Cup was also a great moment and from a non-cricketing perspective, so was hosting the Elton John concert – and the reason why we do things like that is to grow the club and be able to put more money into our cricket.
‘Going into our 150th year we are looking at the next phase of the development of the ground, which will take place over the next few years. We are always looking to improve the customer experience here from a cricketing and non-cricketing perspective and hopefully this celebration will attract a few new people as well.’