The County Ground, Derby – also known as the Racecourse Ground – has been widely mocked over the generations; windy, cold and depressing are the principal adjectives used to describe Derbyshire’s headquarters ground.
And yet, there lies a history behind this sporting location that belies the views of many and places the County Ground firmly in the higher echelons of sporting venues within the United Kingdom.
So, what is the real history of the County Ground and what can it have hosted to allow this boast to be remotely true?
Well, as the 125th anniversary of Derby County Football Club’s first ever home game falls on Sunday 15th September; I thought it prudent to take a broader look at the history of the ground.
Derbyshire County Cricket Club was formed in 1870 and started playing county games on the ground in 1871 against Lancashire. In 1884, Derby County Football Club was formed to give the cricket players an opportunity to stay fit during the winter, offer more sport for spectators, and provide additional revenue for the cricket club. Initially known as Derbyshire County Cricket Club, the Derbyshire Football Association demanded the ‘shire’ be dropped.
During the ensuing 11 years, the ground hosted an FA Cup quarter-final, several FA Cup semi-finals and in 1886, the FA Cup Final replay which saw Blackburn Rovers defeat West Bromwich Albion.
In March 1895, a full international match took place which saw England defeat Ireland 9-0, with Derby County represented in the England team by Bloomer and Goodall. These top-class football matches attracted crowds estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000.
Horse racing had long been a part and parcel of the ground – the very name ‘The Racecourse Ground’ was owed in its entirety to the regular presence of horse racing between 1848 and 1939, and until recently the Jockey’s Quarters, The Finishing Box and Paddock were all reminders of the great days of racing in Derby.
By the latter part of the late 20th century, first in 1983 and then in 1999, international cricket also arrived at Derby as World Cup matches were hosted in front of large and partisan crowds.
And what of that first home game in the newly-formed Football League in 1888? Their presence in the inaugural Football League was a huge honour and arrived by way of invitation on the back of a 2-0 victory in the FA Cup against Aston Villa, then seen as one of the emerging powers in English football.
Derby County had played their first game away from home on 8th September 1888 and having been 3-0 down to Bolton Wanderers, ended up winning 6-3. The game against West Bromwich Albion a week later at Derby was watched by 3,000 spectators who saw the home side beaten 2-1 with Harry Plackett scoring the lone Derby goal.
Derby County would subsequently move to the Baseball Ground as horse racing proved to be too intrusive to allow three major sports to be played on the same site.
So, regardless of your own personal opinion of the County Ground, what cannot be denied is its rich and varied sporting heritage as a venue for top-class sport; horse racing, international cricket, county cricket, football league soccer, international football, FA Cup semi-finals and an FA Cup final have all taken place in this small corner of Derbyshire.
© 2014 Derbyshire County Cricket Club
The County Ground, Grandstand Road, Derby DE21 6AF. Tel: 01332 388 101
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