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Derby legends take trip down memory lane 50 years after winning the league

Alan Durban takes the picture of the Derby team perched on a diving board in swimming trunks and sombreros, passes it to Roy McFarland and recalls how they feared the title celebrations had taken a sudden and tragic twist.

‘Great photo,’ agrees Durban. ‘What no one knows is that we all jumped off the diving board into the pool after it was taken and Ron Webster’s hat was so tightly fastened under his chin that it choked him quite badly.’

As the force of entry into the water swept the sombrero clean off Webster’s head, the hat string was yanked up around his throat, almost strangling him. Fortunately, the popular full back lived to tell the tale and after this brief concern, they were back on the champagne.

Derby players celebrate in Mallorca after winning the league:  Terry Hennessey, John O’Hare, Alan Durban, Colin Boulton, Alan Hinton, John McGovern (standing), Ron Webster and John Robson

Derby players celebrate in Mallorca after winning the league:  Terry Hennessey, John O’Hare, Alan Durban, Colin Boulton, Alan Hinton, John McGovern (standing), Ron Webster and John Robson 

1648850079 904 Derby legends take trip down memory lane 50 years after

McFarland and Colin Todd were already elsewhere, having spent the previous evening in Todd’s parked car, listening to radio commentary of Leeds against Wolves while their wives chatted in the street. It sounds like a scene from The Likely Lads.

‘It was so tense,’ recalls McFarland. ‘I couldn’t stand it. I got out and walked down the street. I took my time and walked back thinking it must be over but they were in the dying seconds.

‘We listened and when the final whistle went, we jumped out of the car, hugged each other, hugged the girls, got back in the car and drove to London.’

They were bound for the Hendon Hall Hotel to meet the England squad. ‘Alf Ramsey was the first to come over,’ says McFarland. ‘He shook our hands and said well done and we were milling around.

‘When the Liverpool and Leeds players started to drift in, Colin said, “Roy, let’s go to the room” so we went and celebrated with tea and biscuits. This lot,’ he shakes the photo in mock disgust. ‘This lot celebrated like that.’

There is tittering from John O’Hare and Archie Gemmill on the Scottish side of the table.

‘We came back for the Home Internationals from seven or eight nights on the beer in Mallorca,’ admits O’Hare. ‘That was a really good build-up, as you can imagine. I never played for Scotland again after that!’

Cue more laughter. ‘I like to think that was Kenny Dalglish coming through,’ he hastens to add.

We are less than a mile from Pride Park, the epicentre of Derby County’s fight for survival, and four of the club’s legends have established a portal to happier times, with the help of Rams Heritage Trust memorabilia curated by Phil Lowe.

There are modest plans to celebrate the anniversary, as this year marks half a century since Brian Clough’s team were crowned champions, a title won from their post-season retreat in Cala Millor.

The title winners have been invited to the last game of the season, against Cardiff at home.

‘I don’t think any of us flew out there thinking we were going to win the league,’ says O’Hare.

Derby had finished their season with a 1-0 win against Liverpool, a goal scored by John McGovern, and caught the first flight to Mallorca with Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor. McFarland and Todd returned early at Ramsey’s behest. Clough had gone with his family to the Isles of Scilly.

Liverpool had to win their final game at Arsenal to pass the Rams and Leeds required only a point to complete the Double from a tricky fixture at Wolves just two days after the FA Cup final.

‘Peter Taylor was in the manager’s office at the hotel, on the phone to someone back home who was holding their phone to the radio,’ says Durban.

Brian Clough and assistant Peter Taylor show off the First Division trophy to jubilant Derby fans

Brian Clough and assistant Peter Taylor show off the First Division trophy to jubilant Derby fans

Taylor relayed updates but the line came and went, and some players went off to bed without knowing. They woke as champions with photographers brandishing sombreros. From the depths of the second tier to the title in five years under Clough. Quite an impact by the young manager, still only 37.

‘He ruined my golf handicap for one thing,’ quips Durban. ‘I played golf every afternoon with Bobby Saxton but that first season (1967-68) we were nil-nil with Leeds in a League Cup semi-final when a corner came over in the last minute. Bobby jumped and pushed it away with his hand.

‘Penalty. Next morning back in training, he’d been sold. You crossed him (Clough) and there was no chance but I don’t think any of us really got to know him.’

Gemmill, who often had to give his boss a lift to training, says: ‘He was a one-off. For man- management, no one could touch him but if asked to set up some kind of technical coaching session he wouldn’t have a clue. He didn’t want to have a clue.’

The only thing resembling tactical instruction Durban heard from Clough came as he walked out to face Wolves. ‘There’s a hand on my shoulder and it’s Brian,’ he says, drifting into impersonation. ‘“If (Mike) Bailey finds a ball of more than 30 yards to (Dave) Wagstaffe, yoooou will come and sit with me”.’

Clough liked to tell everyone Football Association coaching qualifications were ‘a waste of time’ but his players knew he had been on the courses without telling them and passed. ‘His coaching was, “Go on son, do your job”,’ says Gemmill. McFarland agrees: ‘If you could pass it, great. If you were a centre forward, you had to score goals. You didn’t, John, but there you go.’

O’Hare takes issue: ‘I wasn’t the most prolific but I got a few.’

McFarland: ‘You never lost the ball, you’d get us 30 yards up the field and bring in the midfield. That was your job and, to be fair, you got your goals. Our most prolific scorer without doubt was Kevin Hector.’

O’Hare: ‘I scored more league goals than Kevin when we first went up. The year we won it, he scored 12 and I scored 13. Alan Hinton scored 15, eight of them were penalties.’

His numbers are accurate. Hinton was top scorer in the title-winning campaign and his delivery was, according to Durban, ‘better than David Beckham with either foot’.

O’Hare scored 13 league goals in each of the first three seasons after promotion in 1969, while Hector scored 12, 11 and 12.

They forged a lethal pairing. Hector amassed 201 goals in Derby colours — only Steve Bloomer has more. And no one can top his 589 appearances for the club.

‘I feel even more strongly about you now, John,’ smiles McFarland.Dialogue quickens again when they wonder if Gemmill scored a goal to beat the iconic solo effort for Scotland against Holland in the 1978 World Cup. Deadpan, Gemmill says: ‘Ordinary.’

McFarland: ‘Come on, that’s got to be your best goal, Archie.’

Gemmill: ‘Three days later we were on the plane.’

Durban: ‘Archie, it was one of the few times I was proud to know you!’

Gemmill: ‘You’re only trying to be kind to make up for all the abuse you gave me.’

McFarland: ‘Take it from us, an Englishman and a Welshman, that was a great goal.’ Gemmill: ‘Aye, it was a great goal if I’d known what I was actually doing.’

They laugh and recall a fabulous free-kick for Derby against Nottingham Forest, having returned from the City Ground for his second spell with the Rams.

‘I knew I was scoring that one,’ Gemmill nods.

O’Hare was Clough’s first Derby signing. They were together at Sunderland and O’Hare was in the youth team coached by Clough when he was injured.

‘I was an inside forward until he took over and stuck me up front,’ says O’Hare. ‘As a player, Cloughie wasn’t the most popular but he scored so many goals they had to put up with him. He would breeze in, arrogantly confident.’

McFarland was Clough’s second signing. Shaken awake by his mother late one Friday night after playing for Tranmere, the 18-year-old learned Derby’s managerial team were on the doorstep keen to sign him. ‘I go downstairs in my pyjamas, sit down and they talk and talk,’ says McFarland. ‘My mother is up and down making about 15 cups of tea, and I said, “Mr Clough, I’d like to leave it until after the weekend and give you my answer on Monday”.

‘He said, “We’re not waiting that long, we want a yes or no tonight, and hurry up because we’ve got a game tomorrow”.

‘I asked my dad what he thought and he said, “If it was me, I’d sign”. That was it. Peter jumped up out of a chair, put a pen in my hand and held it there, got the forms out, and said, “Listen to your father”.

‘I signed like that, both of us holding the pen together and the minute the papers were signed, Peter said, “Right, we’ve got them Brian. Thank you Mr and Mrs McFarland, that’s the best decision you could’ve made for your son”. And they were out the door. I had no idea what the terms were and couldn’t help thinking I’d made the worst decision of my life.’

Clough and Taylor (below) were in perfect balance, long before the acrimonious split when Taylor left Clough at Forest and returned to manage Derby. ‘Brian had charisma and Peter’s judgment of players was terrific,’ says O’Hare.

McFarland recalls one of Taylor’s scouting trips to County Durham: ‘Ten minutes in, he knew the lad he was there to see wasn’t for him so he turned around to watch the game behind him, and that’s when he saw John Robson, running free at left back.’

Taylor discovered Roger Davies at Worcester City. ‘He went in disguise to watch him train,’ says Durban. ‘On his first day with us, he brought him in and said, “This is Roger Davies, our new signing. I’ve watched him training three times and followed him to the pub twice, and I want to let you know he hasn’t bought a drink yet”.’

When it comes to the club’s most influential signing of the era, however, these legends totalling more than 1,500 appearances have no doubt. ‘Dave Mackay,’ they agree in unison without hesitation.

Mackay left Derby in 1971, to become player-manager of Swindon. Todd, signed for £175,000 from Sunderland, replaced him and excelled but Mackay’s three years as captain continued to shape the dressing room.

Even in his absence, he was integral. ‘Maybe the best signing in the history of Derby,’ says Gemmill. ‘As a person as well as a player.’ As important to the 1972 title triumph as Clough or Taylor? They all nod. ‘His influence was great,’ says Durban. ‘Absolutely everybody looked up to Dave.’

Derby legends Rory McFarland, Alan Durban, John O'Hare and Archie Gemmill look back at at their title winning season of 1971-72

Derby legends Rory McFarland, Alan Durban, John O’Hare and Archie Gemmill look back at at their title winning season of 1971-72

Mackay was the only man who could have soothed the scars when Clough and Taylor quit after a feud with chairman Sam Longson and players threatened to strike if they were not reinstated.

‘We probably went too far trying to get Brian and Peter back but that’s how strongly we felt,’ says McFarland. ‘At one stage, we were prepared to get on a plane and fly to Mallorca and not play our Saturday game as a protest.

‘Cliff Lloyd, the PFA chairman, warned me if we went, we’d be banned sine die, unable to play football again. Not only in England, in any country.

‘He told me to think about it and explain it to the players. I did and we didn’t go, but we very nearly did.’

Mackay came in and led Derby to their second title, in 1975, with Gemmill and McFarland still in the team. Durban was, by this time, managing Shrewsbury, and O’Hare reunited with Clough, Taylor and McGovern at Forest.

Robson died 18 years ago at the age of 53, after suffering with multiple sclerosis.

The rest of the squad is alive and many are still in the area, painfully aware of the current plight of the Rams. ‘It’s a depressing thought that Derby might lose its football club,’ says O’Hare. ‘Awful for the city and the fans. No one’s bothered about relegation, it’s about survival.’

Eyes turn hopefully to McFarland, on the board of directors when owner Mel Morris sank the Rams into administration. Unfortunately, there is no inside information to share. Only his natural optimism, having been there as coach and caretaker boss in 1984 when Derby went to the brink, were rescued and rose swiftly from the third tier to the first under Arthur Cox.

‘We hope and pray that we survive and somebody buys it,’ says McFarland.

Indeed we all do.

That would be another champagne and sombreros moment.

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