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DET Column
Friday, April 03 2009

Most football fans hark back to a football watching period in their  lives when everything was just right about the game. 'Golden  Aged' Derby fans may remember the post-war years of Carter, Stamps & Doherty while more middle aged fans might talk about Hector, Hinton and the Clough years. Younger fans talk about Arthur Cox's teams of Davison, Gee and McMinn etc. while others may only remember Stimac. Eranio and Asanovic in Jim Smith's team.

 

If you talk to the fans about those times it becomes obvious that the way the game is watched and who by has changed drastically since WWII.

 

Older fans talk about finishing work at lunchtime on Saturday, calling into the pub for a pint and then going to the Saturday game. Fathers would often meet up with their sons before the game as in general it was predominantly a man's game. 

 

The vast majority of the ground was terracing and despite being densely packed and with any away support mixed in with the home fans, there was little in the way of trouble. Bad language was frowned upon. 

 

In the sixties, the number of female fans began to increase as did the number of away supporters making a day of it. Although Derby was hardly 'swinging' in the sixties, the arrival of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor towards the end of the decade did a lot to put the Baseball Ground on the map. The sixties also saw the arrival of televised football with Match of the Day bringing the game to a wider audience as did regional highlight programmes such as Star Soccer by the end of the decade. Exposure to the more vocal supporters of other clubs led to most clubs developing chants and songs - this was when the football crowd began to find their voice. 

 

With the arrival of the seventies things began to change more rapidly. While there has always been some trouble around football, violence exploded on the terraces and segregation of the crowd became the norm rather than a rarity. More fans began to travel. These were great days for Rams fans as two league titles were won, European nights, an Fa Cup Semi-final and a win in the Charity Shield at Wembley; it seemed the good times wouldn't end.

 

End they did however, and Derby along with the rest of football entered the doldrum years with attendances down and safety concerns over ageing decrepit stadia meaning that fewer could get in if they wanted to. The early 80s were a  bad time for football and got a whole lot worse as the decade wore on. In 1985 the Bradford Fire and the Heysel disaster put the stadia and the fans' behaviour in the public spotlight. There was talk of identity cards for all football fans and the fences went up - segregation and heavy policing became the order of the day.

 

Ironically, the World Cup of 1986 started something of a rejuvenation of football and even the abject failure of England at Euro 88 failed to dampen the enthusiasm. the appalling loss of life at the Hillsborough disaster at the end of the decade highlighted the fact that football couldn't go on the way it was.

 

The 1990s saw new purpose built all seater stadiums built out on the edge of towns and more emphasis was placed on the family as the ideal football supporting unit. Sky TV would also have you believe that football began with the Premier League in 1992. Certainly the amount of money being pumped into football for the TV rights made the game more lucrative and made the game more accessible to the millions watching at home.

 

Paradoxically the increase in revenue led to massive hikes in ticket prices with many fans becoming priced out of the game beyond the armchair level. With the Premier League clubs wanting to keep most of the TV money for themselves, many clubs started to find financial survival more and more difficult and several clubs, including the Rams, have been very close to going out of existence. 

 

The money has also created an elite within the Premier League who routinely divide all of the big trophies between themselves. At the end of the first decade of the new century it is becoming increasingly apparent that football needs to change again to survive - especially in these credit crunch times.

 

Football is being run as a business as the old style philanthropic Chairmen find it impossible to fund the running of clubs. Ticket prices are so high now that regular attendance at every game is becoming more and more difficult to justify. Younger people literally cannot afford to go to games and the demographic of the average fan is changing. Success is reserved for a few big clubs and smaller clubs like Derby seem doomed to hover in a twilight zone between the Premier League and the Football League.

 

In the past, change was foisted on the fans whether they liked it or not. Fans' organisations never stretched beyond Supporters' Clubs. Though excellent in their own way at supporting the clubs, as they were usually tied to the club, they could not afford to be too critical.

 

Now - with the support of the government - we have organisations like Supporters Direct and the FSF who are independent of the clubs and can be openly critical. Many clubs now have organisations of supporters like RamsTrust who are 'fiercely independent' of the club. Some of these Trusts actually run or actively participate in the running of the club. It's now possible as a supporter to have a say in how the game develops in the future.

 

To join RamsTrust, go to www.ramstrust.org.uk or write to RamsTrust, PO Box 6377, Derby DE1 9XP or telephone 0870 4321871 and leave a voicemail message.  

 

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