Jobey, George: Signings were key to successful era
Anton Rippon looks at the career of one of the Rams’ most famous and long-serving managers, George Jobey.
Derby County supporters viewed the coming 1925-26 football season with mixed emotions. The Rams had just lost a manager who, in the previous three years, had taken them to within one game of their first-ever Wembley FA Cup Final, and rebuilt the team to the point where fans were wondering just how they had missed out on promotion.
Cecil Potter, disappointed at coming so close in both 1924 and 1925, had left the Baseball Ground and retired from football to run a dairy business in Sussex, although within weeks he was back in harness at Huddersfield Town, who he would set on the road to a hat-trick of League Championship successes.
Jobey had enjoyed a good playing career – he won a League Championship medal and played in the 1911 FA Cup Final with Newcastle and scored Arsenal’s first goal at Highbury – before turning out for Bradford, Leicester Fosse and Northampton Town, where he was player-manager.
In 1922, Jobey had taken over at Wolves, helping them to the Third Division North title before going into the hotel business.
Derby had persuaded him to return to football and it was one of the most significant appointments in the club’s history, for he became one of the most famous – and long-serving – of all Rams’ managers.
And despite suffering a late start to the 1925-26 season – a missed train connection at Selby delayed the kick-off at Hull – Derby County’s new manager succeeded where Cecil Potter had failed, taking the Rams back to the top flight, where they became one of the great English club sides of the 1930s.
On September 24, 1925, Jobey made one of his most significant signings when 25-year-old Derbyshire-born Harry Bedford joined the Rams from Blackpool for £3,500.
Soon, goals from the two Harrys, Bedford and Storer, shot the Rams into the top two. And this time they stayed there, winning promotion three points behind the champions, Sheffield Wednesday, and five points ahead of third-placed Chelsea.
Over the next 14 years, George Jobey was to make many great signings, and the Derbyshire Football Express of May 5, 1928, documents one of his greatest weeks in the transfer market: “Derby County secured two very promising young players during this week, both from Midland League clubs, and both, by coincidence, possessed of the Christian names of John William.” Jack Barker and Jack Bowers both became England internationals.
The Jobey era had heralded such commonplace success that when the Rams finished second in 1929-30, some supporters were dissatisfied that they had not gone one better and won the title.
In the 10th game of the 1930-31 season, mighty Arsenal arrived at the Baseball Ground unbeaten and sitting on top of the table. The Gunners of Herbert Chapman were also FA Cup holders, but the Rams hit them with three goals in the first 22 minutes on the way to a 4-2 victory.
The Arsenal game was the first appearance of the season by Jack Bowers, but he then proceeded to launch a blitz on the club’s individual scoring record. In only 33 matches he crashed home 37 goals, including four in one game against Chelsea when the Rams beat the Londoners 6-2. This magnificent spell of goalscoring was the main reason why the Rams reached sixth place and, for most of the season, were sitting on the edge of the leading pack.
With Bowers now in rampant form, Jobey felt able to let Harry Bedford go, to Newcastle United where he finished joint top scorer at St James’ Park in his first season.
“Whoever beats Derby County will win the Cup,” said a Wolves director after his team had been hammered 6-3 at Molineux in the third round of the 1932-33 season. It was a prophecy that almost came true, with one of the greatest-ever Rams’ Cup games thrown in along the way.
In the quarter-finals, the Rams met Sunderland, in a Baseball Ground tie that was to provide Derby people with a topic of conversation for years. The crowd of 34,218 and the receipts of £2,768 were ground records.
It would be an understatement to call the game a “thriller”. There were six goals in the first 36 minutes but, with 60 seconds left to play, the Rams were trailing. Still in his first season as the regular outside-left, Dally Duncan was taking the Sunderland right flank apart. He had scored the Rams’ first goal and made the third with a magnificent run. Now, in the 89th minute, he earned Derby a replay with a long-range effort from the wing, a high cross-ball that somehow found its way into the Sunderland net for a 4-4 draw.
It seemed that virtually every man, woman and child in Sunderland and Derby wanted to see this rematch. The crowd inside Roker Park for the Wednesday afternoon replay was a massive 75,118; that was still the Wearsiders’ record attendance when Roker Park was demolished more than 60 years later.
Thousands were locked out, hundreds lined the touchlines. There were people injured and the general chaos caused criticism of the Sunderland club’s organisation.
Goals were hard to come by and there was only one. It came in the 11th minute of extra-time. Nicholas fed Crooks with a well-weighted pass. Crooks swerved past Shaw and centred. All eyes were on Bowers and McDougall, the Sunderland centre-half, as they jumped together. But the ball eluded both of them and ran through to Peter Ramage, who was storming in. Ramage collected his thoughts and headed cleanly just inside the post.
Even then the thrills were not over. In the last minute of extra-time, Davis burst through and unleashed a rocket for the far corner of Jack Kirby’s net. The goal roar was already in 75,000 throats when Kirby stunned them into a choked silence. He did not divert the ball – he caught it!
The cool brilliance of Kirby, and the magic of Duncan, had put the Rams through to the semi-finals, where they met Manchester City at Leeds Road, Huddersfield. Alas, Wembley proved elusive again. After two heading collisions, Jack Bowers was in a semi-conscious state for much of the game and the Rams went down 3-2. City it was who went to the FA Cup Final, where they lost to Everton.
The Rams, meanwhile, finished in seventh place with Jack Bowers scoring 35 League goals to add to the eight he had netted in the FA Cup; 43 goals in 47 matches was a magnificent return.
On February 3, 1934, there was euphoria in Derby. Supporters debated the Rams’ chances of a League and Cup double. Derby had just beaten Stoke 5-1 to go top of Division One. In the Cup, victory over Wolves had revived omens of another good run.
In the fifth round the Rams (38 points from 28 games) faced Arsenal (37 from 28) at Highbury in a battle of the giants. Syd Wileman came in for the injured Arthur Groves, but otherwise the Rams took the field with one of their greatest-ever teams, a team which had settled together over the previous two seasons and which now selected itself.
Unfortunately, that famous Rams team of the mid-1930s went down to the only goal of the game at Highbury, scored by David Jack.
The Cup exit was followed by another disappointing slump in the League. After spending only three weeks at the top of the table, the Rams slipped to finish fourth.
Yet it was another excellent season, especially since the Rams had been slow at getting off the mark. All the same, there was genuine disappointment at the failure to capitalise on the mid-season promise of the fabled double.
Bowers again notched a hatful of goals in the League, 34, over half the Rams’ total. This tremendous centre-forward had now scored 150 goals in 171 League and Cup appearances.
Alas, the following season was barely a month old, when Bowers suffered a knee injury. Recognising the need for dramatic action, Jobey made one of his most inspired signings, that of 32-year-old Hughie Gallacher from Chelsea.
For the last nine seasons, Gallacher had topped the scoring charts at either Newcastle or Chelsea, so there were no doubts about his ability. But Gallacher was also a controversial character and the complicated signing included help to relieve the divorced Gallacher’s maintenance debts. It says much for Jobey’s confidence that he felt able to handle the Scot, and a lot for Jobey’s expertise when he proved that he could.
Gallacher’s first game for the Rams attracted a big crowd who braved driving rain. He was soon exciting the fans and scored all the goals in Derby’s 5-2 win at Ewood Park in December.
Derby County now had eight internationals – Cooper, Barker, Bowers, Keen and Crooks (England), Duncan and Gallacher (Scotland), and reserve full-back Sid Reid (Ireland).
Injuries to Bowers and new signing Reg Stockill (from Arsenal), not to mention the sale of Tommy Cooper to Liverpool, unsettled the team and the final position of sixth was very satisfactory.
There were the occasional strange results, not least the 9-3 hammering of West Brom at the Baseball Ground in December. The Rams had one draw and four defeats in their previous five matches but they scored nine for the first time since January 1899, with Stockill and Crooks each netting a hat-trick.
The Rams also celebrated 50 years of soccer with a supper at the Drill Hall in Becket Street – scene of the bazaars which had kept the club afloat in the 1890s. Another feature of the jubilee was the Rams entertaining 2,000 children, either fatherless or sons and daughters of the unemployed.
The 1935-36 season was one of the very best in Derby County’s history – they finished runners-up – yet after 35 minutes of Cup soccer they were in a very embarrassing position, 2-0 down to non-League Dartford at the Baseball Ground.
It was a testimony to the Rams’ character, as well as their skill, that they pulled around from this set-back. Goals from Gallacher, Crooks and Scottish international Charlie Napier (a close-season signing from Celtic) saw them to another exciting Cup run which ended in the sixth round at Fulham.
In the season’s last week, the Rams had produced an excellent performance to beat League champions, Sunderland, 4-0, but with a typical flair for inconsistency, ended the season with a 6-0 defeat to mark their first League visit to Brentford.
A feature of the last two games was the introduction of Jack Howe, the former Hartlepool left-back. Howe had been signed by Jobey after a game at Lincoln and he soon established himself as a regular, joining other North-East stars in the Rams ranks – Crooks, Ramage, Jimmy Hagan and Ralph Hann.
In 1936-37, for the fourth successive season, the Rams finished in the top half dozen, but there was increasing frustration over the lack of tangible reward. Were the Rams ever going to win the League Championship or the FA Cup?
Another elusive target was 100 goals in a season. Derby needed six at Wolves in their last game of the season, but lost 3-1 and failed to beat their record of 96 set in 1927-28.
One point from the Wolves game would also have equalled the record of 21 away points, set in 1934-35. This highlighted the problem facing the Rams. Whereas they were once invincible at the Baseball Ground, the team was now vulnerable to silly slips, losing 13 home points during the season.
Rams’ fans spent most of the 1937-38 season studying the bottom positions rather than the top. And there was no comfort in the Cup. In the third round, a crowd of 28,788 saw Stoke win 2-1 at the Baseball Ground.
A recovery in the League seemed likely after the 2-0 win at Bolton. But the following Saturday, the Rams suffered an amazing defeat.
They went down 7-1 at home to Manchester City, who were eventually relegated despite scoring more goals than any other First Division side, and having won the Championship the previous season. Peter Doherty, later to write his name large in Derby County’s story, scored twice. Derby also lost 6-1 at Maine Road in September.
The highlight of Derby’s season came on February 19, when they won 3-2 at top-of-the-table Brentford, thanks to a last-minute goal from Ronnie Dix, who became an England international after joining the Rams from Aston Villa in February 1937.
After this the Rams’ season petered out. Defeats in four of the last five games ensured that Derby finished no higher than 13th.
At the end of December 1938, Derby led the First Division by five points. The costly McCulloch was scoring regularly, there was support from inside-forwards Dai Astley and Dix, while wingers Crooks and Duncan were at their best. Astley, a Welsh international, had been signed from Aston Villa in November 1936 and the Rams’ all-international forward line was valued at around £40,000. Rams’ fans – even the oldest supporters – saw this season as the best hope yet of Derby County achieving the title.
But it was not to be their year. After New Year, Derby collected only 11 points from 17 games. There were mitigating circumstances for the decline. The sale of Astley (who was reluctant to leave the Baseball Ground) to Blackpool in January was compounded by knee injuries to Barker and Howe.
Yet the team was stable enough to the extent that four players – Nicholas, Hann, Duncan and Dix – were ever-present, the most in a single season in Derby’s history. In addition, Tim Ward, who had joined Derby as a youngster from Cheltenham, and goalkeeper Frank Boulton, signed from Arsenal, missed only five games between them.
Centre-forward Jack Stamps (from New Brighton) signed in January and scored three times in eight games.
When war was declared in September 1939, the League programme was abandoned after three games of the 1939-40 season. By the time League football resumed in September 1946, the great George Jobey had been banned sine die from football management. A joint FA-League enquiry held at the Midland Hotel in 1941 found the manager, and five directors, guilty of making illegal payments to players. Now everyone knew how the Rams had managed to attract such great players throughout the 1930s.
Although Jobey’s suspension was lifted in 1945, he did not return to football until 1952, when he was appointed manager of Mansfield Town, only to be sacked for “lack of interest”. He died at his home in Bangor Street, Chaddesden, in May 1962, aged 76. Only after Brian Clough arrived five years later did Derby County enjoy better days than those of the George Jobey era.
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This article is from the Derby Evening Telegraph and is reproduced online here.