When We Were Kings: The night when cheering Rams fans were willing Wolves to victory in a Molineux thriller
WENDY Dickinson, daughter of Derby County’s assistant manager Peter Taylor, went to Molineux to cheer on Wolverhampton Wanderers against Leeds United the night the Rams were crowned champions.
Victory for Leeds, or Liverpool at Arsenal, would snatch the title away from Derby.
Indeed, Leeds only had to draw to become champions.
“The final showdown at the end of a splendid season had all the drama of a Steven Spielberg film,” said Wendy.
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“While dad and the players were lifting San Miguels in Cala Millor and Brian (Clough) was away with his family in the Scilly Isles, me, mum and my brother, Phil, were trying to fight our way to Molineux to cheer on Wolves.
“It seemed like half of Derby had the same idea as the streets around the ground were thronged.
“There were thousands of fans outside the ground who just couldn’t get in. We eventually got to our seats just as the whistle went.
“We’ve sat through some nail-biters in our time but this game was terrifying. We were not only watching the match and willing Wolves to score but trying to listen to the fans all round us with portable radios who were listening to the other game at Highbury.”
The press were convinced Derby would be pipped at the post.
Arsenal had lost the FA Cup final to Leeds only 48 hours before they faced Liverpool, while Leeds were expected to comfortably beat Wolves.
Even the bookmakers were offering odds of 5-1 against Derby taking the title.
Wendy remembers: “At Highbury the 0-0 scoreline at half-time was looking good, while at Molineux the Wolves lads were playing like men possessed. Being written off by the press had obviously hurt their pride.
“Wolves won 2-1 and down at Arsenal the drama continued right up to the final minute when John Toshack had a goal disallowed in controversial circumstances by referee Roger Kirkpatrick, nicknamed Mr Pickwick because of his rotund figure.
“His claim to fame was that despite his physique, he could run faster backwards than he could forwards.
“The game at Arsenal ended goalless and the night belonged to Derby, even though they hadn’t kicked a ball.
“Phil, mum and I went completely bonkers in the stand as the final whistle went and the result came in from Highbury.
“All over Molineux there were little knots of Derby fans doing exactly the same.
“It continued outside the ground as we hugged and kissed people we’d never met before just because they had a Derby scarf around their necks.”
There were parties in the pubs and the streets of Derby to celebrate the Rams’ success.
Wendy recalls the feeling of joy among the supporters.
“When dad and the team came back from Majorca a few days after winning the Championship, the Baseball Ground was opened on a Sunday and thousands of fans poured in to hail the returning heroes,” she said.
“They looked tanned, relaxed and happy as they paraded around the ground with the Championship trophy aloft.
“It was a wonderful day, even though we struggled to leave the ground afterwards because the fans just wouldn’t go home. They were cheering and chanting in the narrow streets around the ground.”
Throughout the season, talk about who would win the title centred around Leeds, Liverpool and Arsenal but the Rams slipped quietly under the radar.
Wendy remembers that mention of Derby being champions was not encouraged.
“Dad and Brian did not encourage anyone to consider Derby as potential League Champions,” she recalled.
“Dad said they didn’t want to add to the pressure on the players but he and Brian knew they had a chance.”
Derby had lost only once in 12 League games ahead of the visit of Leeds to the Baseball Ground on April Fool’s Day in 1972.
John O’Hare put Derby in front and Leeds’ Norman Hunter turned the ball into his own net to complete a 2-0 victory in front of almost 39,000.
Wendy was in her usual seat with her mum towards the back of the directors’ box.
“I remember mum gripping my hand hard at the final whistle,” said Wendy.
“Mum kept her emotions under control, the better to help keep dad calm, but we just looked at each other and we didn’t need to say anything – we felt, for the first time, that we actually would win the title.
“You could almost touch the excitement in the town during the title run-in.
“The Derby Evening Telegraph circulation had gone through the roof and thousands of extra copies of the Football Special – the Green ’Un – were printed.
“Fans queued in droves to snap them up, banging on the windows of the Derby Telegraph offices in the town centre to get a copy.”
Wendy Dickinson along with Stafford Hildred wrote the book For Pete’s Sake: The Peter Taylor Story (Volume one: The Backstreets to the Baseball Ground).