MICHAEL S. COLLINS tells how Derby County Football Club was long dogged by a ‘gypsy curse’

By the time Sir Francis Ley’s Baseball Ground became the permanent residence for the football club Derby County in 1895, it had seen sporting events of all kinds.

As the name attests, it was home to the late Victorian attempt to establish baseball as a widespread spectator sport.

Cricket was also played by the workers at Ley’s Ironworks Foundry.

And football, with a youthful Derby County becoming one of the inaugural members of the Football League.

They were a club on the fast track to success, what could possibly go wrong?

On moving into the Baseball Ground as permanent owners, they evicted a group of Romani gypsies who dwelled on the site.

Did gypsies ‘place curse’ on new sporting grounds?

Immediately there was rumours of a curse being placed on the team, that it would never win the FA Cup, the premier footballing competition in the land.

At the time, it was open to clubs throughout the United Kingdom, which is how my Partick Thistle once won a third round game in the FA Cup in Ireland.

Anyhow, there’s rumours of curses all the time in football. Birmingham City thought they suffered a hundred year curse for similar reasons to Derby, to the extent their one time manager and permanent rent-a-quote Barry Fry once urinated in each corner of the Birmingham ground St Andrews to try and break the curse.

Derby County Football Club in 1946

Derby County Football Club in 1946

A psychic with a good dose of schadenfruede told him that would break the curse. It didn’t. What a waste of a curse, sceptics might think, dooming Birmingham City to mediocrity. In fact, one might uncharitably suggest mediocrity was an improvement for them…

The curse did live in the minds of the Derby folk though, after they reached the 1898 FA Cup final and lost. Then reached the 1899 FA Cup final and lost. Then reached the 1903 FA Cup final… and lost. They also reached three over Semi-finals in this time period. It was as if there was some divine influence reaching out to stop even the law of averages allowing a Derby success.

Clearly cursed, Derby never bothered to get to the final for another 40 years.

In 1946, the club reached another FA Cup final. But what hope could there be?

Some of the team representatives went on a visit to the surviving relatives of the Romani they had so unthinkingly tossed out on their ears half a century previously. Begging forgiveness. “We’re fans of Derby County, do you not think that’s punishment enough?” perhaps.

Towards the end of normal time, Derby and their Cup final opponents, Charlton, were locked in a draw. Hope seemed to be slipping away, a Derby lead immediately squandered. Charlton were in the ascendancy. The Derby players needed a sign, any sign, that the curse was finally lifted.
The ball burst.

The curse was broken in 1946

Now, never mind the fact that this sort of thing happened every other week back then, and that it actually prevented a Derby goal.

It was a sign that the angered spirits were appeased. Derby could now win the FA Cup!

And so they did, winning 4-1 in extra time.

Elated, the Derby County fans celebrated, secure in the knowledge that their FA Cup curse was finally lifted.

Relaxed and composed having survived the Curse of the Baseball Ground, Derby County have never reached the FA Cup final since…

Michael S. Collins
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