Entering Enemy Territory
For anyone raised in Uttoxeter, a market town situated on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, an important life decision must be made… Derby County or Stoke City?
Pride Park is 20.6 miles from St. Mary’s Church in the centre of Uttoxeter and the Bet365 Stadium is 15.4 miles away. As someone who likes to support his local team, the answer was obviously Stoke City! 😉
Nowadays, of course, there is also Burton Albion‘s Pirelli Stadium, which is a mere 14.8 miles away.
Who knew Uttoxeter was such a hotbed of football?
As a Stoke fan, when my son was born, he was raised as a Potter too. However, once I found myself at a stage where I couldn’t afford to go to the games with him any longer, something terrible happened. He started visiting Derby with his mates from school and before I knew what was happening, there was a Derby County shirt fluttering on our washing line.
He had turned to the dark side!
A real Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader moment in our household and one which still haunts me.
With a trip back down to the Midlands to visit family this weekend, I ‘Parked’ my ‘Pride’ (see what I did there?) and agreed to go to watch a Derby match with my son.
What a great time to do so it turned out to be, too!
In Derby County and Bolton Wanderers, we would see two of the original Football League members. Both of whom have fallen on hard times but are starting to claw their way back and would be facing off in a crucial League One encounter, with both teams occupying play-off places.
First, we had to get there…
Derby County – Journey and Pre-Game
Friday – Hetton to Uttoxeter
With this being primarily a family visit, we went down on the Friday, setting off from home on the 10:44 bus to Durham and arriving at 11:15.
This gave us ample time to prepare base camp and make an ascent on the east face of the Durham train station summit. If you haven’t been, you have been warned!
Our train arrived on time and we took our seats for the two-and-a-half-hour journey south to Derby. We took out our phones and happily played games to make the time go quicker and before we knew it, we were passing through the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, past Belper and into Derby train station.
Here we had a short wait for our connecting train taking us west to Uttoxeter. It duly arrived on time and again a nice smooth journey took me to my hometown.
We landed in Uttoxeter at 15:15, four and a half hours after setting off.
Uttoxeter and ‘Home’
Wherever you travel to or move away to live, there is always a place that is home, and for me that’s Uttoxeter. A place that you know like the back of your hand and is filled with memories of times gone by and buildings that no longer exist (and yes, I do remember when some of it was just fields!)
I could have caught a taxi to my mother’s house but we decided to walk instead, despite us both having bad backs at the moment. I wanted to have a look around at the familiar sights and faces and see what, if anything, had changed since our last visit.
The first thing I noticed, was the ongoing demolition of the old dairy building next to the train station. A place that used to employ a good-sized percentage of the town’s population that has been left derelict for years and is now a rubble landscape with bulldozers and heavy machinery taking away yet another industry and part of the town’s heritage.
I hope there are some good replacement plans in place!
Nodding to familiar faces and an occasional hello and we were soon at my mother’s house where we were staying for the weekend. We were soon joined by my son and a happy pizza package from Sergeant Peppers. I miss that place!
Saturday – Match Day
Prior to me coming down, my son had emailed Derby County and sorted out a sneaky pitchside photo with one of the Derby players before the game for us. This meant we had to be there for 13:15, so the five of us (my son and his wife and her best friend, Mrs Hopper and myself) set off at 11:30 with the morning mist and fog still hovering.
Once at Pride Park, Mrs Hopper and I went for a wander around the stadium to take photos, visit the club shop etc, while the other three headed off to the Matchday Bar inside the Pride Leisure building next to the stadium car park.
Pride Park was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in July of 1997 and it was a direct replacement for one of football’s iconic stadiums, The Baseball Ground. Its construction cost was a reported £28 million and the first visitors to play at the ground were the Italian club, Sampdoria. Vincenzo Montella scored the first and only goal of the game to enter the history books as the stadium’s first-ever goal scorer.
Aside from Stoke’s Victoria Ground and Bet365 Stadium, the Baseball Ground is one I have visited more than any other and I remember it being one with a good atmosphere emanating from the Popside terrace and at times, the whole ground would join in to create quite an intimidating din for away teams to contend with.
I was interested to see how Pride Park would compare to that…
One of the more interesting features outside Pride Park is Unity Plaza.
This contains a featured statue of the iconic duo that led Derby County to win the old First Division (now the Premier League) in 1971/72.
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were at the helm for Derby’s golden era in the early to mid-seventies.
Dave Mackay was in charge when the club won the trophy again in 1974/75 as Clough and Taylor had left to manage Brighton. Taylor later had a further spell in charge of Derby, this time as manager, in the early eighties but he never replicated his previous successes.
Although they later had a falling out with each other (as well as managing arch-rivals Nottingham Forest) the pair will forever be legends at Derby for their achievements whilst at the club.
Another interesting feature of Unity Plaza is the floor that surrounds the Clough/Taylor statue. It contains metal discs which point to different stadiums around the country and beyond, including Wembley, Nottingham Forest, AC Milan, Hartlepool United and Sunderland.
As we now live between Sunderland and Hartlepool, those discs in particular caught my eye.
A little way off to the right of Unity Plaza was a marquee that had ‘Derby County Fans Park’ printed on the roof. Presumably, this is a fan zone but I didn’t explore it, so this is just an assumption from the name written on it.
Derby County – Outside the Stadium
On the North West corner of the ground, this brick edifice guards the entrance to the Lionel Pickering Suite and it looks familiar to me. Derby fans, was this brought to Pride Park from the Baseball Ground? It reminds me of that place for some reason.
Please leave a comment below if you know, thanks!
Having completed a circumference of Pride Park, we went to meet back up with the others and have a drink in the Matchday Bar.
The bar is situated right next to a leisure area where a large number of hybrid tennis/squash courts fill a huge hall. While sitting there having a drink, your eye is drawn to all the sweaty people keeping fit and making me feel fatter with every sip of my Jack Daniels.
I also ran into an old workmate and stood talking to him for ten minutes. He seemed quite fascinated that I was there because he knows I’m a Stoke fan. He was equally fascinated by the fact that I was wearing a Berwick Rangers shirt…
Ah! The life of a groundhopper is a strange one at times.
With the clock ticking on, it was time to head for the main reception and ask about our pitchside rendezvous with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
Once past the man on the door of reception, we headed to the desk and were directed to another man who came over and took us through the main stand, past officials and players and groundstaff milling around and going through their pre-match routines and out onto the Pride Park turf.
The sun was now cutting through most of the remaining fog and despite the temperature being chilly, as winter days go, this wasn’t one to be grumbled at.
A minute later we were joined by Mendez-Laing and a nice, humble guy he seemed. I asked him for his prediction for the day and he told me 2-0 to Derby, while I said I expected a close game and a 1-1 result.
As well as a photo with NML, we also had pictures taken on the substitute’s bench.
I also asked if I could go up to the playing surface and take some photos for the website and no objections were raised.
Thank you to Derby County for allowing us to do this and thanks also to my son for arranging it with them. I enjoyed that.
Derby Pitchside Gallery
Pitchside View of Pride Park
We said our thank you’s to our guide and headed back to the Matchday Bar, staying there until it was time to head back to the stadium around 14:20.
Derby Club Shop
We popped into the club shop to pick up a pin badge to keep my burgeoning collection intact. £5 for a little silver-coloured ram seemed a bit high but after our little treat pitchside, I wasn’t about to say no.
Programmes aren’t available in the shop but there are sellers around the ground and we bought one on the way around to the turnstiles.
Derby County – The Stadium
Although Pride Park is a modern stadium, built in a period where every stadium built seems to have a one ‘cookie-cutter’ size-fits-all feel about them, Pride Park does seem to have a little more character about it than most.
Make no mistake, this is not the Baseball Ground or Victoria Ground. It is most definitely of the new era but there is still a certain something that makes it a little unique and I’m not entirely sure what it is.
Maybe it’s the fans themselves?
The atmosphere at a lot of the new stadia is not the same as it was at the older grounds with the terraced areas. Derby, however, seems to have transferred their atmosphere with them and I was impressed, despite not wanting to be.
Bolton Wanderers, another sleeping giant of League One, also did their part in making this a fabulous atmosphere to watch a game of football in. Their allocation in the far corner of the ground was a sell-out and their fans came to enjoy the occasion.
I believe there were only about 700 to 800 tickets left available before kick-off, a testament to both clubs’ fans in the third tier of English football.
Pride Park’s official capacity is 33,597 and today’s attendance was 30,004, so despite the news about not many tickets left, the game was still 3,500 under capacity.
North West Corner and North Stand
The North West Corner is a small area containing hospitality boxes, an electronic scoreboard and a small number of seats in the lower tier. It joins the Toyota West Stand with the North Stand and has a sloping roof due to the West Stand being higher than the rest of the stadium.
The North Stand is in keeping with the other three facets of the stadium, in that it is two-tiered and of a uniform height of seating.
Opposite where we were sitting, is the East Stand, which is the other long side of the stadium. There was quite an infamous tweet made at the time of Gary Rowett leaving Derby to join Stoke as manager a few summers ago. In the tweet, someone claimed Derby was a much bigger club because all four corners of their ground were filled in…
Now I’m not here to dispute the point of which club is bigger (probably Derby to be fair, as it’s a bigger city and Stoke-on-Trent supports two Football League teams) but it would be remiss of me not to point out that Pride Park does indeed have all four corners joining up.
South East Coner and South Stand
Indeed, one of those infamous corners is used to house the away supporters. In this case an impressively large Bolton Wanderers following of 3,139.
Two lines of stewards and a small number of policemen stood on either side of a flight of steps to create segregation on both sides of the corner.
The South Stand, meanwhile, is where Derby’s more vociferous fans congregate and it was quite a battle today as both sets of fans went home with sore throats I’m sure.
The Toyota West Stand
The Toyota West Stand is the Main Stand at Derby and is the one that contains the inner workings of the club. Dressing rooms, reception, directors box, players’ tunnel etc. It is also the largest stand at Pride Park and it was our vantage point for today’s game. Being where we were sat makes it difficult to get a decent photo of it, so apologies for that.
These pictures from the pitchside probably give you a decent idea of how it looks.
Derby County – Stadium Gallery
Pre-Match View of Pride Park
Derby County v Bolton Wanderers – The Game
Derby came into the match in fine form, with four wins and a draw in their last five matches. The draw, ironically, was a 0-0 draw with today’s opponents Bolton on December 27th. The Rams occupied fourth place in League One at the start of play. Indeed, they haven’t lost a league game since a 1-0 defeat at Ipswich Town on October 21st.
Their Lancashire opponents meanwhile, sat one place below them in fifth having won two and drawn three of their last five fixtures, including the draw with Derby. A period of games that had also seen three of their five opposing teams reduced to ten men (Lincoln City, Barnsley and Plymouth Argyle). In fact, Bolton came into this game having lost just once in their last thirteen games.
The form suggested we should be in for an exciting, close game with two very in-form teams.
The hosts started the first forty-five and pressed the opposition from the off, never letting Bolton settle on the ball. This tactic seemed to throw Bolton and Derby were dominant for much of the game.
Haydon Roberts tested Bolton goalkeeper, James Trafford with a stinging effort from the edge of the box following some quick, neat passing between Max Bird and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
Derby were winning back possession quickly whenever they lost the ball and it was another example of this that set up the opening goal. In the 16th minute, A loose pass from Roberts was won back by a stretching Jason Knight who won the fifty-fifty challenge and found Korey Smith with his lunging pass.
Smith set Tom Barkhuizen away on the right wing and he put an early ball across the box that was turned in at the near post by a combination of the tangled legs of Mendez-Laing and defender, Will Aimson.
Pride Park erupted with noise as players and fans alike celebrated the breakthrough.
1-0 Derby County!
Not long after the opening goal, the South Stand started to chant their Mendez-Laing song to the tune of Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’.
🎵 He went to Cardiff
He took them to the Prem
He’s come to Derby to do the same again
He’s got no neck but he’s got a massive wang
He is Nathaniel
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing 🎵
Now, I know some of that is true but I will leave it with Mrs Mendez-Laing to confirm the rest. All I know is that Derby were 1-0 up and the man I had shaken hands with two hours ago had scored the goal.
Dan N’lundulu was a willing target for Bolton as they looked to get back into the game and the Trotters looked a threat around the Rams penalty area but it was Derby who came closest again, when Barkhuizen and Mendez-Laing reversed roles.
NML put in the cross from Derby’s right flank and presented Barkhuizen with a great chance to make it two. Unfortunately for him, he placed his header right down the throat of the Bolton ‘keeper and the chance was gone.
Derby continued to press but after chances for Barkhuizen again, and Knight at the near post weren’t taken, the half came to a close with Derby well worthy of their slender lead.
Half-time – Derby County 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
During the interval, my son’s best man and his son were on the pitch taking penalties against the Derby mascot, Rammy. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this until afterwards, otherwise, I would have taken a video for them to watch back.
Still, it helped make it an even more special day for the young man and I love it when clubs embrace their young supporters with things like this.
Well done, Derby!
The Second Half
As the Trotters got the second half underway, their fans were clearly behind them and the noise they generated during some of the rest of the game was simply superb from both sets of supporters.
Despite the decline in these clubs’ fortunes in recent years, the fanbases clearly haven’t deserted them and good times will return if that continues to be the case, I’m sure.
I hope the video below gives you some idea of the noise levels.
Bolton did respond to the efforts of their fans but never really created any clear-cut chances. Indeed, despite Bolton’s best efforts, it was Derby who compounded their dominance with a second goal in the 72nd minute, through ex-Aston Villa player Conor Hourihane.
It was a lovely team effort of a goal, too.
The ball fell to Mendez-Laing inside his own half and he played it to the right for Smith. Smith played it to Bird who took it to the halfway line before spraying a nice pass out to the Derby left for the waiting Barkhuizen. He put his head onto the bouncing ball and nodded it into the path of the onrushing Hourihane as he entered the penalty area.
His first touch was a powerful left-footed shot that flew past Trafford and into the net.
Lovely team goal!
2-0 Derby County!
It was almost three as time started ticking out when Mendez-Laing put in a lovely cross from the right. The resulting header from Roberts went agonisingly wide of the upright and nobody could have complained if that had gone in and this game had ended 3-0.
However, Bolton stuck with it and got a consolation reward in the third minute of injury time.
The ball was hoofed down the left flank and debatably kept in on the goal line by Dion Charles for Bolton. He cut the ball back for Kieran Sadlier whose effort got by the despairing defender and goalkeeper alike to give Wanderers a late goal back.
2-1 Bolton Wanderers Consolation!
It was too little too late for the Trotters and the final whistle blew before they had a chance to build on the late goal.
A further consolation for Bolton is that this is the first goal Derby have conceded at home since Bristol Rovers scored twice in a 4-2 defeat on the 29th of October.
This may have been a third-tier game but it could easily have been mistaken for a Premier League game for anyone who has been on a desert island for the last fifteen years. The noise levels from both sets of supporters added much to the occasion and I left having thoroughly enjoyed my foray into enemy territory.
I fully expect both Derby and Bolton to maintain their promotion push although I would be surprised if either team can catch the rampant Plymouth or Sheffield Wednesday. Having said that, you can never say never in football!
Who knows, today’s game could be a precursor to another meeting in the playoffs.
You can read a full Match Report here taken from the Derby County website.
Full-time – Derby County 2 Bolton Wanderers 1
Attendance – 30,004 (3,139 Bolton Wanderers fans)
Entrance Fee – £29.00
Programme – £3.00
Next up for Derby County was a trip to Port Vale on Tuesday and the Rams again came away with a 2-1 victory. They face a home tie with West Ham United in the FA Cup 4th Round on Monday 30th of January before another home game against struggling Morecambe on the 4th of February.
Meanwhile, Bolton Wanderers got back to winning ways with a 1-0 home win over bottom-of-the-table Forest Green Rovers on Tuesday night. Ironically, another red card was shown in this game, although this time it was a Bolton player seeing red. They follow this up with an early 12:30 kick-off in southeast London as they travel to The Valley to meet Charlton Athletic on Saturday.
Derby County – Match Highlights
Derby County – After the Game
Following the game, we walked back to where the car was parked and waited our turn to get out of the car park. We waited, and waited and then we waited a little more…
Finally, we were able to join the long line of slow-moving cars and edge away from Pride Park. This is a problem that occurs at the Bet365 Stadium too and something both clubs would do well to look at the improvement of traffic flow when exiting.
I did get a nice photo of twilight falling on the rear of the South Stand in the southeast corner, though.
After finally getting away from the stadium, we were back in Uttoxeter at 18:35 and home to a nice hot dinner to warm us up.
Sunday was the day before my son’s birthday and we joined him for a few drinks at the local pub quiz in the Old Talbot. We managed to come second to the team that wins it pretty much every week, so really, we won… right?
After the quiz, we joined a large party headed to the Ivory Cafe, our Indian restaurant of choice, for a birthday meal and it was great to catch up with everyone over the weekend.
Sadly, these weekends back home are gone before we know it and it was time to head back north the next morning.
Having said our goodbyes and limiting the number of things my mother was trying to pack our bags with, we were dropped off at Uttoxeter train station by my son.
The train was delayed by a mere ten minutes and at 12:07 we set off back towards derby. Despite the ten-minute delay, we were still in time to catch our connecting train north and after arriving at 12:32 we were on our way again at 12:45.
Our train pulled up into Durham at 15:15, giving us ten minutes to rush down to Milburngate to catch our bus for the final leg home.
Thank goodness it’s all downhill on the way back!
Our bus was already pulled in when we got there, so the timing was perfect and we were home less than half an hour later.
This weekend, we will be looking to head back up to Scotland for a trip to Dens Park, home of Dundee. They will be facing a resurgent Queen’s Park who currently sit atop the Scottish Championship, despite losing 5-0 at Ayr United the last we saw them.
Onto the next!
4 thoughts on “Derby County, Pride Park – Hopper Tales #54”
Great write up Ian, was good to see you!
Cheers Craig, you too pal. I hope I managed to overcome my prejudices and do the place justice haha
good write up well done, glad that you enjoyed your day in sunny Derby !
Cheers Phil, appreciate the feedback but I’m not sure I saw too much sun haha