Rev Ian Gregory is the ‘Polite Vicar’ of Basford fame, a retired Congregational minister and founder of the national Campaign for Courtesy.
When Rev ‘Gib’ Gregory moved to Derby in 1941 it was the beginning of a ten-year relationship not just with a large family of members at Normanton Road Congregational Church, but with Derby County - the Rams.
It had been a toss-up whether young Gabriel continued a career with the cotton industry in Bolton, his birthplace, or enter the Christian ministry. He had been ‘converted’ at a meeting in Bolton market place and as a determined disciple of Jesus Christ was intent on training for a career in the independent nonconformist churches.
His widowed mother was strongly opposed to the necessary university education for such a career, and needed his paltry wages from the cotton mill. She even threw his study books into the fire. But Gib persevered, and after a spell in a Manchester Church, moved on to Derby. During his Manchester ministry he played for a local team, at Prestwich, and would arrive on Sunday to take the morning service, bruised and battered from the previous day’s match. He was an excellent centre half, suffering, as all players did, from heading the often wet and heavy leather ball.
He had turned out for Bolton Wanderers reserves, being offered a contract at 5s a week with the Trotters, but the Church won, and eventually he was invited to lead the Church at Derby through the war years. The Church and its manse were within walking distance of the Baseball Ground, and we heard the cheers and groans of the crowd at our home in Rose Hill street. The church had a large snooker room, which became a resort for Derby County players after their training sessions, and young Ian, Gib’s son, was a fascinated observer as his team's heroes turned up to play there.
Gib moved on in 1951 to serve churches in Matlock, then Dewsbury, before retiring to Perth, where his busy life concluded, with occasional visits to watch brave St Johnstone (attendance around 3000, competing with the likes of Celtic (attendance 60,000 plus!) But the now scattered family has thrived on memories of the Rams, and when young Ian followed him into ministry at Newcastle-under-Lyme, the affection continued. He is always being delighted in the Potteries to meet friends with a similar affection for Derby County, reviving his years as a Radio Derby producer, a brittle interview with Brian Clough, and jealousy of Telegraph football reporter Frank Nicklin.
Now Ian’s own family, Russell, Jamie and Rachel maintain their support, with season tickets for Pride Park, and costly taxi rides for grandchildren Robroy and Jimmy, from Derby to their home in the Potteries after evening games. (Trains from Derby to Stoke don’t help, being non-existent after the final whistle!).
Great moments during our residence in Derby included, of course, 1946 when Derby beat Charlton in the FA cup final in extra time. Gib was too busy conducting a wedding. But we listened with ragged nerves as Raymond Glendenning reported the astonishing victory.
We sang and danced in Rose Hill Street at the result. Full back Jack Parr lived at the time virtually next door to us in Sale Street, and I bragged about this among my school friends. Later I worked for BBC Radio Derby and was thrilled to meet Jack in his retirement, to interview him for a radio programme.
Another memorable event was on very wet Saturday when the Baseball Ground pitch was a sea of mud and sand. When the Rams were awarded a penalty, the ‘spot’ could not be found. Proceedings were held up while the groundsman measured the necessary 12 yards and painted another one, to put Manchester City out of sight.
Our heroes were Leon Leuty, Jack Stamps, Jack Nicholas, Dally Duncan and Sam Crooks. In their turn came Raich Carter and Peter Doherty, a rich partnership indeed. We all agree that Association Football would never be played on a Derby County pitch with such artistry again.
Scattered as we all are – with a grandson in Wales showing every sign, aged seven, of being a skilled ball player and thoughtful midfield schemer, his father Jamie having achieved his coaching badge for the lads’ team. We keep in touch with the Rams through BBC Radio Derby, enjoy being in the top half of the Championship. We hope not to be pitched again into Premiership turbulence.
I recall being passed down the cloth-capped heads of the Baseball Ground crowd to watch great football through the railings, standing on an orange box, seeing Dally Duncan score direct from a corner,
I saw superb players through those railings, believing them all to be seven feet tall, and never imagining they were the same lads of ‘normal’ height I saw playing snooker at church. I preferred the dream, and still do!