With the Guardian’s unstoppable rise to global dominance** we at Guardian US thought we’d run a series of articles for fans wishing to improve their knowledge of the sports history and storylines, hopefully in a way that doesn’t patronise you to within an inch of your life. A warning: If you’re the kind of person that finds The Blizzard too populist this may not be the series for you.
** Actual dominance may not be global. Or dominant
Like the Oscar Peterson Trio, we get requests. And here’s reader Grant Tennille of North Carolina with another cutting-edge musical reference sure to go down a storm with the pop pickers of the internet age. “It would be fun to read about the Midlands, and all the rivalries within. I mean, everyone in the USA knows Robert Plant is a massive Wolves fan, but beyond that …”
Let’s start by splitting the region down the middle. To make it simple, we’re dividing the Midlands into two halves, based on the UK government’s . So we know Stoke isn’t really in the West Midlands but just for today we’ll go with .
The big clubs in the East Midlands are two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, 1970s league sensations Derby County, and current Premier League leaders Leicester City. Also in the region: Notts County, the oldest professional club in the world and the team whose black-and-white-striped shirts inspired Juventus; Chesterfield, as a third-tier team, had there been goal-line technology back then; Northampton Town, who in the 1960s went from the lowest to highest divisions of the time, Fourth to First, and all the way back down again; and Mansfield Town, who don’t care for nearby Chesterfield much but keep themselves to themselves.
Nottingham Forest’s biggest rivalry should by rights be with Notts County, situated a stone’s throw away in the city, across the River Trent. But the pair rarely play in the same division, so most of the opprobrium is saved for . Forest and Derby contest the East Midlands derby (and yes, calling it the Derby derby would just confuse things unnecessarily).
Their rivalry today is mainly shaped by , who managed Derby to the 1972 league title and the semi-finals of the European Cup the following season. It was all going swimmingly until Clough had an argument with chairman Sam Longson over the keys to the office booze cabinet – , but not much more – and resigned. After unsuccessful but fabled sabbaticals at Brighton , Clough rocked up at Forest, leading the team to promotion, the league title, and two European Cups. Clough won a couple of League Cups at the tail end of the 80s with Forest, and retired in 1993. Forest haven’t won a major trophy since he left, though Derby landed the 74-75 league title under Dave Mackay (who made more changes to Clough’s team than he was ever given credit for by the neutral, ).
The pair did contest the 1898 FA Cup final, though. Derby were the hot favourites, having got to the showpiece at Crystal Palace after beating a pair of Midlands rivals – holders Aston Villa and – plus the Merseyside duo of Liverpool and Everton. Forest, on the othue semi-finalists are paying 15.7 million euros for Promes, significantly less than the 20.8 million euros that Sevilla paid Spartak Moscow for the winger last summer.However, with variables, the transfer could reach up to 17.2 million euros plus a per hand, had been the beneficiaries of a fortunate draw, West Bromwich Albion their only top-flight opposition en route to the final. Derby also had the double over Forest in the league, winning 4-3 away and thumping the not-so-Tricky-Trees 5-0 at the Baseball Ground on the Monday before the final. Sure enough, Forest ran out easy 3-1 winners and lifted their first FA Cup.
scored Derby’s consolation that day, though otherwise failed to make much of an impression. He’s the second greatest goalscorer of all time in the English top flight, his 317 goals only bettered by the 357 scored by Jimmy Greaves. But he won nothing. Derby made the final again the following year, but Bloomer missed a golden chance with the Rams a goal to the good against Sheffield United, and his team ended up losing 4-1. County made a third final in 1903, but Bloomer was injured and missed that one, which was lost 6-0 to Bury, still an FA Cup final record. There were suggestions that Derby had been jinxed by some travelling types who had been turfed off the land required to build their new Baseball Ground stadium ( of another Midlands team, Birmingham City), but good luck proving that.
Anyway, we’ve gone well off piste here. Forest aren’t wholly enamoured with Leicester either, and vice versa. That state of affairs that may or may not have its historical roots in Forest’s 12-0 win over Leicester in 1909, which remains the Foxes’ darkest day, but can be explained away by the whole team being still half-cut after a player’s wedding the night before. Leicester also keep a pot on a rolling boil for Derby, and they’ve had the better of that rivalry in recent(ish) years: four goals in the first 15 minutes of a 4-0 win the Premier League back in 1998, future Liverpool striker Emile Heskey the star man there, and a 2-1 win the First Division promotion play-off final of 1994, club legend Steve Walsh the two-goal hero.
Time to go west, but before we leave, anyone interested in Northampton Town’s Swinging Sixties – a story which features the captain of the 1958 Wales World Cup team, Barcelona, victories over West Ham’s future World Cup winners and, more importantly, local rivals Aston Villa – should read .
The West Midlands, then. A larger selection of big names here. The behemoth, whether rival fans like it or not, and regardless of how they’re doing right now, is Aston Villa. Also from the Premier League: Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion. Big clubs labouring in the Championship now: Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. And other league concerns: Coventry City, the winners of the 1987 FA Cup and scorers of ; Walsall, whose 2-0 FA Cup win over the famous Arsenal in 1933 is still considered by many to be the greatest shock in the competition’s long history; Shrewsbury Town, (another for Grant Tennile there); Port Vale, Stoke’s lower-league city rivals; and Burton Albion, who held Manchester United to a goalless draw in the 2006 FA Cup while a non-league team.
We could draw a map of all the inter-club rivalries, but it’d make look like Route 66. Space and time constricts ently Manchester United striker James Wilson.The on-loan forward has spent this season at Pittodrie and is set to become a free agent.The Aberdeen-transfer-news-James-Wilson-Man-Utd” target=”_blank”>Daily Express says Derek McInnes wants to land the us to the bigger rivalries. We start in England’s second city, and the pretty intense brouhaha between the generally more blue collar Birmingham City and Aston Villa, who draw some of their support from well to do areas of the city such as Sutton Coldfield. Villa, the bigger club (sorry Blues), have registered more wins in the Second City derby. But on the other hand, Birmingham have a few trophies to show for it. They beat Villa in the final of the 1963 League Cup to win their first ever major trophy, Ken Leek their two-goal hero in a 3-1 aggregate win over two legs. Then in December 2010, Nikola Zigic scored late at St Andrews to beat Villa in the League Cup quarter finals; they went on to win .
This one’s got pretty nasty of late, though. Ask most folk of the first thing they think about when the Second City derby is mentioned, and it’ll be September 2002, the first game between the two sides for 15 years, Villa defender Olaf Mellberg throwing the ball back to keeper Peter Enckelman, the hapless netminder letting it roll into the net. Bedlam. Enckelman then had to deal with a Blues fan running onto the pitch and getting right up in his grille. You couldn’t have blamed Enckelman if he’d have battered the fan – professional sports stars tend to be a bit handier than oafs full of ale and pie – but the keeper retained a quiet dignity in the face of extreme provocation. OK, dignity is probably the wrong word, but you get the point. He didn’t retaliate, and .
Enckelman went on to play well for the next six months, restoring his reputation, only to make a perhaps worse blunder when Villa faced Birmingham again, bottling out of a headed backpass and allowing Geoff Horsfield to round him and roll the ball into an empty net. Sssh, nobody mention E, the man’s suffered enough.
Over to , up the road from Birmingham. Historically, their animosity was saved for Villa, this one going back a long way. The two teams contested the 1887, 1892 and 1895 FA Cup finals. West Brom were hot favourites for the first, but were defeated 2-0, losing the place completely after Dennis Hodgetts scored an unchallenged opener from an offside position. Having expected the referee to stop play before Hodgetts netted, or at least rule the goal out, the Baggies threw a three-minute tantrum. The referee didn’t budge. They never budge.
Five years later it was Villa’s turn as hot favourites. Sure enough, the result again went the other way, West Brom battering their Midlands rivals 3-0. John Reynolds was man of the match, and was absurdly accused by his own board of only putting in a shift at the big events, in the hope of getting a transfer. Reynolds, understandably piqued, left in high dudgeon. No guesses who he signed for: yep, Villa. Also plumping for the “bugger this” option was Villa keeper Jimmy Warner, who left England for good after being accused of throwing the Cup final on purpose, having bet heavily on West Brom.
Another three years on, and the 1895 final was decided in the first minute, the ball pinballing around the Albion area and clanking off a surprised John Devey. Reynolds was in the Villa winning side, a fact presumably noted by the Baggies board. Villa then proudly put the FA Cup on display in the window of local cobbler William Shillock, only for it , melted down for coins.
West Brom also enjoy locking horns with Wolverhampton Wanderers, and this rivalry – the Black Country derby – has probably superseded the Baggies-Villa one, simply because the teams, having both spent plenty of time out of the top flight during the last few decamp; Star reports that Podence is the main target for the Premier League side in the remaining days of the transfer window.The 24-year-old striker is much sought after, and he is preferred to Nelson Oliviera, who is another Wolves target.Wolves are hades, meet more often.
But despite it being primarily a lower-division phenomenon, the signature season came back in 1953-54. West Brom were under the yoke of Vic Buckingham, a coach heavily influenced by the famous Hungary team that thrashed England 6-3 and 7-1 and should have won the 1954 World Cup. Buckingham would go on to coach Ajax and Barcelona, but right now he was going for the English league title, and his West Brom team came within a hair’s breadth of becoming the 20th-century’s first league and FA Cup double winners. West Brom were a pretty pass-and-move team. Ronnie Allen and Johnny Nicholls had scored 55 goals between them by March, and the title looked on. But injuries scuppered their chances, they crumbled on the run-in, and were pipped at the post by a more tactically prosaic side: Wolves. West Brom did win the cup that year, at least, while Wolves went on to dominate the rest of the decade along with Manchester United.
So there you have it. Or at least some of it. Villa and Coventry don’t get on. Birmingham dislike Wolves, Stoke don’t have much time for Wolves or West Brom, Birmingham and West Brom don’t mind each other too much, Walsall get a few too many patronising pats on the head for their own liking, and everyone has it in for poor old Villa – something not helped in modern times by the fact that ever popular PM David Cameron is among their fans (). Yes, we’ve only just scratched the surface here.
A special Thanksgiving hat-tip to Matthew Lutz, , for his help with this article.And if you have any topics you’d like covered for future Field Notes, jot a note to