September 21, 2015 by Shane Ireland
Every football fan relishes local derbies. Every fan will tell you their local derby is the best.
Whether it be a Burnley fan, claiming their clash with Blackburn Rovers is of greater importance, or a Charlton supporter labelling the Addicks’ fixture against Crystal Palace as “bigger,” – both swiftly dealt with by the social media age means of quoting their tweets with a long line of “haha”s – discussion and priority surrounding derby matches varies from county to county, town to town.
But in the UK’s ‘second city’, the most-populated settlement aside from London, the home of world-famous Cadbury chocolate, and host to the world’s hottest curry, Birmingham City vs Aston Villa is the kingpin.
It is the pantheon of football for those befallen to the charms of Blues and Villa. It is the summit of all summits. Sir Edmund Hillary may have become the first man to climb Mount Everest in 1953, but he and Sherpa Tensing never conquered the peaks of St Andrew’s or Villa Park on derby day.
So, when, last month after Birmingham City had dispatched Gillingham 2-0 and Aston Villa had beaten Notts County 5-3, two little balls, one etched with the number 1 and the other featuring the number 18 were plucked up – one after the other – the shockwaves could be felt all across the Midlands.
Aston Villa had drawn Birmingham City in the third round of the Capital One Cup. The second city derby had returned once more.
Fans of a blue persuasion fondly recalled when a 6′8″ man, hailing from Eastern Europe, slipped to the floor when attempting a shot, only to see the gleaming white football loop over the despairing goalkeeper and into the net. Those who prefer their blue mixed with claret, remembered when their beloved Villa achieved six consecutive victories over their city rivals only last decade – when both teams plied their trade in the top flight.
Since, though, Blues and Villa have experienced a demise in fortunes – to a varying degree – which makes the first meeting in four years, pencilled in for Tuesday 22nd September, all the more relished.
For the last time these sides met in the League Cup, the clash supposedly “damaged England’s 2018 World Cup bid,” which ended in failure. The December night at St Andrew’s in 2010 was a hostile, aggressive affair, a precise portrayal of the ferocious reputation the fixture has garnered. It was the kind of match your dad would refer to as “like the old days.” It featured a pitch invasion en masse, and smoke bombs and flares. Plastic seats originally in the away end, swapped stands after being launched towards home fans and vice versa. Countless police officers, top to toe in riot gear, defended the byline as well as Birmingham players’ did as they won the competition at Wembley three months later. Not that I condone any of said behaviour, of course.
For the 25,000 or so Blues fans packed into the old, distinctive ground that night, pure elation was a true emotion. They looked down on cloud nine from far above. Their wedding day? But a stepping stone on the road to the genuine happiness which they now felt. Blues had just beaten Villa.
Because that is what it means. Everything.
Birmingham regularly play fellow Midlands side Wolves, Aston Villa face West Brom almost every season – and these games are by no means friendly affairs – but nothing comes close to a second city derby. That feeling of knowing your team will face your fierce rivals later that night, that feeling of knowing that everything is at stake, that feeling of what seems like immortality when your heroes on that pitch emerge victorious.
There is truly nothing quite like it.