21 October ~ At 4.45pm on April 30, Yusuf Mulumbu received a pass from Simon Cox, held off Ciaran Clark's challenge and lifted the ball over Brad Friedel into the Aston Villa net. In doing so he became the first West Bromwich Albion player in 26 years to score a winning goal against the club's closest and oldest rivals. On Saturday the Baggies head to Villa Park looking to end an even longer run – their last win in B6 was in a League Cup tie in 1982 and their last league victory was in May 1979.
It is received wisdom that this match is no longer a big derby, both clubs having other fish to fry in the shape of Birmingham City and Wolves. Certainly the police are happy for the game to go ahead at 3pm on a Saturday, in stark contrast to Wolves' visit to The Hawthorns last weekend. Since the notorious battle of the Uplands (a pub, now demolished, that stood halfway between the two grounds) in August 2004, meetings between the clubs have been free of trouble.
Nonetheless this is one of English football's oldest rivalries. Villa Park is just three and a half miles from The Hawthorns and the areas from which the clubs draw their support overlap. Villa have always drawn support from the southern part of the Black Country, while areas of north-west Birmingham have their fair share of Baggies. The rivalry was well established before both clubs became founder members of the Football League. They met in the FA Cup Final in 1887 and twice more before the turn of the 20th century.
The rivalry received added spice in the 1950s from two spectacular acts of bad neighbourliness. On Easter Tuesday 1954, Villa beat Albion 6-1 at Villa Park to end the Baggies' chances of the title and the 20th century's first League and Cup double. Winning the FA Cup was little consolation for coming second to Wolves. Revenge was Albion's five years later when Villa came to The Hawthorns for the final game of the season needing a win to avoid relegation. Ronnie Allen's late equaliser sent them down. Legend has it that he arrived home to find that angry Villa fans had set fire to his garden shed.
Following Villa's relegation in 1967 the clubs didn't meet until Albion joined them in Division Two six years later. From 1973 to 1988 the clubs met in all but two seasons and the matches were often feisty affairs on and off the pitch. Villa's visit to The Hawthorns for a Premier League game in November 2002 was their first league meeting for 15 years and a new generation of supporters had grown up without seeing the other team as serious rivals. Also Villa, fattened by unbroken Premier League membership, simply had better players and battling draws were the summit of Albion's ambition. But the gap on the field has now disappeared and Villa have no game against the Blues this season. This is Villa's big derby whether they like it or not. And all Baggies will be hoping for the long overdue win that means they don't. Peter Bateman