Forest and Derby may not be closest neighbours but time has created a twisted rivalry. Al Needham reports

The relationship between Nottingham Forest and Derby Country may seem a little strange, but it’s actually no different to the ones you see on Jeremy Kyle on a weekday morning. So many elements bind them together, but it’s those very elements that drive them apart like inverse magnets.

Let’s look at the obvious comparisons. Both clubs have nearer neighbours in their own back yard, but they’ve never really hit it off with their inter-shire rivals due to divisional yo-yoing. Derby should really be directing their hatred towards Chesterfield, but they’ve only played each other 15 times in League and Cup. Forest’s nearest rivals are even closer than that, but they have only met Notts County (the oldest derby game in the world, remember) 95 times – the vast majority before the war. Fact: Forest and Derby have played each other two more times in the FA Cup this year than Forest and Notts did in the 20th century. Both parties would have to cast further afield for a hate club

Luckily, Nottingham and Derby have fostered a healthy dislike of each other ever since they both pitched themselves into the Industrial Revolution. Derby’s John Heathcoat invented a machine that copied hand-made lace, but as soon as the patent ran out, Notts entrepreneurs nicked it, turning the city into the lace centre of the world. Derby responded by poaching Sir Richard Arkwright (known as “the Father of the Industrial Revolution”) and turning him into the Alderman of Derbyshire, but the damage was done: Nottingham became the industrial powerhouse of the East Midlands, while Derby had to wait until 1977 to gain city status. The big city-rural backwater dichotomy (from a Notts point of view, at least, with all its ovinesexual connotations) was in place.

However, from a footballing point of view, it took a long time for the Forest- Derby rivalry to catch fire – but when it did, it was glorious. A certain B Clough and P Taylor lit the touchpaper by dragging the Rams into Division One in the late Sixties and commencing a series of mainly high-scoring games which ended with Derby winning the league and Forest relegated in 1971-72.

The next time they met, five and a half years later, the shoe was on the other foot, and Forest were kicking Derby in the teeth with it. Clough and Taylor – whose sacking made Rams supporters howl with outrage – were up the other end of the A52 and thumped Derby 3-0. By the end of the 1979-80 season, Forest had won their second European Cup and Derby were relegated from Division One. A perfect ending.

Except it wasn’t. It’s an accepted notion that the end of the glory years for Clough and Forest was when Peter Taylor broke up the partnership when Derby poached him as manager. And for good measure, and just to make sure that neither man would ever speak to each other again, Taylor’s first signing was John Robertson, a player who meant as much to Forest supporters as Stuart Pearce did in ten years later, and nobody does today.

But that’s only a key example of the second crucial element of the Forest-Derby rivalry: rampant incestuousness. The talent exchange between the two clubs over the years ensures that there are at least two rotten Judas bastards on the pitch at any one time. Terry Hennessey, Colin Todd, Peter Shilton, Kenny Burns, Steve Sutton, Gary Mills, Lars Bohinen and Steve Hodge are just some of the players who have put in time for both clubs.

You may assume the Forest-Derby rivalry had calmed down in the wake of the former’s decline and the latter’s period of stability. Not in the slightest. The death of Brian Clough led to a brief, Christmas-in-the-trenches truce, which only resulted into an ongoing debate over who he really belonged to. Meanwhile, the one thing that kept Forest supporters going during the League One era was that they were one good season away from meeting Derby again. And along came a double-dose of Schadenfreude; the season Forest gloriously threw away the play-off match with Yeovil, Derby got promoted. The following season, when Forest did get promoted, Derby put in the worst season any Premier League team has ever endured. Perfect.

This season has seen the dawn of a new and golden age for the rivalry, thanks to two managerial switches. Forest binned off Colin Calderwood and replaced him with Billy Davies – who took Derby into the Premier League. Derby topped that by getting rid of Paul Jewell and installing Nigel Clough – who, in many Forest supporters’ eyes, was part of a dream ticket (along with Stuart Pearce) that was to be laden with mystical significance.

Reaction from the Forest side was distinctly mixed; as a friend of mine pointed out, it was good news that he finally got a chance with a bigger club, and even better news that it wasn’t Forest. On the other hand, Derby have captured a living embodiment of the Clough legacy (not to mention a popular former player), while Forest have had to make do with a “Derby reject” who is already under fire for failing to kickstart a climb up the table and merely scratching at the transfer window like a cat in the rain when an injury-depleted squad was crying out for new blood. So far, Nige can hardly put a foot wrong; Davies is under the cosh.

There have been four competitive games between the two this season, which has seen a fractious draw involving a saved penalty and a disallowed last-minute goal, Forest getting a Clough statue before Derby, Derby winning at the City Ground for the first time in 30 years, sheep heads thrown through pub windows and the only FA Cup games where getting the chance to meet Manchester United meant absolutely nothing.

If the very present danger that one of the clubs may get relegated happens, meaning that the rivalry gets put on hold, the FA Cup games were a perfect closing of the circle, for the first game of major importance between the two was the FA Cup final of 1898 when Forest won 3-1. Then, finding their red shirts were too dark to show up in the photograph with the cup they instead posed in Derby’s kit. And that’s the reason why the clubs and the cities dislike each other; not because of their differences. Because of the similarities.

From WSC 266 April 2009

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