Aston Villa and Birmingham City (née Small Heath Alliance) have met 116 times at two different levels in four different competitions, their first competitive meeting coming in September of 1879, more than a month before Thomas Edison performed his first successful test of the light bulb. There is a bit of history between these two clubs, to say the least. This derby is generally considered one of the more contentious in England and has been the occasion of much unpleasantness throughout the years, both on and off the pitch. It's not hyperbole to say that the city is divided in the week leading up to the match, and the start time hasn't been moved up to noon local time for benign reasons.
Both clubs have had periods of relative success, but I think even Blues supporters would concede that Villa have typically been the more accomplished of the two sides. Gaps in the rivalry have generally been due to Birmingham City's being in lower divisions, especially in recent years. City tend to enter into the competition as underdogs, so it's fairly remarkable how even things have been throughout the years; Villa have won more often, but perhaps not as often as you might think with a knowledge of the history of the clubs; the series stands at 50 to Villa, 37 to the Blues and 29 draws. And Villa's edge has largely been gained during extended periods of dominance, winning six consecutive fixtures on two occasions (including the past six meetings.) Aside from those two periods of superiority, things have been relatively even, with Birmingham's longest streak standing at two which they've accomplished multiple times.
There have been numerous noteworthy meetings between the clubs, but perhaps none more noteworthy than the 1963 League Cup final. Birmingham City defeated Villa 3-1 on aggregate to win the only major trophy in club history. There were the three games in three months in 1988 when Villa defeated Birmingham city a combined 13-0. There was City's shocking 2-0 victory over the holders of the European Cup in 1982. Thomas Sørensen's howlers in 2004-05, City's sweep in 2002-03 when Villa were flirting with relegation, Villa's 5-1 victory in 2008 that all but sealed the Blues trip back down to the Championship, last year's questionable penalty that led to Villa's win. It's never boring, and it's often brilliant.
This Sunday Birmingham City bring the strongest side they've fielded in several years to Villa Park. They sit just a point behind Villa in the table and are ahead on goal difference. The home side's wheels are spinning a bit and Birmingham are making a push towards establishing themselves as a fixture in the Premier League. Is this the beginning of a new chapter of parity in this rivalry? Perhaps. Or perhaps it's where Villa turn things around, or where Birmingham announce their arrival as a team to be reckoned with and establish a bit of dominance of their own. It's impossible to say. But while there are crucial implications for both teams as far as where their season is headed, it's tough to imagine either thinking all that far ahead.
This isn't just another match, that much is clear. And while I'd love to say "hey, it's always fun!" that would be a lie. It's not especially fun, at least not for me. Sports are entertainment, and if Villa romping to a 3-0 over West Ham is the soccer equivalent of the mirror scene in "Duck Soup" then a closely contested Second City Derby is the last five minutes of "Oldboy". It's everything I love about sports and everything that makes me hate them, all in one. If this is how it feels to me, I cannot imagine how someone from the area with deeper ties to their club and to the rivalry must feel. It's a derby, and it's a fantastic one. And I absolutely cannot wait for it to be over.