English derby matches cannot be matched. My first ever derby match happened to be the first time Birmingham played Villa in over ten or so years. Watching in a pub, I managed to witness this. I was smuggled over a fence because the Villa fans obviously lost their minds in the pub and flipped the tables and the like. I, myself only managed to get over it when we smashed them 5-1. That's it done for me. They can never get it over us unless they do better, in my eyes. The times change like the wind and now the Midlands has two teams left in the top division of English football and they aren't named after a city, but two boroughs of Birmingham. Neighbourhood teams. West Bromwich represent the area of West Bromwich and Aston Villa represent Aston. Two Victorian football clubs with silly names from a bygone era. The leftovers.
Growing up in Birmingham gives you a massive choice of footballing teams. If you're from the north, you're Villa. South? The Blues. That's how it usually goes. You could also stretch and support Coventry FC, Walsall FC, Wolverhampton Wanderers or West Bromwich Albion. With a small cluster of teams, it means that the potential for derbies is quite high. Villa vs Blues and WBA vs Wolverhampton could possibly happen in a season (throwing in Coventry), with cross-over. That is EIGHT derby matches in one year. To say the least, Blues and Wolves haven't exactly had the success of Villa and Albion, so both sets of fans have had to 'settle' for Villa vs WBA as the main derby in the West Midlands. Not a problem with that at all. I've been to both sets of games for Villa (versus Blues and WBA) and while both could be considered 'intense', Villa vs WBA is simply not on the same level as Villa versus Blues, and that is no insult. Funnily enough, Villa and Albion used to have a heated derby back in the day, before they decided to turn on Birmingham City and Wolverhampton respectively. It's quite literally a flip of a coin if family ties don't drag you towards claret or amber or stripes or blue. Same with me.
My grandfather Arthur was born and raised in Smethwick, just by the side of West Bromwich. He loved his Baggies and always had the footie on in the house. He could have likely walked to The Hawthorns, like his father and grandfather. I like to think that WBA was my grandfather's resting hobby - he was pretty nifty on a bike (second from left).
So how did I manage to support Aston Villa? Arthur moved to a northern suburb of Birmingham and Aston Villa were the local team. Arthur carried on supporting West Brom, whilst my father, Neil opted to support his local team. Aston Villa. The maternal line of my family grew up outside the ground, so they had already made the good choice, but that's another story. If my Grandfather doesn't move, Neil supports the Baggies like his dad. He even managed to get dragged to a game before they moved sticks. Myself? I followed after my dad when I gained an interest in football after the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and Korea. I have watched almost every single Villa game since, at Villa Park or online. I have spent hours as Paul Merson, Gareth Barry, Gabby Agbonlahor, Luc Nilis, Dion Dublin, Juan Pablo Angel and Christian Benteke in various video games. I owe a lot of my makeup as a person to Aston Villa. They are a very humble team who have been around for ages. Never forgetting where they have come from - their stadium is meters away from the club's namesake.
Now, Grandad Arthur never got to meet me, nor I, him. He passed around ten years before I was born. He is likely the reason I am a Villa fan and I couldn't be more thankful. Seriously. I had a brief fling with Chelsea before I truly got into football properly, but that was because they had a pretty sick badge. Do I ever wonder what could have been? Not really. Chelsea have won a lot of titles and cups, but I feel that if Villa ever won one single thing in my lifetime, I would be set. League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League. It would end the chapter and banish 1982 to the history books. I could have also supported West Brom, and enjoyed a similar sort of period of nothingness, but Villa have yet to provide me with the 'excitement' of relegation.
This weekend marks another meeting of 'the leftovers' and don't get me wrong, I want nothing more than a sound, solid victory, but if West Bromwich beat us, I'll be fine. It would have put a smile on Arthur's face.