So tomorrow, a major footballing event is back on the calendar for the first time this season, and it’s televised (possibly worldwide), so plenty of newbies will be watching and hopefully pinning their flag to either mast (hopefully the Villa mast, though).
Sometimes a great showcase of footballing talent, often a showcase of on-the-pitch frustration and occasionally a display of violence, the Second City Derby is always something to remember.
When Aston Villa and Birmingham City meet, it is almost always a memorable match, for various reasons. Fighting, red cards, vicious tackles and scrappy goals. If you’re looking for the prime example of ‘proper football’, you might not find it outside of Aston Villa vs Birmingham City - a match where the rulebooks seem to fly out of the window.
Back in the Victorian era, both teams represented townships - Aston Villa represented Aston and the area of Perry Barr, while BCFC, known as Small Heath Alliance, gathered a following from Small Heath and the growing town of Birmingham. Birmingham grew in size and absorbed much of the surrounding area - including Aston, and it still continues to do just that - with population and area growth.
Both clubs, despite their similar Victorian origins, went on completely different paths. Birmingham started life in a secondary division, while Villa helped found the First Division (which has been replaced by the Premier League, though the league itself still technically exists as the Championship). Villa won a lot of trophies, while Birmingham didn’t find much silverware until the sixties. Villa went on to enjoy European success, while Birmingham City have only endured fleeting spells within European competition. And even then, despite the club’s close proximity, Aston Villa considered another to be their closest rival. West Bromwich Albion. Birmingham City were seen as too ‘inferior’ to be considered by Villa fans of the early 20th century to be rivals - while West Brom actually competed in the same league. For whatever reason, this changed - despite everything staying the same. West Brom’s yo-yo form of the 00’s is likely what damaged the rivalry, but we might see it return if Aston Villa can step back up to the Premier League, much like 2002, when two rivals met for the first time in a long while.
The Second City Derby has taken a new life since 2002, when Birmingham made their way back to the Premier League under Steve Bruce. There had been a decade or so between the teams last playing, and the rivalry has only grown more ferocious since it was restarted by Graham Taylor and Steve Bruce back in the 00’s. Despite the massive history in this specific fixture, it really is the last decade which has made it something special.
This isn’t a derby driven by location, history or anything else. It’s driven by pure animosity. The chance to be the best and bear the flag for our city. It’s bottled hatred, and it’s come out of nowhere. That’s what makes this match special.
While sociologists, Villa fans, and Blues fans will all have different opinions on what makes up the ‘other side’, the truth is that there isn’t much that separates the two teams in terms of who follows them.
Certainly, in the last fifty years, the lines have blurred. Areas that would have been considered ‘Blue’ in the past, will still boast a Villa following, while the same is true of the old Villa strongholds. There is no real line that you can draw across the city in terms of ‘territory’ bar the surrounding areas of the stadiums - St Andrews and Villa Park. And even then, with the exposure of ‘modern football’ fans close to both Birmingham arenas are as likely to follow Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid or any other number of teams as they are Villa and Birmingham.
As for the fans themselves, despite what both sides may want to believe, there is very little that separates the two groups in this current era. For instance, it is believed by Birmingham fans that the majority of Villa fans come from the ‘Midlands’ - areas like Warwickshire and Worcestershire. While this is certainly the case for a portion of fans, as areas like Stratford-Upon-Avon do not boast successful and prestigious teams, it is also not true. Aston Villa are just as likely to draw fans from India as they are other areas, and that is mainly due to their history, prestige and status - rather than anything else. This has also lead Birmingham fans to assume that the Villa support are ‘overrated, self-indulgent, not passionate, classist and stuck-up’. It is certainly true that Birmingham fans are proud that their team bears the name of the city - but it doesn’t mean they hold the banner for the city. Birmingham City also believe that they are supported by the ‘working class’, but in this day and age, that is true for both teams, who will likely be followed by all manner of support, either rich or poor.
On the other side, Aston Villa fans don’t show much care towards their ‘Bluenose’ rivals. Do Villa fans look down on Birmingham fans? Of course they do. ‘Stuck up’ might be the wrong word, as Aston Villa are the more successful club. What is Villa’s main gripe with Birmingham? Perhaps it is in the annoyance of how jubilant Birmingham are when they claim the Villa scalp. Aston Villa have enjoyed many successful occasions and certainly from a Villa perspective, it would seem that the Second City Derby is the biggest match on the Birmingham City calendar. Does that mean that Villa do not relish the occasion? No. Any chance to bolster their legacy and remind Birmingham City of who exactly the top dog is will be taken with pleasure.
While the past would certainly prescribe a youngster from Perry Barr a support for Villa, while a kid from Small Heath would follow Birmingham, that isn’t true anymore. As stated, the lines have blurred, but that doesn’t mean the city isn’t divided, it’s just hard to tell where exactly the lines are drawn - which makes for a more intense match.
As much as both groups will want to believe that they are different, they couldn’t be more similar, and that truth could be very hard to swallow!
I’d be lying to you to say that this derby is in anyway ‘prestigious’ - but that doesn’t make it a less passionate affair. In fact, passion is what defines this fixture. Every single goal matters, every single second matters. Despite what the table might say, or what form will try to define - this match levels both teams to equal footing. If anyone says they are not nervous at all about the outcome of this match, it’s likely that they are telling a small lie!
The Second City Derby is an intriguing fixture - and that’s because of what happens in the ninety minutes in which it takes place.
Firstly, the defining moment of the Second City Derby was in the first fixture in the Premier League era. The derby was brought back to the summit of English Football in the 2000’s, and the weight of expectancy crushed Aston Villa, who failed to beat Birmingham City. The biggest metaphor for the entire thing was when an Olof Mellberg throw-in rolled directly into the net, after Villa’s goalkeeper Peter Enckelman failed to control it. One of those men would make this fixture their own, their kingdom. The other would disappear. Birmingham City would win 3-0 at St Andrews, whilst Villa would have to wait a few months for the eventful return leg at Villa Park.
The match at Villa Park in 2003 was brutal. Villa would lose on the pitch, and the result would once more go to Birmingham City, but not without a fight. Dion Dublin and Joey Guðjónsson were sent off for Villa, with Dion providing the stand-out image of this derby - a headbutt to the face of Birmingham’s Robbie Savage.
After the match, it kicked off between the two sets of fans, who launched missiles at each other and the police. To combat this, the matches were given early kick-off times the following year - and even then, Villa couldn’t get a win firstly in a 0-0 draw, and secondly in a 2-2 tie - with Stern John stealing the draw for Birmingham despite a 2-1 Villa lead. Aston Villa lost the next round of fixtures the following season.
Aston Villa finally got their first win over Birmingham City in the modern era thanks to a Kevin Phillips goal. Despite this, Blues still held the status quo - they had won a lot of games over Villa. This would change in one magical moment. A moment that doomed them to relegation in a very special way - for Villa fans.
Gary Cahill’s overhead kick kick-started a new age of dominance for Aston Villa in this matchup. You might known him as the current Chelsea captain. We Villa fans know him for this:
Following this, an Aston Villa player would make this fixture his own. While Olof Mellberg had shown his hatred for Birmingham City, it would be Gabby Agbonlahor who would deal out Mellberg’s justice with late goals and showcases of footballing bravado. At 1-1, Agbonlahor cleared the ball from the Villa line, before legging it up the pitch and scoring seconds later. Not only did he save the match for Villa, but he won it.
You’ll not see much like that outside of the Second City Derby. The return fixture at Villa Park in 2008 was a showcase that would live long in the memory for Aston Villa fans. A 5-1 victory was sealed, with some of the best football ever seen in this tie.
Aston Villa and Birmingham City would trade wins for years after, with a number of draws separating the ecstasy of a victory. Violence would also return, especially following a midweek fixture, a first for this derby.
Aston Villa would go on to hurt Blues in a different way - by straight up stealing their manager. Alex McLeish, the Birmingham City manager of the time. McLeish was allegedly ‘tapped up’ to become Villa manager by Villa’s owner, Randy Lerner. This wasn’t enjoyed by either set of fans - Blues didn’t like Villa doing this, and Villa fans were not at all happy with McLeish’s presence.
And so the Derby continues. Draws are shared, Villa are brought down a peg or two, and Gabby Agbonlahor scores. This derby has made legends out of players for either team - Gary Cahill may as well have the keys to the city and Agbonlahor still dines out for free on the back of his many derby goals. What can we expect in the next one? The same again - although nobody can truly predict what will happen.
How can you watch?
Due to the presence of this game, it’s usually televised worldwide, and that’s especially the case in this instance. ESPN and Sky are showing it in the UK (I’m ABSOLUTELY not saying you can find a stream online * wink *) and you can find the relevant channels here. If you’re a neutral, I hope you’ll tune in at 12pm, UK time and I hope you enjoy this matchup, one way or another. However, I hope even more that you’ll find a love for Aston Villa and come back to this blog again and again! You might even be writing for us soon ;).