Derby County v Nottingham Forest: A love/hate relationship
Although Forest’s games against Notts County represent the oldest league derby match in the world and their two grounds are separated merely by the width of the River Trent, Forest fans have, for many years, looked instead to the neighbouring city of Derby for their biggest rivalry. Forest fan Steve Wright gives the lowdown.
The City Ground and Pride Park are just 17 miles apart and, as with most football rivalries, the two sets of fans share workplaces from Monday to Friday. This intensifies the need to avoid humiliation at the very least. Forest and Derby share so much more, however, with their histories so intertwined courtesy, for the most part, of the Clough family.
Brian Clough led Derby to the league title and looked set to follow it up with success in Europe but his ego caused a famous split which ultimately led to his arrival at the City Ground in 1975 and an all-conquering Nottingham Forest side. Sat on the bench alongside his dad as Forest swept to two European Cup victories was Nigel Clough, who went on to make 410 appearances (including a brief spell on loan at the end of his career) and scoring 131 goals.
Now, of course, Nigel sits in the Derby dugout alongside his former Forest team-mates Johnny Metgod and Gary Crosby. It is a galling sight for the Forest fans who idolised him in his playing days and followed his managerial career at Burton in the hope that one day he would return to the banks of the Trent. What is even worse is that in recent years the Derby rivalry seems to have become more petty and Nigel himself has been keen to establish his Derby credentials by disowning his Forest history.
This is my biggest problem with derbies in general – they seem to bring out the moron in everyone. I’m all for rivalry and having a laugh at your opponent’s expense but, as we have seen over the years when Forest play Leicester, friendly banter more often than not turns into ugly prejudice. With Derby the presence of some key personalities has turned recent fixtures into a game of one-upmanship that seems almost inevitably to end in a brawl – and that’s just events on the pitch.
Whereas against Leicester appalling behaviour has been allowed to dominate proceedings, when Forest meet Derby even gentle humour seems to provoke a violent response and condemnation all round. In reality we should be taking action against those that abuse visiting Leicester fans while telling both sides of the Forest-Derby divide to lighten up.
When Robbie Savage swung a Derby scarf over his head after winning at the City Ground it was frustrating, maddening, but it was also his (and the fans’) prize for victory. They had come to their rival’s ground and won. Of course they should celebrate it, even if it makes my evening all the worse. But when Nathan Tyson celebrated his goal against Derby at the City Ground by grabbing a corner flag bearing the Forest badge, Savage led the charge to disarm him, scuffle and cry offence. It seems that players and fans alike are quick to give out but unable to take it back.
Despite this, there is also much to savour. Most fans have friends amongst the other club’s ranks and through the years many players have worn both shirts. When we remember that we are essentially very similar clubs, both elevated in status by the same man and each reliant on the other to be at least worthy of a competitive rivalry to lift an otherwise mundane season, we can poke each other with jibes and smile at each other’s misfortunes without the need for contorted faces and flying spittle.
Indeed, Forest fans may have to grudgingly accept that, as they face an uncertain future following Nigel Doughty’s decision to stop funding the club beyond existing commitments made during his time as chairman, Derby are a possible model for rehabilitation.
While Doughty and Davies argued their way to two playoff semi-finals before their relationship and the club’s fortune imploded so dramatically, Derby were quietly restructuring their finances and putting their faith in the long-term building skills of Forest’s former number nine. And while Forest’s boom has now become bust, Derby’s steady improvement continues. It may not be spectacular and sometimes they seem to stutter but, just as he did during 10 years at Burton Albion, Nigel Clough is slowly building something and Derby are seeing the benefits of a steady ship with realistic goals.
This whole approach is totally at odds with the way that Doughty has run his club, lurching from one manager and management style to another, putting money in and then drawing back, never clear where the club really wanted to go or how to get there and the results are there for all to see.
Sunday afternoon sees an important meeting between two clubs seemingly going in very different directions. A time for heroes, but also for everybody to keep their heads.