Derbies still matter in lower league football
WHEN I was growing up there was no game like a derby.
From the first explosion of banter with the milkman at 8am the verbal clashes were relentless and more intense the closer to 3pm we got.
Then it was over to the players. And it was as if the pent-up passion was transmitted from terraces to pitch as bodies flew into each other in a way unlike any other game of the year.
The saying went that the form book went out of the window in derbies as underdogs and favourites suddenly appeared of equal standard and the team that wanted it the most won the game.
That last phrase was how Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany explained why his team hammered neighbours United last weekend.
The difference between that game and derbies of the past only one team wanted it at all.
All of which got me wondering if derby games matter as much to players in the top division as they used to.
The difference now is there are so many foreign players in the Premier League they don’t know what it a derby means.
That is not an excuse United could use, however, as six of their starting line-up were English and have been at Old Trafford a long time, while City only had one Englishman and he was in goal.
It is a shame for the traditionalists but derbies are becoming sanitised in the top flight. Points now mean more than pride.
And while they are still special to the fans, they are not as special.
The recent Burnley-Blackburn game – historically one of the most locally intense in the country – was 9,000 below capacity with neither set of fans able to fill their end, although, to be fair, a major reason for that was that the tickets were a turn-off at £32.
Derbies still matter in football, but you have to go down the divisions to see it where the players are closer to the supporters and that old transmission of fanatical fervour still happens.
The fans also have not been sanitised into losing the meaning of passionate local rivalry.
This month’s first Bristol derby for six years spilled over into such violence that police horses had to run on to the field to separate the fans – an unwanted by-product of old-style derbies.
The further down the divisions, the more derbies mean.
Bury took their entire home gate across to Rochdale recently, and further down in local non-league they were talking about the first-ever meeting of Ramsbottom United and Radcliffe Borough for months last season.
They meet again at Radcliffe next Tuesday night, by the way, when I reckon the local bragging rights will mean a lot more than it did to United’s stars last weekend.