The absence of the Villa – Blues derby hurts both clubs

by Dan Mobbs

The intensity of the Tyne-Wear clash, the excitement of discovering whether Liverpool is red or blue and the intrigue of the Manchester derby and its title ramifications are all staples of the Premier League calendar, but one rivalry is missing.

The second city derby between Villa and Blues has been absent from the calendar since 2011 following City’s relegation and as the rivalry has cooled, both clubs have struggled to replace that unique intensity.

Without Birmingham’s presence in the top flight Villa have in recent seasons found themselves meandering through fixtures and while there have still be matches of note and importance, few have captured the same level of interest as the derby.

None of these fixtures have captured the heart and boldly stood apart in the fixture list weeks in advance of the actual game, shining brightly between a series of dull and dreary fixtures.

And it’s not that the derby will reveal the best in either team. In fact it often reveals the worst, as players abandon tactics temporarily or even entirely in some cases, as they hunt feverishly for the ball in an attempt to match of the enthusiasm and fervour of the crowd cheering them on.

Peter Encklemen inexplicably allowing the ball to skim the underside of his boot from a throw in, before watching it roll helplessly across the line in September 2002 exemplified the pressure and tension of an encounter the entire city is fixated with, having not witnessed a league game since December 1987 in the old Division 2 prior to that.

Tackles fly in, passes are misplaced and the game can often lose its way and descend into a battle of midfield supremacy that neither side wants to concede.

And despite the game usually being an ugly encounter that has little appeal beyond Birmingham, the games between Blues and Villa are sorely missed by both fans who have little to look forward to beyond a respectable mid-table finish, the occasional heart-warming result and the optimistic hope of a cup run.

Perhaps exaggerated by the prospect of another uninspiring league season on the horizon and having to weekly endure the kind of ugly football that befits an aggressive derby game, the rivalry seems little more than a fond memory that deserves to be re-born.

Chants of “shit on the City/Villa” still echo around St Andrews and Villa Park whenever the two teams are in action, but without the possibility of the two sides meeting in the near future the bravado of both sets of fans feels hollow, like two children shouting threats at each other from behind the safety of their mother’s embrace.

But with Birmingham flirting with the wrong end of the Championship table and Villa wedging themselves into an innocuous and boring mid-table battle the dream of the derby’s return looks likely to remain just that.

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Image: Flickr / Paul Townsend

Tags: Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Championship, Premier League

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