Second City Derby | Hardcore Villains & Zulus

(Posted on 27/09/17)

Football derbies in England often see passion off the pitch overspill and turn grounds in to a bubbling cauldron of nerves, anticipation and more than anything, pride. Local derbies and fierce rivals across the nation among sides in Manchester, London, Sheffield or Liverpool are renowned across the world, but there’s one in particular that really gets the heart racing, the Second City Derby.

This particular circus sees Birmingham City face off against their bitter city rivals Aston Villa in an affair that’s often talked about and always pulsating. Two sides of the same patch that during the week cohabit side by side, but on derby day become two tribes determined to come out on top.

On this day in 1876, the first ever derby match between the two sides was played out, as the Blues beat the Villa 1-0. They were already squabbling as the game was played at Muntz Street, as the pitch was described by Villa as ‘only suitable for pot-holing’.

The first ever competitive game between the two Brum clubs came in 1887 in the FA Cup where it was the claret and blue side of the city which took the bragging rights.

Birmingham is known as the industrial heart of the United Kingdom, where it’s citizens worked hard and were the lifeblood of industry, and anywhere that this work is carried out, football follows very closely behind as an escape from back breaking and demanding work.

Over the years football has changed with popular culture often a big factor in what happens in the stands, the derby has had huge influence and notoriety due to the daunting and often violent nature of the fixture.

During the late 70’s and early 80’s football violence spread across the UK with most sides each having their own ‘firms’. Birmingham City had one of the most notorious gangs in the ‘Zulus’. With Casual culture running through the veins of the game at that point and the influential music scene from Birmingham with the likes of UB40 and the Specials striking home with a multi-cultural city, the Zulu’s were one of the only firms made up of all races and welcoming diversity.

Birmingham had plenty of incidents off the field among supporters and in particular one stands out from the rest. Taking place on the last day of the season in 1985, over 1,000 football hooligans stormed the pitch at their ground St Andrews when they met Leeds United. 125 were arrested and 200 injured in a battle that lasted three hours. One 15-year old Leeds United fan also lost his life during one of the games darkest days. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described football violence as a whole ‘the English disease’.

Villa had their own firms on a smaller scale to Blues, the Aston Villa ‘Hardcore’ also had a love for carnage at football matches and would turn out in numbers when facing their rivals in the midlands, not just Birmingham but the likes of Stoke City, Nottingham Forest, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion. However, for a number of years Villa were the top side in the region, hardly playing their Midland counterparts due to separation in the league standings.

However fans did find ways of clashing away from the football with one incident in 1980 sticking fresh in the mind. Punk band the Cockney Rejects had a large football terrace following during their prime and played the Birmingham Cedar Club to a packed audience. However with a large skinhead following over 500 fans of both Villa and Blues began to batter and bruise eachother in one of the largest acts of rioting at a British music gig. They filled the local A&E department where they continued the brawl in a heated evening out.

On the pitch, the battles have been just as heated, with Aston Villa certainly the more successful side of the two winning the European Cup, First Division, FA Cup and League Cup during their history. But Birmingham’s first major title would mean as much as all of that silverware combined as the two met in the League Cup Final over two legs home and away, 3-1. The Blues’ second success wouldn’t come until 2011, where they won the competition once more against Arsenal at Wembley.  

With Blues languishing in the lower division whilst Villa were Premier League regulars, they eventually met again in league action in 2002 after decades away, giving worldwide audiences the chance to see what the second city derby was all about in the Premier League.

One moment which stands out during their Premier League days came as Blues managed a 3-0 victory during the first match since 1986, Clinton Morrison opened the scoring before one moment for absolute madness from Villains keeper Peter Enckleman. Olof Mellburg took a throw in back to the goalkeeper, who couldn’t control it but took a slight touch just before it ended up in the back of his own net. For the second time that night supporters broke out on to the pitch, before Geoff Horsfield secured a third in a famous night at St Andrews.

It took another five attempts for Villa to secure a win over their arch rivals, but when they did in 2005 away from home they went on to win a further five and lose just once in the last eleven years.

Even though both now play second division Championship football, the derby is as heated and strong as it has always been, and remains one of the UK’s most fierce and loved. 

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