It’s derby day at the City Ground, and over the course of the next ninety minutes, everything else in life will fade into nothingness. It’s a fixture that both captures the imagination and consumes all who are part of it.
Forest and Derby fans may have a ‘strong dislike’ for one another but the football season is so much richer for having the two teams in the same league.
I love every aspect of the derby day experience: the incredible atmosphere, the irresistible banter, the high drama, the heroes and villains, the hope of glory, even the fact that I’ll probably be teetering on the edge of despair until the final whistle blows.
Some imbeciles try to defile the great tradition of the two clubs by inciting violence but the vast majority of fans make derby day a fantastic occasion to behold, no matter what happens on the pitch.
I, like so many other fanatics who will fill the ground today, am only interested in the football. In fact, the nearest I have ever come to a Derby related altercation was when I came across what I presumed to be a friendly ram, whilst on a cross country pub crawl over the summer.
In an attempt to impress my peers, I casually booed in its general direction … but it took exception and mercilessly charged toward me; head lowered with a menacing look in his eye. They’re not the docile creatures Countryfile would have you believe. I don’t mind admitting that I ran away like a scalded alley cat … but I’m sure our players will be much braver when locking horns with the Rams today.
Nottingham Forest against Derby County epitomises everything that is great about football. We should absorb and relish every second of today’s encounter because there is no guarantee the two teams will be playing against each other next season.
One of the best home matches I’ve ever been to was against Derby back in 2003. It had been four and a half years since Derby’s last visit and, as a result, the atmosphere was phenomenal. The Forest faithful played no small part, as goals from Marlon Harewood and Darren Huckerby helped us secure an impressive 3-0 win. As I walked home, cars were wildly beeping their horns and people were singing and dancing triumphantly along the River Trent. I’m told a similar celebration takes place outside Pride Park, every time Derby get a point at home.
But we all know football to be a cruel mistress and if you’re going to enjoy the euphoric highs, you have to be prepared to endure the devastating lows. A year on from that famous victory and Forest were beaten 4-2 at Pride Park. My lasting memory of that game was an innocuous back pass ricocheting off a Kenco coffee cup and leading to Derby’s second goal. To this day the taste of coffee at football grounds is like bitter ash in my mouth.
Whether it’s corner flag induced brawls, ex-players coming back to haunt their old clubs or rival managers kneeing each other in the back, the matches have produced great drama over the years. It’s a bit like an episode of Hollyoaks Later, but with better acting.
If anything the last few games between Forest and Derby have had more in common with a pantomime than a soap opera, with Robbie Savage and Kris Commons playing the part of the archetypal pantomime villains, as far as Forest fans are concerned. Of course both have now left the Rams for pastures new. One of them can be seen prancing around on a Saturday, trying to salvage the last remnants of his dwindling career, in some meaningless contest that no self-respecting football fan should care about … and the other has been signed up for the new series of Strictly Come Dancing.
With both Forest and Derby ringing the changes over the summer, today is a day when new heroes and villains can emerge; the toast of one city will be the scourge of the other.
If Forest win I can proudly wear my shirt about the town or else find that disobedient ram and sneer at him from a safe distance. If Forest lose I’ll probably just stay in bed until December.
There’s no glossing over the fact that it’s been a disappointing start to the season for us, but a win against our biggest rivals could be the inspiration needed to kick-start the promotion push, just like it did back in 2009.
More so than ever the players need our unyielding support and I’m sure that’s exactly what they will get. With every defeat the eventual victory is that much sweeter … and what better way to get our first home win of the season than by beating Derby County today.