It’s ding dong derby week at St Andrews as Blues take on Villa on Sunday in a High Noon shoot-out that would whet the appetite of any soccerholic. It’s a fixture fans of both clubs just love and cannot wait for. Now I understand that non-football fans will not get it or realise how a derby can emotionally take over your life in the build up with anticipation, expectation and nervousness all rotating as the game draws closer.
I have regularly been at St Andrews or Villa Park reporting for talkSPORT this season and for the last month or so all I have had from supporters of both clubs is “can’t wait for the 30th” or “who do you think will win” or “I am worried about the game”.
If their team has just won it’s all positive if they have lost its all negative. There are few grey areas in a football supporter’s life. In fact a season ticket should come with a health warning.
I am sure both Steve Bruce and Gary Rowett will be playing it down as just another game with just three points at stake. Just another game?? You must be kidding for both the royal blue half and claret and blue half of the season sure the three points are very important however this is about the city’s bragging rights, being able to walk into your local pub or club and banter your mates non-stop.
Winning is about winding up your neighbour who supports the other side by walking past his window 20 times in ten minutes wearing your scarf or shirt with pride as you desperately try to catch his attention for a chat about the game.
Walking down to your local pub or club feeling seven feet tall and without a care in the world desperately hoping that your mates who support the other team are there drowning their sorrows. There is no sensitivity or thought for how they are feeling! Banter wise it’s straight in for the jugular.
Losing is about staying in and keeping your head down and as you relive every kick of the game as you try to work out what went wrong or more importantly who you can blame be it the manager, chairman, players, referee, hot dog salesman or programme seller. There is no interest in any hard luck stories or annoying “never mind” sentiments from friends or family, such is the life of a fan after a derby day defeat.
But that’s where it ends with banter with your friends and work mates. There is no room for the minority of loony tunes who want to cause mayhem before during or after the game under the guise of supporting either team. The majority of fans will enjoy a fantastic emotional roller coaster ride and hopefully a great game. The message to anyone with any trouble making ideas is that you are not welcome as neither of the clubs or the game in general or the genuine fans want you anywhere near it. All the drama should be confined to the pitch.
The game itself is hard to call because derby matches can be great levellers. How many of the players will have played in this sort of football cauldron before? Who will want it the most? Who will deal with the atmosphere and occasion best? Whose game changers will be bang at it? Who will get that slice of luck that can make all the difference? Will the managers pick the best team to deal with the demands of a derby? Will the referee be able to deal with the red hot atmosphere on and off the pitch?
So many questions with the answers revealed over the 90 minutes and that is what makes it a game to savour. No one knows how it will go or what will happen.
Of course as if the game needed any more edges to it but Steve Bruce coming back to St Andrews will certainly add to the atmosphere. One Blues fan summed it up on social media by saying seeing him at Villa was like ex-girlfriend you loved going out with your neighbour. Villa fans felt just the same in the 80’s when Ron Saunders moved across to St Andrews.
Blues gave surprised a lot of people so far this season and sit in 7th place going into the derby just 5 points off second place. With one defeat in seven home games confidence should be high.
Villa in 16th place after a stuttering start have only won once on the road but picked up 7 points from 9 under Bruce and know that a win at St Andrews could set them up for a promotion playoff chase.
This is a massive game for both clubs and with the eyes of the football world watching on TV let’s hope it’s a spectacle the city and both clubs can be proud off irrespective of the result