Regional Rivalry

An eye-catching scoreline: Nottingham Forest 12 – 0 Leicester. Remember that? No, not even I do! That thrashing for Leicester Fosse (as they were then) came in a First Division fixture in 1909 and proved to be the heaviest defeat they’ve ever suffered. They went on to be relegated and, a decade later, ‘Fosse’ became ‘City’.

Flash forward a century and the Reds defeat Leicester 5-1 at the City Ground in a Championship game in December 2009. How we Forest fans revelled in that emphatic win as we watched Robert Earnshaw score a hat-trick and entertain us with his trademark gymnastic celebrations! (Wes Morgan, for information, was still wearing a red shirt then.) Another leap in time and I’m sat in front of a TV screen watching Forest – in disbelief, it has to be said! – demolish FA Cup holders Leicester City 4-1. It’s February 2022 and the start of an impressive cup run for Steve Cooper’s team, halted only by the eventual cup winners, Liverpool.

All three of those fixtures were Forest home wins so, in the interests of balance (given I’ve some City supporter friends!), it has to be said that the Reds have found victories less easy to come by at Leicester. Last October’s 4-0 drubbing felt like a capitulation as City produced quality they seemed to have saved for the occasion, given their own poor form this season. In truth, both teams have have struggled to assert themselves or find the level of consistency required to ensure survival.

As we come to Saturday’s Reds v Foxes game, the two clubs couldn’t be much closer in the league, separated only by goal difference. Geographically, the two clubs are only kept apart by a few junctions of the M1. Classic local-rivalry stuff then. Well, yes and no. Rivalry in football comes in many forms. We have the ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ variety in Manchester with City and United. Scotland gave us, for many years, the ugly sight of sectarianism in the game. Glasgow’s Celtic and Rangers fixtures carried a sub-plot of Catholics v Protestants.

Head for Spain and we probably have the ultimate example of club rivalry spilling into sentiments verging on hate. When they meet, it’s called El Clasico but Real (Royal) Madrid against Barcelona is always a spiky affair. Both teams can parade some of the world’s best players and play sublime football but their games still resonate with memories of and connections with civil war in the late 1930s. Madrid – as the capital city – is the power base for Spanish nationalism and Barcelona the same for Catalan nationalism. Little love is lost between the two sets of fans.

But traditional rivalry is usually engendered by the close proximity of clubs to one another. By comparison with some of the more feisty local derbies, that between Forest and Leicester is an altogether more benign affair. There’s no historical baggage tainting the two and the cities are just far enough away from one another to have quite separate identities. And the fans of both share a sense of derision for Derby County!

Rivalry is heightened – obviously – when teams compete in the same league. Given Forest’s and Leicester’s mixed fortunes over the decades, they’ve sometimes been like ship’s passing in the night, as one was promoted and the other relegated. As the Reds became Division One champions in the 1977-78 season (how sweet it is to write those words … yet again!), Leicester City finished bottom, in 22nd position, with 22 points from 42 matches. That’s painful reading for a Foxes fan. Come the 2015-16 season and it’s Leicester City riding high, winning the Premiership, ten points clear of second-placed Arsenal. Forest – if you need reminding – were mid-tabling it out in another league at that time. Such a wonderful achievement for the boys in blue, though, gained admiration in Nottingham. Two East Midland clubs whose successes have been impressive but intermittent, give space for the two sets of fans to acknowledge the achievements of each other.

The manner of Leicester’s title win also had Forest fans making connections – and why not? – with their own much cherished title win. There are remarkable parallels. Both teams were ‘unfancied’ prior to the start of their season. Both, in claiming their titles, made impressive progress from the previous year: Leicester had only just escaped relegation and Forest had been promoted. The stuff of miracles in football-speak. Move on to the players and we have them led by managers, Brian Clough and Claudio Ranieri, who nurtured fantastic team spirit and had a record of tremendous consistency in team selection. The commanding, charismatic keeper, Kasper Schmeichel and no-nonsense, centre-back pairing of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan (now in his blue shirt) triggered comparisons at Forest with their defensive backbone of Peter Shilton, Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd. Finally, what both teams remind us of is the art of the possible. Not the richest or the biggest club but capable – at a particular time, in particular circumstances – of gate-crashing the ‘top six’ cartel.

It’s not a top-of-the-table clash on Saturday. Both teams desperately need the points: they are rivals for survival. Given local-derby spice, it looks set to be quite a game. For Forest, it’s a chance to avenge the pain of a 4-0 defeat. The Foxes to be hounded out of town, dare I say?

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Brennan Johnson celebrates in last seasons 4-0 cup victory at the City Ground.

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