What do 37,000 and 40,000 have in common? Easy. Derby Day at Villa Park.

Do Aston Villa need Birmingham City Football Club? Do they need Wolves? Or how about West Brom? Of course they do. These teams live in such close proximity to each other that a brisk stroll will take you door to door. The fervor of these clubs’ supporters are what makes football exciting in the West Midlands. Love them or hate them (hate being the operative word here), they are necessary foes, vital to the well-being of Aston Villa. And for the same reason, Aston Villa is necessary to the well-being of these teams. They’re inextricable—except for the obstacle of promotion and relegation.

Apart from the race at the top of the Championship, there is another story playing out behind the scenes. And that’s the separation of the aforementioned teams. There is a possibility for three teams to be in the Premier League. Or four in the Championship. But sitting here at this moment, the best hope is two in the Prem—Villa and Wolves. The chance of the other two teams escaping relegation is slim, meaning a three-league separation between the four. Not too many seasons ago they were all in the Premier League.

The London, Manchester, and Liverpool teams feed off each other. They create excitement and lots of media—both print and TV—including practically 100% Sky TV coverage. All of that creates money and the ability to rise above the crowd. It draws the best footballers on the planet, the best managers in the game, world recognition, and stadiums that are second to none. It’s a footballer’s and fan’s paradise.

The Midlands are missing out. Whether it’s by design or just circumstance, these other teams are the favourite children of the FA.

What is it going to take for all four West Midlands sides to be in the Premiership at the same time? Just waiting for the planets to align isn’t the answer. Just as Villa and Wolves have put together a winning formula this year, a winning formula needs to be put together for Birmingham and its environs. A plan for all four teams to be in the Prem and competing against each other. It would be 12 derbies, large attendances, a Sky TV draw, a more visible presence in the world, and more money. It would also draw some of the attention away from London, Manchester, and Liverpool.

Not only does each club need to look after itself and set a path like Dr. Xia wants to do with Aston Villa, but it also means they have to work together for the success of football in the Midlands. This would also include: Stoke, Derby, Leicester, Coventry, and Walsall. These teams lie within 40 miles of Greater Birmingham. A mere stone’s throw in today’s thinking. Working as a whole should create stronger teams, attract better talent, and a force in English football. It would behoove each team to help each other out. Instead of trying to get the best deal through loans and transfers, give opposing teams a bit of a leg up. Loan out to Walsall instead of a team further afield for example. There is strength in numbers—not so much in individuals. A single team in any of the leagues is not as well off as a team with a nearby competitor.

So yeah, heated games, fans in full roar, full houses, and names in the news—these are the bread and butter of derbies. But unless there is some cooperation between the teams in the Midlands we will always be second fiddle to the London teams. Second City? It’s time to drop that moniker in English football.

Comments 43

  1. Ian – a very apt and valid observation mate. It has been a while since the Midlands was vibrant in the football world.

    I remember, albeit a while ago, when myself and 2 mates used to go to a lot of away games with a predominance for ‘local’ derbies at Wolves, Blues, Albion, Coventry, Derby, Nottingham’s Forest and County. Leicester & Stoke as well as a chosen few including both Manchester clubs and both Liverpool’s plus Arsenal and Spurs.

    I recall commenting one season to my mates that the nearest top flight club to Villa that season was Man United since City had just moved out of Maine Road.

    The other side of the coin is that with a lot of local derbies the chances of top of the table performances are remote since a lot these end up as draws. London clubs seldom manage a sustained assault on the league title as opposed to the Liverpool and Manchester clubs; they manage the occasional one-off but not a run of titles.

    I look forward to seeing the views of other lifers.

    A good topic for the international break doldrums!

  2. Agree with everything you’ve written Ian with the possible exception of small heath who I have a feeling will escape relegation this year. Monk is a better appointment than anyone since Rowett. As of this week, I’m guessing that Sunderland, Burton and Barnsley will drop.

    The four main clubs around here have another thing in common. They’re all owned by Chinese companies who will do everything possible to forward their ambitions. There is one caveat though. How can anyone take a company named Trillion Trophy Asia seriously? Typically Hong Kong of course. I’ve come across Lucky Golden Nugget Trading, The Fook Hing Rattan Company (say that after a few Captain Morgans Ian) and Honest Best Second Hand Cars.

    As Fung Shui plays a big part in Chinese life, I’m amazed TTA haven’t had the Fung Shui expert into the sty before purchasing. Had they done so, he would surely have picked up the gypsy curse and ruled that it could not be broken so avoid at all costs.

  3. Ian,

    A good topic! A good article.

    Yes, it’s a far cry from 1957 when 3 teams of the Midlands big 4 got to the semi-final of the FA Cup.

    However, in fairness, there’s quite a lot of clubs not far from Manchester and Liverpool that were once very famous teams in the top flight – Bolton, Blackburn, Preston (the first ‘double’ winners) and Blackpool for example. Also Burnley (though they’re now in the top flight) are running on a knife-edge as they’re still a small club. Bury – also – won the FA Cup twice many years ago.

    So I think there’s a regional issue everywhere in reality, but it just so happens that Liverpool and Man U picked up their opportunities very well and to make those clubs great they had very canny managers in theScots Shankley and Busby. They both gave their clubs the foundation to become a great success, whereas the management at Wolves, Villa and the Albion went downhill. In my opinion, the fate of these clubs is through not taking advantage of the circumstances that existed around 1961 time when football opened out. Wolves – a great success in the 50s – instead went downhill apart from a few spurts.

    Strangely it was in the early 60s that Jimmy Hill built up Coventry so that they replaced Villa in the top-flight by 1967, but sadly they couldn’t keep the momentum going. The Premiership has seen a decline of several clubs where once they were doing well – e.g. Notts Forest, Norwich, Derby. But Leicester have proved what can be done.

    Small Heath always have been a second-rate club in all honesty, despite a few brief bright moments. That they carry the ‘Birmingham’ name is a travesty i.m.o.

    On the ankle injury [Kodjia’s and yours]

    Can I please make the point that your treatment was a long time ago and a point I made was that I’d hope that advances have been made in treatment over the years. Maybe they’ve introduced a kind of cement to permanently bind the pieces together! 😀

    It may well be that your fears may be found to be accurate, and, if so, it would appear that the advances I’d have hoped for haven’t materialised.

  4. Thanks for the write-up, Ian.

    Would be better for all the clubs and supporters, agreed. Of all your scenarios, here’s hoping the one that has Villa going up comes good.

  5. While we are visiting memory lane —ITV Football


    What was it like playing behind the Iron Curtain in 1982? @AVFCOfficial found out when they played Dynamo Kyiv in the Crimea on their way to winning the European Cup. @Peter_Withe @GaryNewbon

    Watch the full series of ‘When English Football Ruled Europe’ on @ITV4 29th and 30th March

  6. Kodjia

    Sports Mole have reported:

    “Kodjia was able to come through 45 minutes of action in a friendly which took place at the club’s training ground, although the forward is still some way from being considered for a place in Steve Bruce’s squad.”

  7. Small Heath

    Talking earlier of our friends across town, just a few notes on how they came to be called “Birmingham” – in case you’re not aware!

    As a local authority, Aston did not fully become part of Birmingham until 1911, but until 1903 Aston Manor (where Villa Park is located) was believed to be loosely connected with Birmingham and therefore the Villa were thought to be a Birmingham club. Everyone said so.

    In 1903, however, Aston Manor was declared to be a local authority in its own right (an Urban District Council) so – officially – the Villa were no longer part of Birmingham.

    At that point our friends in Small Heath (were the club was still called ‘Small heath’) decided the time was opportune to rename themselves ‘Birmingham’, as they thought they were now the only first-class club in the city. They chortled a lot at this but the Villa just listened to what was being said with a wry attitude.

    And, of course, in 1911, the Villa became part of Birmingham once more – this time officially – when Aston was made part of the city. But Villa did not make a big noise about who was top dog in the city. They just carried on winning while the Small Heath club continued to be relegated, then promoted, then relegated… And so it has been most of the time ever since.

  8. Oh, and in 1931 the Small Heath club determined that they should add “City” to their official name.

    Well, they’ve done well for goalkeepers – Hibbs, Merrick, Latchford and Withers being the best, with Withers a closet Villa fan who later signed for Villa. How he didn’t get a ‘cap’ amazes me, but Banks was the England ‘keeper at the time. Between 1955 and 1967, in Sims and Withers, Villa had the two best uncapped ‘keepers in the country.

  9. Chester had a 70 minute run out today with Wales. They breezed past China 0-6 in Nanning. The scoreline suggests it was more like a training session.

  10. JL – These guys are our future. Together with Green, O’Hare, Bree and Doyle-Hayes not to mention the others that are doing well you would think there is a team in making with some promise.

    Here’s hoping they get an opportunity in the first team.

  11. Going to watch Doyle-Hayes on Tuesday playing for Ireland U21s, would love O’Hare to do a reverse Grealish and declare for us at senior level, we are crying for a player of his type since Hoolahan retired, looks like we lost another underage player in Liam Kelly who plays for Reading, he’s holding out for England to come calling.

    It’s important for a country like mine as with our small population and even smaller player pool we need to use the ‘granny’ rule to its fullest to remain competitive in the second tier of European nations.

  12. Darren,

    You remember of course you utilised Andy “Cockney” Townsend for your dastardly Irish mission?! 😉

    That was a golden period, wasn’t it, with he, Houghton, Staunton and a certain Titch McGrath providing their stalwart services.

    And wot about the old goalkeeper cum centre half Cornelius Martin?

  13. If anybody knows what the VP ground developments are please enlighten us. Apart from a digital menu, the article is just secretive vapour. Described as amazing vapour mind.

    Why mention your plans when you’re not going to reveal them? They must think we’re all mushrooms.

  14. Plug,

    Yep. But I suppose the guy was just saying that someone’s putting something together that looks impressive, thereby indicating Xia’s level of commitment.

  15. Hi JL

    Halcyon days for Villa and Ireland and the reason there is a certain generation of Irish Villans. Had the pleasure of meeting Con Martin a couple of times an absolute gentleman, may he rest in peace.

  16. Darren,

    I can well believe that about Con Martin. I am so pleased for you that you met him.

    He actually had an interesting record in that he played under Major Frank Buckley at Leeds (before he came to Villa), and in his last playing days the chairman at Villa was Frank Buckley’s brother, Chris. Both the Buckley brothers once played for Villa though Frank never made the first team.

    To add to that story, the Buckley brothers before WW1 were in partnership as farmers, based at Redditch. William McGregor said that he once saw them driving a flock of sheep through Colmore Row.

  17. It seems like the powers that be down VP have decided that treating us like mushrooms is not the best way forward so they’ve released a bit more information about the planned developments at the ground.

    Much of the work appears to centre around the North Stand. They plan to increase our capacity to 60,000 once we make the PL. It is the obvious end to redevelop owing to the space available behind the stand which would permit enlargement of it to a similar size to that of the Holte End. And with safe standing areas behind each goal, capacity could reach the stated figure.

    So no pressure Spud. All you need to do is get us promoted this season.

  18. Plug,

    Sou8nds like an upgrade to the plans I saw in 2009 based around the North Stand as well. Then the capacity aimed for was 50,000, the figure Villa already had planning permission for.

  19. not posted for months got banned on the villa blog for calling bruce a con man the guy who runs it thinks the sun shines out of spuds arse and says he is the best manager we have had in the last 20 years well you cannot disagree with him or you are banned so just giving any one who goes on there a warning as for me think we have blown it down to spud and he alone and his refusal to attack the smaller sides have dropped at least 16 points through his negative tactics do not fancy any one in the play offs and will bruce be manager next season if we fail i know we are run by idiots from the top down round and wyness are not fit for the job and the owner well he is just clueless and lets the loonies carry on and run the asylum still we have a slight chance and 6 to one can be got to go up still so bookies do not fancy our chances hope i am wrong but all the spud lovers need to wake up and see the dross he plays , its no good beating wolves then losing to complete rubbish and these results prove he can not motivate the players and needs getting rid of go up or not any thoughts

  20. Hello John,

    Yes, Bruce isn’t ideal but you can’t say (yet) he’s “blown it”. We won’t know that for a few games yet.

    Please don’t be like PM May and accuse someone before we have the proof! 😀

  21. JD – I’ve been banging the same drum about Spud for some months. I think he’s been far too defensive against the smaller teams. He has a reluctance to attack and overwhelm them. He gets nervous if a game becomes too open. He’s lost plenty of winnable points this season because of it. His bench always seems packed with defensive options.

    There is every chance we’ll see more of the same against Hull this weekend. We should be blowing them away (Cardiff did it at Brentford recently) but I’m not confident of getting even a narrow win.

  22. Hi, John Doyle

    Good to see you again. Bruce certainly divides opinion, but if you can’t talk about it, what’s the point of having a blog?

    Me, I’ve had a complicated relationship with the man…and now we’re down to the final stretch of the “will he or won’t he get us promoted saga.”

    Nervy times…the stakes are obviously very high.

  23. JL – The bit about agents fees made me chuckle.

    The Villa directors admitted the principled approach did cost them one signing though, but added, “where he ended up, he’s been useless!”.

    Jordan Rhodes?

  24. According to the bookmakers, Villa are not going to get promoted this season. It’s Wolves, Cardiff and Fulham if they are right. So if we don’t achieve promotion what happens next?

    Where does this leave SB? And what will Villa do? We now know that Gabby is being released. It’s a fair bet that Hutton, Turpin and RMC will join him. And the loan players will be returned to their parent clubs. Because of FFP, the kids will fill the vacancies.

    Enter Wyness and his vision of The Villa Engine which I think is definitely the way forward. As well as producing the kids and having an effective scouting regime, it covers the style of play. Having watched the kids play, Kevin Mac has them playing attacking football without fear. With much success.

    A problem then arises in the form of a conflict between how the youth team plays and how SB sets up using a very defensive mode. Would SB change his style of play? Does a leopard change his spots? If not, I only see SB following the high earners out of the club. He was brought in for a reason and if that failed he would need replacing with someone who follows the Villa Engine style of play. Perhaps JT?

  25. Whats gone wrong with sports people Jamie Carragher’s display and now a great talent, Steve Smith shoots his career up the wall.
    My Australian relatives are never slow in giving me the big one when they give us a bashing in the cricket but equely give their own lot the same when they lose, great competitors. Smith, Warner and Bancroft will never recover their cricket careers. And like Carragher, had it not been for social media and technology, it would most likely have been denied.
    Regarding Aston Villa, we’re still very much in the frame for promotion. Having had only a couple of weeks in the top two, I think it’s unlikely we’ll finish anywhere except the 3rd or 4th. I think SB is more than capable of setting a team up for the play offs. I thought he approached the Wolves game like a cup final, so I wouldnt write us off. And remember Huddersfield won last years play offs with out scoring a goal, tell me thats not defensive from the David Wagner we all wanted two years ago.
    Lets see what the weekend brings.
    Oh and JT for manager, maybe. But I think there’s better people out there. Its noticable a lot of potentially young managers are taking the easy option, (in my opinion) Giggs at Wales, Neville England women, Martinez at Belgium, although Martinez may have shot his bolt in the Prem.
    Talk later, stuff to do now.

  26. It’s gap management now. We need to maintain the 7 point gap to 7th place. I live in total hope that SB will just pick a team (for once please) that goes all out attack. Tomorrow at Hull.

  27. Just a small challenge for Villa tomorrow with the 3 teams above us all winning today!

    I note that Wolves had 2 players sent off but still won against Boro!

  28. Bruce now claiming he has a fully fit squad, and that Kodjia will be in the squad travelling to Hull today, which may sound great, but could create more problems than answers.

    If he plays Kodjia, then Adomah will probably be sacrificed, as he will not drop Snodgrass to the bench, or does he keep Adomah in and drop Grabban, or will he want to play Davis alongside Kodjia. The permutations could become endless, and will a fully fit Whelan once again take up the cudgels for him. Is Green now ready for the fray..??

    The problem with Kodjia is that he is a naturally selfish player, which Adomah is not, and how often will he play to a team mate in a better position rather than try to finish himself. If Bruce decides to play him as a lone striker, then he is likely to be marked out of the game, but I do not think Bruce will do that, or I hope he wont.

    Defence wise, probably Hutton will return, and Taylor drop to the bench.

  29. Team: Johnstone; Tuanazabe, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Jedinak, Lansbury, Adomah; Grealish; Grabban.

    Codger on the bench as thought, with Conor, Hogan, Elmo, Bree, Onomah.

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