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The Comedy of Errors

A Canadian In New Basford: The Forest and Derby Rivalry

17 January 07 words: Rob Cutforth
illustrations: Rob White

Rob Cutforth hasn’t been here long, but even he has a cob on about Derby County being in the Premiership…

When I first moved here, I thought I understood the Derby - Nottingham rivalry. I assumed it was about two neighbouring cities who didn’t like each other very much and that one of them had a predilection for sheep-buggery. We have the same sort of thing back home; a hockey game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames rarely ends without a scrap or two. I assumed something similar. I had no idea!

It wasn’t until I went to my first Forest match that I discovered the Nottingham v. Derby rivalry was a tad more savage. Forest were hosting the mighty Rovers of Tranmere and the fans were on their feet chanting “Stand UUUPPP if you hate Derby!” I leaned over and asked my wife in what part of Derbyshire Tranmere was located. “It’s not in Derbyshire, it’s a Liverpool team,” she answers.  What?

Back home, if Edmonton doesn’t make the playoffs, Calgary fans will begrudgingly cheer their rivals on. We’re both Albertans, after all. Not so in the East Midlands; not only were Forest fans chanting their hatred for a team that wasn’t even playing, but they were chanting their hatred for a team that wasn’t playing while a Liverpool team were in town. How badly did you have to hate Derby to pass over a chance to sing the “Sign on, Sign on” song? So I made it my mission to find out just what it was that caused Nottinghamians to hate Derby so much.

I knew there was something dodgy about the place right from the get-go when I realised they didn’t even know how to spell their own city’s name. If 80s flash-in-the-pan Terence Trent has taught us anything, it’s that “Derby” should be spelled with an “a” and have an apostrophe in it. Before I actually visited the place, I thought I would do some research into some of its many great tourist attractions. I typed “Derby tourism” into Google and three things came up consistently; it’s surrounded by the Peak District, it’s a busy “industrial city” and, my personal favourite:

With more ghostly sightings than York, Derby offers a wealth of reasons to book a short break.

The last time I heard of anywhere being described as an “industrial city” it referred to America’s toilet, Detroit. However, many great cities have been branded with that moniker, I’m sure even Detroit has some great places. But seriously, how bad does your town have to suck that your biggest claim to fame is that it is home to the most sightings of things that don’t exist?  

There are two things I know about Derby’s namesake, Terence Trent. One, that when he claimed that his first album was the best since Sgt. Pepper, he had a slight propensity for overstatement and two, he is unflinchingly crap. Having now been to Derby, I can say with all honesty that when the Derby tourism website describes it as, “a vibrant, contemporary yet traditional city”, it surpasses Terence Trent on both counts.

I looked at Derby’s event listings to see what a Derby holiday would entail. Six of the 10 upcoming events in Derby had to do with “well dressing”.  Not dressing well; Paul Smith did not come from Derby, after all. “At its simplest, well dressing is the art of decorating springs and wells with pictures made from growing things.” I’m sure some people would find that enchanting, but to me it sounds about as exciting as watching grass grow.  Oh, wait.

In that same period of time in Nottingham, there is a climate change photography exhibition, tours of Nottingham’s caves, outdoor performances of Twelfth Night and that little thing called the Nottingham Open tennis championship. After reading about the things Derby has to offer from their own tourist site, I’ve come to the same conclusion I did last time I was there. The best thing to see in Derby is Derby itself in my rear-view mirror.

So why do the people of Nottingham get all worked up about Derby anyway?  If you ask anyone outside of England to hit Derby on a map, they wouldn’t be able to do it if you gave them a sledgehammer to do it with. Ask the same person to name three other English cities, and I bet you dollars to doughnuts Nottingham would get mentioned more often than Birmingham.

Having said that, none of this hides the fact is that the sheep are in the Premiership and Forest are once again in League One.  I watched the last match against Yeovil and even though I have only been in Nottingham for a couple years, I was devastated. I didn’t think I gave a toss about Forest, I’m a hockey guy after all; I was still basking in the Panthers triumph. But when Yeovil scored their fifth, I was absolutely gutted. I was so sure that Forest were going to win that I had already booked time off at work so I could go watch them play at Wembley.

I understand that hearing this from a dirty foreigner who knows only two things about football (jack and shit) is of small comfort, but think about this: How much fun will it be watching Derby getting their asses handed to them next season by the likes of Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard? Is it possible to buy season tickets to the visitor’s section of Pride Park? If so, sign me up.

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