Crossing the A52 divide


On Saturday the first meeting of the season between Nottingham Forest and Derby County will take place. Two clubs whose rivalry is one of the fiercest in English football meet at the City Ground in what will be a hotly contested Championship fixture. The cities of Nottingham and Derby are fourteen miles apart and the close proximity of the two means there are plenty of bragging rights at stake across the East Midlands whenever they meet.

It is the first match fans of Forest and The Rams look for when the fixture list is released every season but the rivalry hasn’t always been as strong as it is now. It was on the whole a friendly affair during the early years of the Football League in the late 1800’s and the two contested the 1898 FA Cup Final, Forest emerging victorious by a 3-1 scoreline, but due to success at different periods of their existences, up until the 1960’s they only played each other on sixteen occasions.

Since the 1969/70 season, when both clubs were in the First Division, they have contested seventeen league seasons in the same league, twelve in the top flight and five in the second tier. The fixture returning to the top flight calendar coincided with the rivalry developing and it began to grow further when Brian Clough, who guided Derby to the First Division title in 1972, took over as manager at Forest in 1975, much to the anger of Rams’ fans.

Derby is a one club city and whilst Forest’s nearest neighbours are Notts County, the Reds have only played them on occasion in the modern era and therefore stoked up a rivalry with the team from down the other end of the A52.

Since the Second World War some 30 players have represented both Derby and Forest, enjoying varying amounts of success. Both sets of fans are passionate and certainly don’t enjoy seeing a former favourite turning out for their great rivals. Here I take a look at some names who have spent time with Nottingham Forest and Derby County, beginning with a man who brought fantastic success to both…..

Derby County 1967 – 1973, Nottingham Forest 1975 – 1993

Mention the name to Brian Clough to any Derby County or Nottingham Forest fan and you’ll hear nothing but adoration for the maverick manager who transformed the fortunes of both clubs in remarkable fashion.

He joined Derby from Hartlepools United in May 1967 alongside great friend and assistant Peter Taylor with the club languishing in the second tier, having been there for ten seasons. Instantly Clough and Taylor rang the changes at the Baseball Ground, bringing in a host of new players including Roy McFarland, John McGovern and Dave Mackay. By 1968, Clough guided Derby to the Second Division title and with it a place in the top tier of English football. He took them to 4th in their first season back in the elite but it was in 1972 his greatest Derby accomplishment came, the League Championship. Derby saw off the challenge of the dominant Leeds United and Liverpool to deliver a first league title to the Rams in their 88-year history. Unfortunately his career at the club went downhill as he fell out with the board and resigned in 1973, along with Taylor.

After that 44 day stint at Leeds United and a short spell with Brighton and Hove Albion, Clough was appointed boss at Nottingham Forest who, like Derby, were rooted in the bottom half of Division Two. Clough brought in many trusted recruits from Derby including McGovern and O’Hare, finishing 8th in his first full season. Taylor linked up again with Clough in July 1976 and it was there the magic began. In 1977 Forest finished 3rd and were promoted to the top flight. New arrivals in the form of England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Kenny Burns and ex-Derby midfielder Archie Gemmill strengthened a squad which took the top flight by storm – Forest becoming League Champions just a season after promotion, finishing eight points ahead of Liverpool in second, whom they also beat in the League Cup final.

In 1979, along with defending the League Cup, Forest embarked on their first season in the European Cup and won it, defeating Malmo in the final and in 1980 they did it again, defending their title with a 1-0 victory over Hamburg in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. An unbelievable period of success considering where Forest were when Clough took over. Considering he could only take Derby as far as the semi-finals of Europe’s top competition after a controversial semi-final defeat to Juventus, the greater success he had at Forest angered the Derby faithful and went someway to creating the rivalry between the two sides.

Clough left Forest in 1993 and retired from management altogether but his achievements in Nottingham and Derby have left legacies by which all succeeding Forest and County managers are expected to live up to, as impossible as that may be nowadays. Clough sadly died in 2004 but his achievements will never be forgotten and whenever the teams meet, the winners take home the Brian Clough Trophy. The A52 road which separates Nottingham and Derby has also been renamed Brian Clough Way, a fitting tribute to the man who made Derby and Forest two of the best teams in the game.

Derby County 1967 – 1973 & 1982 – 1984, Nottingham Forest 1976 – 1982

Nottingham-born Peter Taylor was Brian Clough’s assistant at both Derby and Forest and played a key role in the success of both teams. While Clough would mould players into teams with his quite individual management style, Taylor had an eye for players, finding rough diamonds for Clough to polish into top-level performers. He once said of their partnership “I am the shop window, he is the goods in the back” alluding to the work Taylor did behind the scenes, spotting potential in players and helping them fulfil it.

He resigned from Derby alongside Clough in 1973 but wouldn’t team up with his good friend until arriving at the City Ground in 1976 where he helped Forest sweep all before them in a trophy-laden four year spell between 1977 and 1981. He retired from football in May 1982 but six months later was lured back to the Baseball Ground, taking over as Derby County manager to the surprise of many in the game, including Clough.

Although the two parted company on good terms, their relationship turned sour when, in May 1983, Taylor signed Forest winger John Robertson, apparently without telling Brian Clough, who was on holiday at the time. The two would never speak again and never got the chance to reconcile their differences as Taylor passed away suddenly in October 1990.

Nottingham Forest 1984 – 1993 & 1996 – 1997, Derby County 2009 – present

The Clough family are synonymous with the Forest Derby rivalry, with both father and son spending time with both sides and living in Derby throughout their time in the East Midlands. Nigel was one of Forest’s greatest ever strikers, playing over 400 times for the club in two spells, scoring 131 goals. Having been given his debut by his dad in 1984, Clough junior’s predatory instincts and intelligent link-up play made him a firm favourite at the City Ground before he moved to Liverpool following Forest’s relegation from the top flight in 1993.

Having helped Burton Albion on their way to promotion to the Football League during an eleven year spell as manager, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became Derby County manager in January 2009, to the delight of the Rams’ faithful who saw it as a homecoming for the son of their legendary former manager.

Clough’s appointment at Pride Park was met with a mixed response in Nottingham, some fans left disappointed to see a club legend take over at their rivals. After Derby beat Forest twice in Clough’s first half-season as boss and a few heated words were exchanged between him and Forest boss Billy Davies, Clough went down in the estimations of some Forest followers, even more so during Derby’s 1-0 win over Forest at Pride Park in 2010. A melee ensued on the touchline between members of both clubs and Clough was accused by Davies of kneeing the Forest manager in the back of the leg. The Clough factor has added an extra spice to the Derby match in recent years and despite not enjoying much success with the club so far due to a lack of investment, he is slowly building a side looking to break into the top half of the Championship.

Nottingham Forest 1970 – 1983 & 1985 – 1986, Derby County 1983 – 1985

John Robertson is one of Nottingham Forest’s all-time great players. The left-winger played over 400 matches for The Reds and under the management of Brian Clough, became one of the best players in Europe, scoring the winning goal as Forest won the European Cup in 1980.

Robertson – whilst not the quickest – was a tricky, creative winger with an eye for goal. He turned opposition full-backs inside out and could deliver telling crosses with either left or right foot. He was also a clinical penalty taker. The creative spark in a hugely successful Forest team, Robertson won a League Championship, two League Cups, a Charity Shield, two European Cups and the Super Cup during his time at the club.

In 1983 he joined Derby County for a fee set by tribunal, but it was the transfer which sparked the bitter Clough/Taylor row and his time at the Baseball Ground was far less successful. As Derby slid into mid-table mediocrity in the second tier, the Scottish international suffered injuries which hampered his playing time and he went back to Forest on a free transfer in 1985, where he stayed for another year.

Nottingham Forest 1987 – 1993, Derby County 1993 – 1995

Gary Charles launched his career with Nottingham Forest in 1987, going on to make 56 appearances for the club in six years at the City Ground. The speedy right-back competed with Brian Laws for a full-back slot in the team and eventually left the club for Derby County in 1993 after Forest were relegated from the Premier League into Division One.

Forest and Derby were now in the same division after Forest’s relegation from the Premier League and in April 1994, Forest travelled to the Baseball Ground, seeking a win which would virtually guarantee them an instant promotion back to the top flight. Having taken the lead through Colin Cooper’s fiercely struck free-kick, Gary Charles, now in the white of Derby County, scored a comical own-goal, misplacing a backpass straight into his own net past the goalkeeper to gift his former employers a 2-0 victory, much to the delight of the travelling Forest faithful.

Derby County 2002 – 2006, Nottingham Forest 2008 – present

Nottingham Forest’s current first-choice goalkeeper Lee Camp was born and bred in Derby and came through the youth ranks at Pride Park before making his Rams’ debut in 2002. After a string of impressive performances he received England under-21 honours but was allowed to join Queens Park Rangers in 2007 after comments he and his dad made about the club’s coaching staff soured his relationship with the team and fans.

Having struggled to hold down a first-team place at Loftus Road, Camp joined a struggling Nottingham Forest side on loan in October 2008 for three months, playing a pivotal role in as the club pulled itself out of the bottom three in the Championship. On November 2nd 2008, Derby played host to Forest in the first meeting between the two sides for three years – a match which ended in controversy.

With the scores at 1-1 late in the game Derby saw a goal disallowed by young referee Stuart Atwell, who awarded a penalty to the hosts instead. Nacer Barazite stepped forward but Derby fan Camp palmed away the effort and pumped his fists in celebration. He then pulled off a spectacular diving save from the resulting corner, clearly revelling in his return to Pride Park. Derby put the ball in the net from the next corner but the goal was also disallowed and the match ended 1-1. Camp’s place in Forest folklore was well and truly secured.

A hero to Reds fans, ‘Campy’ returned to Forest permanently for a £100,000 fee in the summer of 2009, making over 100 appearances in goal to date.

Nottingham Forest 2004 – 2008, Derby County 2008 – 2011

Talented winger Kris Commons joined Nottingham Forest from Stoke City in August 2004 and immediately caught the eye with some spectacular goals and excellent range of passing. A Forest fan born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, Commons became a key figure of the team despite relegation to League One in 2005.

He remained at the City Ground and was a stand-out performer during Forest’s stay in the third tier, eventually helping them to a dramatic final-day promotion back to the Championship in 2008, scoring the second goal as Forest beat Yeovil 3-2 at the City Ground. Commons’ performances caught the eye of teams in the division above and with his Forest contract expiring that summer, the Reds board wanted to see what league Forest would play in before submitting an offer to the left-sided midfielder.

Commons did not sign a new Forest deal and in June completed a controversial move to Derby County. The Forest fans were unhappy to see their star player and self-admitted Reds fan move join the Rams, while Derby were glad to poach the attacking midfielder on a free transfer. Commons came back to haunt his former employers, scoring the winning goal in a 3-2 FA Cup 4th round replay win at the City Ground, Derby coming back from 2-0 down to secure their first win at Forest since 1971. Commons enjoyed facing Forest and scored at the City Ground again in December 2010, a consolation strike as his side lost 5-2, but the Scotland international still took the opportunity to goad the Forest faithful after scoring, further adding to their dislike of the former Red. Not long after he joined Celtic for a fee of £300,000.

Derby County 2007 – 2008, Nottingham Forest 2008 – 2011

A prolific goalscorer in the Football League, Robert Earnshaw joined Derby County for a £3.5 million fee from Norwich City in 2007. Having just been promoted to the Premier League, Derby were seeking goals to stave off relegation and moved to sign Earnshaw, who previously played at that level with West Bromwich Albion.

However his time with Derby was unsuccessful as the club had a torrid season, relegated to the Championship having won just one match, ending up with the worst points tally of any team in the Premier League. Earnshaw was in and out of the side and scored just twice for Derby, claiming it was his worst season in football.

In the summer of 2008 Earnshaw became the first player to be transferred between Derby County and Nottingham Forest for 15 years, since Gary Charles in 1993. He regained his scoring form at the City Ground, netting 43 times in 111 appearances over three years. Billy Davies, the man who signed him for Derby County, was manager at Forest for two seasons and saw Earnshaw net three times against Derby last season – twice in Forest’s 5-2 thrashing of their former club in December 2010 and the winning goal in the 1-0 win at Pride Park three weeks later.

The Welsh international endeared himself to the Forest faithful despite his Derby connections before leaving for first club Cardiff City on a free transfer in July 2011.

Derby County 2006 – 2007, Nottingham Forest 2009 – 2011

Scottish manager Billy Davies joined Derby County from Preston North End in June 2006. Derby had struggled in the Championship since being relegated from the Premier League in 2002, appointing a man who’d taken Preston to the play-offs for the previous two seasons to try and turn around their fortunes. In his first season with the Pride Park side, Davies steered Derby to 3rd in the league and a play-off semi-final victory over Southampton.

In the final against West Bromwich Albion at Wembley, midfielder Stephen Pearson netted the only goal as Derby were promoted to the top flight for the first time in five years. After a poor start to Premier League life, Davies publicly criticised the board for a lack of investment and left the club by mutual consent in November 2007, 14 games into the season. Derby would go on to be relegated come the end of the campaign.

On December 31 2008, Nottingham Forest announced they were in talks with Davies to take over as manager after sacking Colin Calderwood and on New Years’ Day 2009, Davies was officially confirmed as Forest boss. Sections of the Forest support were unhappy to see a man who’d had success with Derby become their new manager, amid fears dour football would soon be on its way to the City Ground. Nigel Clough had also been linked with the vacancy, but days late became manager at Pride Park.

Initial fears over the Scot’s appointment were soon banished. Davies encouraged Forest to play a fluid, passing game and he guided a young side to Championship safety in 2009. After bringing in new faces, Davies’ first full season in charge ended with Forest finishing 3rd, where they lost to Blackpool in the play-off semi-finals. With Davies now at the helm, matches against previous club Derby had an extra edge to them, particularly with Forest legend Nigel Clough in the opposing dugout. Davies stoked up the competitive nature of the fixture and passions overflowed on occasion, with players and staff clashing in two different matches, including choice words exchanged between the managers.

Davies led Forest to the play-offs again in 2010-11 and on the way saw his team beat Derby 5-2 at home, then complete the double as the Reds won at Pride Park for the first time, Robert Earnshaw’s volley earning a 1-0 success. The passionate Davies enjoyed facing his former employers but, as with Derby, he frequently criticised the Forest board over a lack of investment in the team and was eventually shown the door in June 2011, bringing an end to an eventful two-and-a-half years in charge.

Nottingham Forest 2006 – 2011, Derby County 2011 – present

Nathan Tyson became the latest man to move to the opposite end of the Brian Clough Way in June 2011, signing a three-year contract with Derby County having rejected a new deal at Forest. The pacy striker’s most telling contribution in the East Midlands derby caused controversy in August 2009 after Forest beat Derby 3-2 at the City Ground. Tyson scored the Reds’ third goal and at the final whistle, proceeded to go on a lap of honour around the pitch carrying a corner flag emblazoned with the Forest badge.

He began by running in front of the Bridgford End, in front of several thousand travelling Rams fans. They were incensed as too were the Derby players who confronted Tyson, sparking a scuffle in the penalty area involving players and coaches from each side. Both teams were fined for their actions, Tyson receiving a £5,000 fine and suspended two-match suspended ban due to his behaviour. It was a moment of course savoured by the Forest faithful and hardly endeared Tyson to the Derby supporters.

However two summers later he would soon be linking up with Forest’s rivals, stating his excitement at playing for what he called “an impressive football club.” Forest fans were not too aggrieved to see Tyson go, even when joining the Rams, but they soon will be if he finds the net against them on Saturday. He has yet to play a league match for Nigel Clough’s side due to injury but now fully recovered, it looks as if he will – as is so often the case – make his debut against his former side.

Many other players have represented both Derby County and Nottingham Forest, including Forest European Cup winners Peter Shilton, John McGovern and Kenny Burns. In recent years the trend has continued with the likes of Lars Bohinen, Dean Saunders, Marcus Tudgay (who netted twice against Derby for the Reds last season) and Dexter Blackstock turning out for the two rivals, however not all players are so willing to make the move.

In the summer Forest’s French midfielder Guy Moussi was linked with a move to Derby County after stalling on a new contract but said of the speculation: “I don’t want to be rude but I could not have gone to Derby. It was impossible.” Moussi remained at the City Ground as new manager Steve McClaren persuaded him to stay, putting pen to paper on a new three-year deal.

McClaren himself is another who has spent time with both clubs. He was assistant to Derby manager Jim Smith between 1995 and 1999, enjoying success as The Rams were promoted to the Premier League and established themselves in the top flight, before moving to Manchester United. Upon his arrival at Forest McClaren mentioned the significance of local rivalries – he knows all about their importance thanks to his time spent with Derby.

According to a survey on football rivalries Nottingham Forest and Derby County is the eleventh fiercest rivalry in English football, with nine out of ten fans from both clubs pointing to the other as their fiercest rival. Despite this many players have represented both teams and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.

There will be no love lost when the sides step out of that City Ground tunnel on Saturday afternoon. The anticipation ahead of such derbies is always great and further adds to the occasion – with local pride at stake during the 90 minutes it will no doubt be an entertaining spectacle.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

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