Aston Villa vs Birmingham: The Second City Derby That Breathed New Life This Century

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The Second City Derby is one of 90min's 50 Biggest Derbies in the World

In English football terms, there are a multitude of derby clashes that we're fortunate enough to see twice - at least - every season. For a while, that used to be the case for Aston Villa and Birmingham, but the clubs fell down differing paths somewhere along the line that resulted in an extended absence from each other's deeply hated company.

When the fixture list comes out at the start of every campaign, as a footballer supporter, your eyes are honed in on one, well, two clashes in particular: the local derbies.

For these two clubs, having come face-to-face for the first time as far back as 1879, when the rivalry was rekindled this century it breathed new life into the Second City Derby. It gave everyone a taste of what they had missed, whether you have any affiliation to the sides or not.

Aston Villa v Manchester City - Premier League
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Being England's second largest city (hence the name), when either Villa or the Blues secure the bragging rights that victory provides in their encounters, the result has far greater meaning. They can 'own' the city, as such, and reign supreme in a grander fashion.

In it's infancy, however, it was Villa who held this accolade for years.

They regularly got the better of their rivals when the Blues went by the name of Small Heath Alliance early in their history. They would later be known as Small Heath, and eventually Birmingham.

Villa won trophies regularly, be it First Division titles or FA Cup successes, meanwhile Birmingham were much less successful. At one point, West Brom were even considered bigger rivals to the Villans due to the Blues' lack of title-contending notoriety, even if less than 4km separated the two sides.

Still, the shared distaste for one another persisted, and eventually, West Brom's role in the rivalry faded to the point where it was once again Aston Villa vs Birmingham as the biggest rivalry in this industrial city.

Sheffield United v Birmingham City - FA Cup Fourth Round
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The pair came to blows on many occasions both before and after the World Wars, but the most significant meeting would come in 1963, with a League Cup crown at stake. A two-legged affair saw Birmingham secure a 3-1 first leg win which, followed by a goalless second leg, handed the Blues the biggest bragging rights this rivalry had seen to date.

Some relegation followed, before moving into the mid 1970s when both clubs were Division One sides. Their hatred persisted in both league and cup action, but then an unprecedented halt in proceedings followed as the Blues were relegated to down to Division Three in the space of three seasons.

Villa, on the other hand, were enjoying a successful period, as they would remain in Division One until the formation of the Premier League in 1992. Having last met in league action in 1987, it would be 15 years until the two would cross paths outside of domestic cups, but even with those, they would embark on a nine-year separation from any clashes at all.

Villa were challenging at the right end of the table in the top flight, all the while Birmingham were left to slug it out in the second tier and flirt with the idea of promotion, meant this rivalry took a backseat.

Perhaps, though, this is exactly what the derby needed. Envy is a dangerous feeling, but there is no questioning that the Blues harboured such emotions when they saw their fiercest rivals basking in the delights of top level football.

With one half gloating and the other half determined to follow suit, when the two would finally come face to face again it breathed new life and new purpose into the Second City Derby. There is no doubting that an element of superiority existed on Villa's part; they were the more successful club, and drew a wider fanbase from across the globe.

Yet, what is so magical about derby matches is that all these nuances are pushed to one side to instead focus on the matter at hand: me against you in our city.

When Steve Bruce got the Blues promoted to the top flight in 2002, there was a collective licking of lips across the country. West Brom had been promoted that same season, so a three-way tussle for Second City pride was at stake. But still, it was Villa vs Birmingham that really mattered.

Naturally, the tensions were sky high, so a soaring level of animosity off the pitch followed suit. Both sets of supporters have often clashed when this fixture comes around, as the clan warfare of this derby brings out the untamed hatred all the individuals involved have bottled up.

All history is forgotten. No 'we've won this' or 'you haven't won that', it's just pure, unadulterated hatred.

That particular 2002 meeting was a resounding return for this match-up, as the Blues emerged 3-0 winners at the beginning of a six-match streak in the league without loss against the Villans. For all their pain and anxious waiting, their return couldn't have been much sweeter.

City players chase Elleray
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It was everything the neutral could have wanted. It was everything everyone could have wanted barring those with claret affiliations. Fiercely competitive and hugely eventful, an atmosphere unlike any other, the Blues at their rampant best, Dion Dublin losing his head and getting sent off, it ticked all the boxes.

Granted, money began to play its part as Villa would come under wealthier new ownership, meaning the added quality in their ranks has seen them take a substantial foothold in the head-to-head record since Birmingham's unbeaten streak was brought to an end in 2005.

In fact, since 2005, Villa have lost just once in the 16 matches since. That one match, though, is one that Birmingham fans will cherish forever, as they claimed victory in a 2010 League Cup fifth round match, en route to lifting the trophy that season.

But while the fixture has become a much more one-sided affair over the last 15 years, there is significantly more bite in the matches when these two meet. They needed that break. With those emotions left to lay dormant and simmer away untouched, when they were eventually allowed to boil over, the brought with them hard-fought, pulsating, determined and vibrantly atmospheric matches that have the whole country glued to their seats.

Yes, we saw in the case of one mindless idiot that this went too far, but as disgraceful as that was in 2019, the actions of one don't speak for the masses.

It's gripping football played with the end goal of bearing the flag for one major city, all bonded together by two sets of dedicated fanbases that will support their club through all the hardships they'll face.

It's not on this season, but when it comes back, be sure not to miss it.