The East Midlands is a funny place to determine local rivalries. Traditionally, a successful area of the country in terms of footballing heritage, being the home of Nottingham Forest, Derby County and of course, Leicester City. However, although there is little room for disputing the legitimacy of the ‘East Midlands Big 3’. There is significantly more doubt over the issue of who hates whom.
There seems to be a significant divide among the supporters of the three clubs as to the extent of each’s rivalry with the other two. In 2003, the Football Fans Census aimed to highlight who football fans considered their clubs biggest rivals and there were no surprises in the East Midlands with all three naming each other as their two biggest rivals;
Derby County – Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Leeds United
Leicester City – Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Nottingham Forest – Derby County, Leicester City, Sheffield United
The evidence of this ‘census’ being accurate is apparent on social networking site, Twitter. With fans often engaging in ‘banter’ with their rival’s supporters. However, although Leicester, Forest and Derby share a frequent and equal need to bash each other over Twitter, a rivalry survey I launched on Twitter and all three clubs’ biggest forum had slightly different results to that of the 2003 census. Forest and Derby remained the fiercest rivalry with each still naming each other as their main rival. Leicester still saw Forest as the enemy and Forest saw Leicester as the next best alternative with Sheffield United still in third. However, the Derby-Leicester rivalry seems to have diluted within the last 9 years with both naming each other as their third biggest rivals. With Leicester behind Leeds United and Derby now behind Coventry City.
Attendances are another area of these rivalries where intensity could be disputed. In the 2011/12 season the Derby County vs. Nottingham Forest at Pride Park was the only East Midlands derby to receive no coverage on television. With Derby and Leicester’s two league clashes and Leicester-Forest’s FA Cup replay taking centre stage on the box. It is fair to say over the last few seasons, Leicester City’s games against Forest and Derby are far more likely to be televised than those against each other. Perhaps indicating how the media depicts the intensity of each rivalry. However, Derby-Forest was the only sell-out derby match of last season with 33,010 fans rocking up on the night. Attendances for all three have dropped considerably over the last few seasons.
Derby vs. Forest – 32,674
Derby vs. Leicester – 30,259
Leicester vs. Derby – 28,875
Leicester vs. Forest – 31,759
Forest vs. Derby – 28,143
Forest vs. Leicester – 28,626
Derby vs. Forest – 33,010
Derby vs. Leicester – 26,142 (5.20 kick-off, televised)
Leicester vs. Derby – 25,930
Leicester vs. Forest – 24,659 (7.45 Monday kick-off, televised)
Forest vs. Derby – 29,490
Forest vs. Leicester – 24,217 (5.20 Good Friday kick-off, televised)
Derby vs. Leicester – 28,205 (7.45 Thursday kick-off, televised)
Derby vs. Forest – 33,010 (7.45 Tuesday kick-off)
Leicester vs. Derby – 22,496 (5.20 kick-off, televised)
Leicester vs. Forest – 23,412 (7.45 Tuesday kick-off)
Forest vs. Leicester – 24,426
Forest vs. Derby – 27,356 (12.00 kick-off, televised)
Although the fans census and attendance figures may agree that Forest-Derby is the biggest rivalry in East Midlands, the history books would contend this. It is widely accepted among the clubs’ fans that pre-Brian Clough the main rivalry in the East Midlands was between Nottingham Forest and Leicester City due to the size of both cities (both considerably bigger than Derby) and the socio-economic rivalry that has lasted between Nottingham and Leicester for decades. The rivalry seems to transcend football time and time again. Most notably with the East Midlands airport dispute. The airport is closer to Nottingham, which it was originally named after but it had a Derby post code and fell within the Leicestershire border. This intensified the rivalry between the three cities and it has since been rebranded East Midlands Airport : Nottingham – Leicester – Derby.
Geography is of course another key factor in determining the strength of each rivalry. The cities of Nottingham and Derby are just 13 miles apart, that’s half the distance between either and Leicester. This is likely to cause a more intense local rivalry. However, heavily populated towns in Leicestershire that are much closer to their rivals have been known to host a hostile atmosphere. Most notably, Loughborough and Melton Mowbray towards Nottinghamshire and Coalville towards Derbyshire. Interestingly enough, geography may not be as important in the East Midlands as most other places with only Derby considering their nearest football club their main rivals. Forest’s nearest club are Notts County and Leicester’s is M69 rivals, Coventry.
In my own personal experience, Derby and Forest fans seem to legitimately care about Leicester City. Granted, not as much as each other but the rivalry still exists. I remember the way, the Reds celebrated an injury time equaliser against the Foxes in August in a traditionally controversial clash between the two EM giants. I remember Forest’s chants from late-March – “If you all hate Leicester, clap your hands.”, “Build a bonfire, build a bonfire put the Derby on the top, put the Leicester in the middle and we’ll burn the fucking lot.”, “We’ll never be mastered by you Leicester bastards, we’ll keep the red flag flying high.” I also remember, a Derby fan shouting abuse at me as I walked down the street with a Leicester flag for Sport Relief. The reason, I bring up the word ‘care’ is the now frequented defense mechanism introduced by the Derby-Forest alliance a few years ago. Both clubs claim to not care about the Foxes which is a perfect excuse when Leicester City manage to beat their rivals. Their fans don’t care. However, on the rare occasion they beat Leicester, the story changes and the three become rivals again.
To me, it’s clear. Derby and Forest are the biggest rivals in the East Midlands. I don’t believe the rivalry is as big as their fans make it out to be and I don’t believe Leicester-Forest and Leicester-Derby is as weak as the Rams and Reds claim nor do I feel that it’s the hugest rivalry in existence as some Leicester fans may lead you to believe. For now, all I can say to Leicester fans, is leave Forest and Derby alone to think they’re Real and Barca and when we bump in to our friends of the tree or sheep persuasion, we can remind them where our ‘loyalties’ lie. After all, foxes eat sheep and trees are perfect for pissing on.
We hate Forest! We hate Derby! Who the f**k are Coventry?