One of England’s most historic football games would go largely unnoticed by the wider world, as both teams in the Second City Derby languish in the second division. For supporters of Aston Villa and Birmingham City however, there is no bigger occasion.
Once heralded as the “workshop of the world”, Birmingham was at the heart of the industrial revolution by the 18th century in Britain. Now more of a scrapyard than any sort of workshop, the city is one of the most dangerous in the country—even for footballers it would appear. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that of all places, Jack Grealish was hooked in the face by a fan in Birmingham territory. Such appalling behaviour needs to be addressed strongly.
Although the decline of Birmingham is in a number of aspects, analogous to the recent failures of the two clubs it has given birth to, there are few greater examples of a more ferociously contested football rivalry. With the vast sums of money involved in the higher tier, it inadvertently falls to the lower leagues to illustrate the true humble beginnings of the game. One where working class people would gather, lighting up stadiums with an immense atmosphere as they found an outlet from the toil of their hard labour. The intensity and tension around St Andrew’s was palpable and this only heightened the stakes of the game: bragging rights around offices in Birmingham and league points to gain or lose, of course.
A derby to remember
Depsite nervy opening minutes, both teams eventually came out of their shells by asking numerous questions of each other. Birmingham however, were visibly more comfortable, with Jed Steer being tested in goal from an early corner and a failed attempt from Jacques Maghoma.
Half-way into the first half, Villa spurned their first real opportunity. A defence-splitting pass from Grealish allowed El Ghazi to go through on goal, only for a diligent Lee Camp to block the shot with good positioning between the sticks. Barely ten minutes later, the Villains came close again with Hourihane setting up Tammy Abraham for a shot that didn’t quite dip in time for the bar.
The Blues came close near 45 with their top scorer, Adams, launching a rapid ball on the floor that only narrowly missed the left post and had Steer at full stretch. Overall, the first-half was a scrappy affair with much physicality evident as players fed off the carnival atmosphere. Without any goals or many clear opportunities, the pitch invader who came from behind and sucker punched Grealish in the 10th minute, unfortunately, overshadowed the first-half and the game in general. Grealish who is both a Birmingham native and Villa supporter was also the subject of much jeering during the contest, in part due to his obvious ability.
It was the hope of the majority who condemned the pitch invader’s actions, that the game would move on from such unwarranted distractions with a goal at least. In this aspect, the game delivered with none other than Jack Grealish himself netting in the 67th minute, with a low shot managing to get through numerous bodies and into the bottom corner.
More controversy could have enveloped the game if the appeals by Birmingham City for a penalty were given after a nudge from Hause saw Adams hit the deck. Instead Tim Robinson who was in direct view, thought it was too soft to be given.
Villa top in Second City Derby
Villa managed a deserved 1-0 victory from what was seen as a great team performance, with their players really benefiting from Grealish’s return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines. The midfielder truly showed his class today by not reacting to being punched and going on to get the deciding goal. Grealish let his game speak on the pitch rather than retaliating, and it proved to be the ultimate karma for the Blues.
Now one of Villa’s longest serving players, the Englishman, has certainly matured from his alcohol-fuelled party lifestyle during the 2015/2016 relegation campaign. It would be wise of the FA never mind the police, to make sure that this incident does not go unpunished. Otherwise, they risk tainting the reputation of the sport or underplaying the gravity of what was a blatant assault on live television. Birmingham City must also seek to tighten the gaping holes in their security, as well as protecting fans inside stadiums, football clubs owe a duty of care to their players as well.
Commendably, Birmingham City swiftly responded to the events after the game. It’s a positive step in the right direction and a reminder of the lines that shouldn’t be crossed anywhere. And Football, a game filled to the brim with passion and excitement, is no exception.
Joshua Raj is a journalist for TCS scribe. A student at Loughborough University, he also plays various sports. Well he tries to. Having lived most of his life in South-East Asia, Joshua is interested in comparative politics and finance after being fascinated with how ‘governance’ has been applied by the rising economies in the region. Particularly, how they differ from the Western in which they seek to reconcile their own brand of rigid politics with fluid free-market economic principles.