Derby County and Nottingham Forest: A sibling type of rivalry?

Derby County Nottingham Forest Rivalry

There are many intense rivalries in football and although the large majority of them tend to be between clubs of the same city or town, there are some exceptions. Liverpool and Manchester United spring to mind here, as to a lesser extent do Southampton and Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion, and Norwich City and Ipswich Town.

Another such localised rivalry – but one with a few twists almost unique to it – is the almost-sibling type coming together between Derby County and Nottingham Forest. Although the clubs have a geographical rivalry – being just a half-marathon, or 13 miles – apart, there is much more to the relationship than mere proximity issues.

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It is often said that those we hate most are those who are most similar to us, and there are indeed many similarities and cross-overs between the two clubs. The greatest common ground to be found between the two clubs – of course – is the effect Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had on them in the 1970s and 80s when under the guidance of the most celebrated double-act in the history of British football, each club went from being a provincial side bumbling along in the Second Division to champions of England (and beyond in the case of Forest) within a few short years.

Supporters of both sides are naturally very proud and protective of the memories of the two men and the glory days they helped bring about, and just about the only thing they disagree on is which club held the greater affection in the hearts of Messrs Taylor and Clough at the end.

This petty argument aside, the fans that saw Derby County take the Second Division title in 1969 and the ‘Big One’ just three years later, and the Forest followers that cheered their team to promotion in 1977 and the league title and two European Cups in the next three seasons, have a whole host of memories that will never diminish with time.

The story really began in 1967 when Brian Clough and Peter Taylor turned up at the Baseball Ground having cut their managerial teeth at Hartlepools United. In just over six years they had the Derby faithful dreaming as success followed success before it all went wrong in 1973.

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With a major falling out between the managerial duo and the Derby board going unresolved, the two men were allowed to walk out of the club. Clough would turn up at Forest fifteen months later, and would then be joined by Taylor some eighteen months after that. Making the move in the opposite direction was Dave Mackay who had been a player under Clough and Taylor at Derby and was managing Forest when Clough walked out. Despite opposition from many of the Derby players, Mackay stepped into the breach at the Baseball Ground and within eighteen months had delivered another league title.

Once Clough and Taylor got their feet under the table at the City Ground, they set about building their second successful title-winning side, and to do that they took on board several former Derby players. John McGovern had been with Clough at Hartleppols, Derby and Leeds and so it was no surprise when he signed for Clough again. He would go on to be Clough’s captain and lift the league title in 1978 and the European Cup in each of the next two seasons.

Also making the move from Derby to Forest via Leeds was John O’Hare, a forward who also won international caps for Scotland. Making a direct switch from the Baseball Ground to the City Ground, was Archie Gemmill. Another Scot, Gemmill was a tenacious midfielder and would become an integral part of the Forest midfield.

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While Forest and their Derby County alumni were enjoying this success in the late ‘seventies, the Rams were struggling. The success Dave Mackay brought to the club didn’t last and by the end of the decade, they had been relegated to the Second Division. Derby had tried and failed to tempt Clough back to the manager’s chair at the Baseball Ground and when that had fallen through, a succession of managers had been unable to halt the decline.

The Nottingham Forest success story eventually began to run out of steam in the early ‘eighties and with it Peter Taylor resigned, supposedly to retire. By then, early 1982, some of the magic seemed to have deserted the two with signings such as Asa Hartford, Ian Wallace, Peter Ward and Justin Fashanu just not working out. The two men had also grown apart and were barely on speaking terms by the time of Taylor’s departure.

Still, gritting his teeth and muttering platitudes he might not have totally meant, Cloughie was left to carry on alone at Forest, while Taylor sailed into a sea of tranquillity and retirement.

For a couple of months anyway.

Later in 1982, Clough was intrigued to receive a phone call from his old mucker. Taylor was, he informed Cloughie, on his way back to the Baseball Ground. Did Clough fancy joining him?

Clough’s response was unprintable and that was pretty much the last time the two men ever spoke properly to each other. Peter Taylor came out of ‘retirement’ and spent the best part of the next two seasons rather unhappily guiding a struggling Derby County side to successive relegation scraps in the old Second Division.

To assist him in his efforts he enrolled the services of ex-Forest players, Archie Gemmill and, most infamously, John Robertson. The signing of Robertson directly from Forest while Clough was out of the office was the final straw for the Clough – Taylor relationship, and although there is now a lovely statue of the two with their arms around each other outside the new Derby County stadium, the two men lived the rest of their days in acrimony.

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Later in the 1980s, Peter Shilton turned up at the Baseball Ground to play for Derby after previously having been a stalwart under Clough at the City Ground and spent five years helping to reestablish the Rams as a top-six side in the upper echelons of English football, before it all went wrong once more and a further relegation was suffered.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, an old Derby County legend turned up at the City Ground for an Indian Summer in the form of Colin Todd, who signed for Clough ten years after he had originally joined Derby County and helped to bring about their 1972 league title success.

By the time the end of the 1992-93 season came around, both sides had been relegated out of the top flight and Brian Clough had finally retired from football altogether. Since then the sides have only met in Premier League action during a short spell between 1996 and 1999, yet both the links and the animosity between the two clubs have persisted.

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The latter part of the 2000s saw hostilities resumed, largely in the shape of the Scottish fireball that is Billy Davies. Appointed manager of Derby in the June of 2006, Davies led the club to an unexpected promotion via the playoffs the very next season.

The club was naturally delighted to be anticipating Premier League football but was woefully underprepared for it and the ensuing season was an unmitigated disaster with just eleven points being garnered all season from thirty-eight games. After fourteen games, and with just six points on the board, Davies was sacked.

Just over a year later, Davies was then a most unpopular choice amongst a large portion of the Forest support to take over the City Ground hot seat from Colin Calderwood, and his two-and-a-half years as Forest manager would prove to be volatile in the extreme. It was during this period that Forest and Derby met in some of the most hotly-contested matches of all time between the clubs with a clash in the FA Cup during this period proving to be particularly fractious.

To add to the intrigue, Nigel Clough spent a reasonably lengthy spell in the Derby County dugout at this time. As well as his father’s obvious connections with both clubs, Clough junior had played over 300 games for the Nottingham side. In one clash between the sides at the turn of the century, Davies went as far as to accuse Clough of attacking him physically.

During this particular era, matters were not helped by the number of ex-Derby players who Davies signed for Forest in the shape of Lee Camp, Robert Earnshaw and Dexter Blackstock, while Clough signed former Ram, Kris Commons, in response.

A few years later and it was the turn of Derby County fans to mutter darkly, ‘You what? Are you sure?’ or something like that at the announcement of a managerial appointment.

Steve McClaren had been a Derby County player and then coach back in the late 1980s and mid-1990s respectively. He had then gone on to have a managerial career of varying degrees of success before rocking up as manager of Nottingham Forest in succession to Davies in June 2011.

Just eight points from the first ten league games of the 2011-12 season saw McClaren leave the club – presumably to the relief of most people involved.

When Nigel Clough’s time at Derby came to an end in September 2013, McClaren was offered the position of manager and although some of the Derby faithful were less than certain about the appointment, McClaren very nearly succeeded in getting the Rams promoted that season.

A promising first half to the 2014-15 season seemed to leave Derby in a strong position for automatic promotion before a terrible run meant the club failed to make the play-off positions altogether and McClaren was dismissed.

However…..less than a year and a half later, McClaren was back in the dugout at Pride Park. Installed in place of the sacked Nigel Pearson, McClaren lasted just five months this time before he was once again dismissed.

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More recently, the 2021-22 season saw seasons of varying contrasts for Derby and Forest, as while Derby battled – ultimately unsuccessfully – against relegation from the Championship due largely to a points deduction imposed for going into administration, Forest finally gained promotion back to the Premier League after a twenty-three-year absence.

Although there are currently two divisions between the sides, at the time of writing Derby County just missed out on the play-off positions in League One, while Nottingham Forest are deeply mired in a relegation scrap at the bottom of the Premier League.

Thus hostilities may well be renewed once again in the not-too-distant future.