A tale of one city and two cabinets

From the European Cup down, Aston Villa have silverware aplenty, while Birmingham once won the Leyland DAF Trophy. But tomorrow all will be equal in the Brum derby, writes Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online

Behind the scenes, away from the blood and thunder and thud and blunder of tomorrow's "Second City" derby, the trophy cabinets at St Andrew's and Villa Park emphasise the gulf in history that separates Birmingham City from Aston Villa.

Birmingham's collection includes the Leyland Daf Trophy, a brass model of Romulus and Remus from a distant Fairs Cup tie with Roma and an inscribed glass ball to mark the opening of a stand in 1994. It came from Villa, who sent a team over to play lower-league neighbours who were no longer serious rivals. Even when Birmingham won the League Cup in 1963, defeating Villa in the final, the competition was not the major national honour it is now because several top clubs had opted out. The next day's Birmingham Post deemed Warwickshire cricket more worthy of its back-page lead.

Villa, in gleaming contrast, can point to full-sized replicas of the European Cup, League championship trophy and FA Cup. Their supporters, drawn from a fan-base that stretches throughout the Midlands, in contrast with Birmingham's more localised following, can also bask in the glory of a 5-1 rout of their rivals when they last met 16 months ago.

The disparity in silverware is not likely to be bridged in the foreseeable future, but the local bragging rights are up for grabs again after a one-season hiatus. Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, and Martin O'Neill, his Villa counterpart, faced one another in far more volatile situations when they had charge of Rangers and Celtic respectively, but for the region where they now ply their trade, this is as big as it gets.

Birmingham, having slummed in the old Third Division with crowds of 6,000, rejoined Villa in the top flight in 2002 after being rebuilt by David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady. The novelty of the fixture, compared with the derbies in Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow, ensured intense media scrutiny, which grew fiercer still when the emotions of the opposing fans, pent up for two decades, spilled over into open hostility on the pitch.

A Birmingham supporter ran on and slapped Peter Enckelman, who had just conceded a calamitous goal; Villa's Dion Dublin was sent off for "nutting" Robbie Savage, soon followed by colleague Joey Gudjonsson; Olof Mellberg received a torrid time from Birmingham fans and players after saying he disliked their club and would never want to play for them; and David O'Leary antagonised the St Andrew's crowd by coming on to the pitch and appearing to gloat after a Villa victory (he claimed he was waving to chairman Doug Ellis).

The build-up to the 11th Premier League derby – both sides having won four, with two draws, although Villa have prevailed in the last four – has been relatively subdued. Lee Carsley, who is likely to captain Birmingham, suggested that was because of the distraction of the World Cup qualifiers and the absence of so many players with their countries.

The internet message boards have reflected this calm-before-the-storm atmosphere. Many postings eschew parochial invective to concentrate on the issue of whether McLeish will seek to match O'Neill's anticipated 4-5-1 formation, and to speculate on whether Richard Dunne might attract the red card on his Villa debut that would make him the most sent-off player in Premier League history.

Dunne is likely to be partnered by another new centre-back, James Collins, with O'Neill hoping they can "make themselves instant heroes". McLeish, whose spending has been considerably more frugal, may thrust Ecuador's Christian Benitez in against them for his first start, a South American desperate to settle a little local difficulty in the West Midlands.

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