In the past, we’ve looked at some of England’s best matches and grounds, those between Premier League heavyweights and those great London stadiums.
However, what truly sets England apart from the rest of the world is the rich depth lurking below the exciting top flight. Did you know, the Championship, England’s second division, is one of the top six divisions in Europe? Did you know that recently, a game between Notts County and Solihull Moors in England’s fifth tier drew a crowd of more than 12,000 people? According to the BBC, that was a National League record, but it was still a higher crowd than seven of the top-flight French clubs average.
That’s why England is so unique; there’s an innate passion for football at all levels. The fifth tier of German football, the Oberliga, sees an average of just 612 supporters. In England, the average for the same level is 3.094, more than five times as many people, from a country with almost 30m fewer people.
That passion can be seen in the attitudes towards derby fixtures, right down the divisions. Forget Liverpool and Everton, or Manchester United and Manchester City; there are some spectacular derbies in the four divisions below the Premier League. These are the pick of the bunch.
Championship – Nottingham Forest v Derby County
This season, the fortunes of the two clubs touched by Brian Clough’s magic couldn’t be more contrasting. Derby, managed by England’s current record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, are on the cusp of relegation. Forest, fired by homegrown talent Brennan Johnson, are among the favourites for a play-off place in the latest football odds from Ladbrokes. When they meet, it’s often heated, and the stadium is always full. Sadly, Derby will almost certainly be relegated, and with an impending points deduction next season, they’re unlikely to face their rivals for a few years.
League One – MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon
Usually, a derby is dictated by proximity, but 61 miles separate these two teams. Their rivalry runs deeper; Milton Keynes are, in essence, Wimbledon. The original Wimbledon were uprooted and moved to MK, and a new Wimbledon formed from the ashes. They ascended to League One, where the two are now in direct competition. It’s not a friendly affair; Wimbledon refuse to acknowledge their rival’s existence and refused to put their name on a programme for a game in 2017, as reported by Joe.
League Two – Bristol Rovers v Swindon Town
League Two is unique this season in that there are very few derbies of note; Forest Green are close to a few club, but few supporters think of them as rivals. Sutton United and Leyton Orient are also close, but it’s a newish game that rarely draws a big crowd. Instead, the M4 derby between Bristol Rovers and Swindon Town is the biggest; there are 35 miles between the two, and both are vying for a return to League One after being relegated last season. Swindon manager Ben Garner was at The Gas, so that’s another exciting element, and controversial Joey Barton is currently managing Bristol Rovers.
National League – Notts County v Chesterfield
Notts County and Chesterfield are two teams who have been much higher in the past; Notts County were a top-flight side in the early nineties. Today, the two are fighting for promotion out of the National League, an unforgiving fifth tier with two promotion spaces and twelve teams capable of going up. Other big clubs in the division, such as Grimsby Town, Wrexham and Stockport, are also hunting a way out. The Magpies and the Spireites are closing in on a return, and when the two meet, the crowd gets as high as 10,000.