The East Midlands Derby: Derby County v Nottingham Forest Rivalry & History

Derby County v Nottingham Forest The Midlands is a football hotbed and as a result, hosts many footballing rivalries. To the east of the region is one of the fiercest around between Derby County and Nottingham Forest.

Less than 20 miles separate Derby's Pride Park and Nottingham Forest's City ground along the A52 and although Forest have city rivals Notts County just a stone's throw away across the River Trent, it's Derby who are their biggest foe.

Below we have our predictions for the next East Midlands Derby as well as all the stats, head to head information and history you need on this famous contest.

Map of Derby County & Nottingham Forest Stadiums

Map of Derby County & Nottingham Forest Stadiums

About the East Midlands Derby

Derby and Nottingham on a Road Map

When it comes to the rivalry between Derby County and Nottingham Forest, it is one that started off because they were both clubs in the East Midlands and the proximity of them to each other made it a matter of local pride, but it soon developed into something more than that; thanks in no small part to the fact that Brian Clough managed them both and others followed suit.

Many people believe that it’s the similarities that the two clubs share that make them dislike each other so much; like siblings who hate each other but love each other too, even if they won’t admit as much. Here we’ll explore the fascinating rivalry that is the East Midlands derby.

A Rivalry Pre-Dating Football

Lace Market Buildings in Nottingham
Lace Market Buildings in Nottingham via Wikimedia Commons

Much as the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is based as much about the two cities and their industries, so too did the one between Derby County and Nottingham Forest start far earlier in life than football matches. A man named John Heathcoat of Derby came up with a machine that was able to copy hand-made lace designs.

It was a true moment of the industrial revolution, allowing him to churn out lace patterns far quicker than that having to do every single item by hand. What he didn’t know that was there were a group of entrepreneurs in Nottingham that were calmly waiting for the patent on the machine to run out and as soon as it did they stole the design and made the city the lace capital of England.

Derby didn’t let them get away with that without any sort of repost, of course, poaching the so-called ‘Father of the Industrial Revolution’ Sir Richard Arkwright and making him the Alderman of Derbyshire, but by that stage it didn’t matter; Nottingham had become the place to be from a textiles point of view and Derby didn’t even become a city until 1977.

It’s entirely fair to say, therefore, that the citizens of the two locations in the East Midlands weren’t overly big fans of each other even before the sport of football came along and added a true sense of competition to proceedings. Ironically, when the game first began to be played around the country it would be untrue to say that Derby and Forest fans took an immediate disliking to each other. Instead it was more of a slow burner, but when the flame eventually caught it became a roaring fire.

The Early Days

The Racecourse End at the County Ground in Derby
The Racecourse End at the County Ground in Derby, Photo © John Sutton (cc-by-sa/2.0)

It was the first of October in 1892 when the two teams played each other for the first time, the match taking place at the Racecourse Ground in Derby. It was a Football League Division One encounter and the away team won 3-2, but the entire event passed without much worth talking about. The same was true of the reverse fixture, which Forest won 1-0.

In fact, the Nottingham side won the two encounters the following year, too. It took until 1895 for Derby to win their first match between the two sides, but it was worth the wait. They won 4-0 at the Racecourse Ground before heading to Nottingham and running out 5-2 winners.

They won both matches in the 1897-1898 season too, going one step further at the Racecourse Ground and scoring five without reply. Matches between the two teams happened less frequently in the years that followed, with just eight encounters between 1904 and 1952. That was in part because of the First and Second World Wars, though it was also because the two teams were relegated and promoted with relative frequency.

As a sign of how little animosity there was between them both, left-winger Stewart Imlach moved from Derby to Forest in 1955. Alan Hinton made the move in the opposite direction in 1967, signing for Derby County for £30,000 thanks to a man that would come to be such an influential figure in the fixture: Brian Clough.

Brian Clough’s Crucial Role in the Rivalry

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor Statue at Pride Park
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor Statue at Pride Park by Dun.can, flickr

There were men before Brian Clough that had a managerial hand at both football clubs, such as Harold Wightman who was assistant manager at Derby County before becoming the manager of Nottingham Forest. Dave Mackay went one step further, being the Forest manager for a year before joining Derby in 1973.

Mackay took over from a certain Brian Clough, who had been the County manager for more than six years. He was installed in the post in June of 1967 and during his time there he helped the Rams to gain promotion to the First Division at the end of the 1968-1969 season. He proved his managerial mettle by winning the top-flight just three years later.

Things might have been even more successful for Clough during his time at Derby County, but a controversial exit from the European Cup at the hands of Juventus when they played the Italians in the semi-final during the 1972-1973 campaign. They lost 3-1 in Italy, but the conspiracy theories really got started when a Juventus player accompanied the match referee into his dressing room at half-time before two Forest players got booked, resulting in them missing the second-leg in Derby.

Regardless of the European Cup result, it was a managerial performance that caught the attention of the bigger clubs and so when the famed Don Revie left Leeds United in 1974 to become the England manager, Clough was the obvious candidate to replace him.

He was famously in charge of Leeds for just forty-four days, as immortalised in the film The Damned United. It perhaps shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise that such a fiery character wasn’t taken too by the Leeds players, given that they had won almost everything there was to win in the game. After all, one of the big reasons Clough left Derby was that he’d fallen out with the club’s board of directors.


He also referred to the Derby fans as ‘a disgraceful lot’ because he could only hear them singing and cheering when the team was in front and not when they were losing in games. He’d also put his name to a newspaper article claiming that Leeds should be relegated to the Second Division because of their unsporting behaviour.

Clough Arrives at Nottingham Forest

Brian Clough Statue in Nottingham
Brian Clough Statue in Nottingham by Sumjons, flickr

When things didn’t work out for him at Elland Road he took over at Forest, who by that stage were languishing in the Second Division of English football. The turnaround was not immediate, given that Clough took over in January when the club was thirteenth and finished the season three places lower. In his first full season in charge he saw the club climb up to eighth, yet still people were wondering if he’d lost his Midas touch after his poor spell at Leeds and the falling out that he’d endured with the Derby board.

Whilst Clough would never admit to needing anyone else to help him, it was interesting that the assistant manager who had helped him win the league at the Racecourse Ground didn’t join him at Leeds United and joined Forest before the club’s turn in fortunes came about.

It was the sixteenth of July 1976 when Peter Taylor rejoined his former partner in crime. Part of his role was also as a scout for Clough and when he saw the players train he declared that Clough had performed miracles in getting a load of players that should’ve been in the Third Division to finish eighth in the Second.

By December of that year, thanks to Taylor’s eye for talent and Clough’s willingness to trust him on the matter, the club won its first piece of silverware under the pair when they beat Leyton Orient over two legs in the Anglo-Scottish Cup. It was a sign of things to come, with the manager later berating those that tried to be dismissive about the victory saying, it made all the difference’.

On the fourteenth of May 1977 Bolton Wanderers lost 1-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers, ensuring that Forest gained promotion out of the Second Division thanks to the fifth-lowest points tally of a promoted team of all time. Their return to the top-flight began with a 3-1 win over Everton at Goodison Park and was followed by another three times on both the league and the cup without conceding a goal.

Clough laid siege to his former club Derby County with the £25,000 signing of Archie Gemmill and he helped them to win them the First Division title at the end of the 1977 to 1978 season, finishing seven points clear of second-place Liverpool. As a result, Clough became just the third of four managers who have won the top-flight the season following promotion into it. They also won the Football League Cup that season after the original game went to a replay.

Having been so dominant the year before, conceding just twenty-four goals across the forty-two league games, they were obviously considered to be favourites to defend their title. Any belief that they might struggle was put to bed when they beat Ipswich Town 5-0 in the Community Shield and then defeated Liverpool across two legs in the European Cup; no small achievement when you remember that the Merseysiders had won the trophy two years running after victories over Borussia Mönchengladbach and Club Brugge.

The on-going battle with Liverpool was a sign of just how high Clough’s team had risen, with the Reds being the dominant club of the era. It was the Merseysiders that finally ended Forest’s unbeaten run that stretched for forty-two games, remaining the record until Arsenal became the Invincibles in 2004.

In February of 1979 Forest became the first club in the country to spend £1 million on a player when they bought Trevor Francis from Birmingham City. It would prove to be a crucial signing, with Francis netting the winner in the European Cup final to ensure that Nottingham Forest’s rise to the top was complete.

They missed out on the league title thanks to Liverpool’s win, but the following year they defended their European Cup triumph when they Hamburg in the final at the Santiago Bernabéu. It was to be the last piece of silverware under the pair, thanks in no small part to Taylor’s decision to leave Forest before becoming Derby County’s manager in 1982.

The relationship between the pair had soured since Taylor wrote a book entitled “With Clough by Taylor” in 1980 and not told him about it, nor given him any proceeds. The move was to be the spark that would light the touch paper in the East Midlands derby.

Taylor Moves to Derby County

Initially the pair parted on reasonably good terms, though Clough was almost certainly unsure about how his future would pan out without his righthand man. He once said that he was ‘not equipped’ to manage without him, stating that, “I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back”.

The lack of animosity might well have something to do with the fact that Taylor retired to begin with, rather than moving straight to Derby County to become the club’s manager. Yet even when he did that the pair remained friendly and it was only when Taylor persuaded John Robertson to leave Forest for Derby in May of 1983 that their relationship took a turn for the worse.

According to reports, Clough was annoyed that Taylor hadn’t told him that he was trying to buy one of his players and in July of 1983 he wrote a newspaper article that described his former colleague and friend as a ‘rattlesnake’ and a ‘snake-in-the-grass’. He also said that if he saw Taylor broken down in the road when the pair passed each other on their way to work along the A52 he not only wouldn’t stop for him, he’d ‘run him over’.

Despite their many years working together and countless trophies won, it’s believed that they didn’t speak to each other again after the article was published. When Taylor died in 1990 Clough phoned his family and later attended the funeral, saying that he wished he could take the words back.

The first time that the two managers went head-to-head was in January of 1983 when the two sides were drawn to face each other in the third round of the FA Cup. Given that Forest were fourth in the top-flight at the time and Derby County were twenty-second in the Second Division, it’s fair to say that the wider footballing community believed that the match was little more than a formality. When County won 2-0, therefore, it caused an almighty shock and led to Brian Clough accusing his players of taking a bribe from their former assistant manager to throw the game.

Decades after Clough’s departure from Nottingham Forest, his presence at the club is still felt. In fairness, it’s also still felt at Derby County, a fact which is recognised by the fact that in 2007 the Brian Clough Trophy was inaugurated, with the two clubs playing for the right to be the holder of it each time that they meet on the football pitch.

Moving on From the Clough & Taylor Era

The positioning of both men as rival managers unquestionably kick-started the mutual dislike that supporters of the two clubs had for each other. As you’d expect, fans stick by their own managers so when Clough and Taylor drew lines in the sand they readily stood behind them. Things haven’t ever really recovered, despite a brief respite in hostilities in the wake of Clough’s death in 2004.

Even then, though, it ultimately merely led to the two sets of supporters arguing over which club he truly belonged to. Having won the title with both of them, there’s little debate that few other managers have been so influential at two different football clubs.

Four years after Clough’s death it was confirmed that Billy Davies would follow in his footsteps, having been fired by Derby County in November of 2007 and then appointed as Forest manager in December of the following year. Steve McClaren, the one-time England manager, would also manage both clubs when he became the Derby manager in 2013 having been in the hot-seat of Forest for one hundred and twelve days in 2011.

It is that sense of historical association that links the two clubs, with players such as Peter Shilton, Steve Sutton and Steve Hodge having played for each of the sides over the years.

The fortunes of the clubs have often been linked, even if they haven’t matched each other. Forest missed out on promotion to the Championship in 2007 after making the League One play-offs, but what made matters worse was that Derby County were promoted to the Premier League at the same time. There were more smiles in Nottingham the following season, however, when they finally did make it into the Championship and County were relegated out of the Premier League having won just one game and achieved a mere eleven points across the thirty-eight games.

As another example of the constant connection between the two teams, when Billy Davies became the Forest manager in 2008 it came at the same time that Derby County appointed Nigel Clough as manager. Davies, of course, had been the man to get the Rams promoted and was therefore ‘tainted’ in the eyes of the Forest supporters, whilst Derby fans were hardly delighted that they were being managed by the son of a former Forest legend.

Indeed, Forest supporters had long believed that he and Stuart Pierce, one of their most loved formed players, would be something of a management ‘dream ticket’ at some point in the future. That he went to Derby County meant that he would forever be tainted, regardless of what happened from then on.

Famous Clashes

The aforementioned FA cup battle between Clough and Taylor isn’t the only time that the two clubs have met on the pitch, as you’d expect. Here’s a look at a couple of the other big clashes:

Stuart Pearce Goes Psycho

There are numerous reasons why Stuart Pearce earned the nickname ‘psycho’, but his behaviour in the match between Forest and Derby in August of 1989 is just one of them. He was a man who understood the rivalry, saying once that he’d ‘rather go on the dole’ than play for the Rams.

The year before Pearce and Ted McMinn had clashed, with the former biting the latter on the nipple as they lay in a heap on the floor. He therefore knew that McMinn was likely to seek revenge when the two teams met at the start of the 1989-1990 campaign, so he decided to get his retaliation in first by scything the Derby player virtually in two. Forest won 2-1.

The FA Cup Replay

When the two teams met in the FA Cup final in 1898 and Forest won 3-1, it was noticed that their red kits probably wouldn’t show up well on the victor’s photo and so they posed in the kit of their rival. It’s fair to say that times had changed when the two clubs were drawn to face each other in the FA Cup fourth round in 2009.

The first match had ended in a daw and so a replay took place in February at Forest’s ground. To begin with, the match went as many expected thanks to two goals for the home side in the first thirteen minutes. Derby pulled one back before half-time and then equalised fifteen minutes into the second-half, so the scenes were unbelievable when self-proclaimed Forest fan Kris Commons scored the winner to give Derby their first win on the City Ground since 1971.