Explaining a rivalry can be a strange thing. The closest Premier League club to Leicester this year is West Brom, about 35 miles away and last year it was Aston Villa at 32 miles. For reference, that’s only four miles further than the distance between the Los Angeles Dodgers and “Los Angeles” Angels. They aren’t our rivals though, not really.
For me it’s Nottingham Forest, Derby County or no one.
So for the last three years, it’s been no one, since, you know, we left them both behind. Not that I’d rather be in the Championship, of course. So the first time in a while I’m definitely excited to watch the Foxes in the FA Cup.
Your typical sheep-friendly Derby fan will tell you there is no rivalry. In part that’s because they might be slightly more interested in Forest, but it’s mostly for two reasons:
1) To annoy you
2) Leicester have won 8 of the last 9 and since then won the Premier League and eased into the last 16 of the Champions League. A rivalry does need some semblance of balance, after all.
It’s been so long since the last time we played them, newer fans of the Premier league might even be wondering who Derby County are. Simply put, they are the worst team ever in the Premier League. In a slightly longer answer, they’re an important rival for Leicester, who have provided a number of games that were pivotal in my life as a Leicester City fan.
30th May 1994: Derby County 1-2 Leicester City (Division 1 playoff final)
Slight cheat here, since I was only 4 years old and have no memories of this game at all, but this isn’t the sort of game you leave off. Leicester’s first trip to the newly branded Premier League was booked at Wembley with a late winner by team captain Steve Walsh. The stuff kids’ dreams are made of.
26th April 1998: Derby County 0-4 Leicester City
One of my earliest really firm Leicester City memories (after the ‘97 League Cup Final and the UEFA Cup tie against Atletico Madrid that followed) and comfortably one of my favourites. The Foxes four-goal lead was completed inside a quarter of an hour in one of the most sided routs I’ve seen.
23rd February 2002: Leicester City 0-3 Derby County
I remember being miserable that, even though we had tickets, I was too ill to go to this one. That remains the best illness I’ve ever had, as my dad and brother had to sit through what they still call one of the worst performances they’ve ever seen. Just two years removed from an 8th place finish and another cup win, the good times were over and Leicester would be comfortably relegated.
25th November 2006: Derby 1-0 Leicester City
While the fall from the top tier had been so quick it was (almost) painless, what was come was as drawn out and dour as it could be. After yet another boring but certain loss, the Foxes had slipped into obscurity, while their rivals were headed to the top.
13th November 2010: Leicester City 2-0 Derby County
A turning point in the rivalry; the Foxes hadn’t beaten Derby in more than five years, in which time the Rams had been to the Premier League, while Leicester had fallen to League One, the lowest point in their history. Success didn’t come immediately after this (Sven was still in charge, after all), but against Derby it did. This one kicked of a five game winning streak.
10th January 2014: Leicester City 4-1 Derby County
The last time the two teams met in any competition and I have to say I enjoyed it. While last year’s league success was a white-knuckle ride that we all expected to suddenly disappear from under us, the 2013-14 season was more of a sedate, inevitable victory march. Leicester were comfortably the best team in that league and proved it with a 4-1 win, putting 4 past them for the third season in a row.
A lot has changed since then. In fact it’s pretty to wrap my mind around the fact that this current side are the same club that played all of those games. As many players, managers and pundits that have come and gone between the two over the years, it’s the fans who always stay.
That means the task of keeping the rivalry alive falls to us, first and foremost. So even if the “magic of the cup” is starting to fade for most and even though, whatever happens on Friday, we won’t win the FA Cup because we’re terrible at it, make sure you watch and remember this one because they’re always important.
Especially when you’re too good to play them twice a year anymore.