Doncaster Rovers versus Barnsley has failed to take off as a proper derby game. I don’t know why. After all, it has all the ingredients for a mutual hatred ready ingrained in our consciousness. It is hard to believe that for three years I managed to channel enough ire into actively despising Rushden & Diamonds – a bloody shoe-shop works team – when everything was pre-packaged and waiting for us across the Dearne Valley.
All proper derbies have the same base ingredients. Geographical proximity; an adjacency boosted by the notion that these people, who are but a few miles apart with much the same social background, are completely different and totally subordinate to us and our superior ways. On a previous visit to Oakwell, in the away end bogs stood a bloke loudly proclaiming how backwards and disgusting the local population were… whilst simultaneously taking a piss and using both hands to send a text.
Maybe it’s a lack of regular contact that has led us to indifference. Whilst Rovers stumbled about in the darkness of football’s basement divisions Barnsley pitched up in the second tier in black and white, and being stubborn Yorkshire-folk dug their heels in and refused to move. OK, they stuck their head in the door of the Premier League in 1997 to see what all the fuss was about, like a Working Men’s Club regular finally electing to have a bash on the bingo, but decided it wasn’t for them, and soon settled back down in their favourite second tier, own tankard in hand.
Past meetings have therefore largely depended on Barnsley dropping down the divisions through prolonged poor-form, or the 1970s as everyone else knows it. After they got themselves promoted in 1979 we went twenty-five years without men in cloth caps trudging down the A635 in one direction or t’other. It can be hard to maintain a grudge when you don’t see the target of your hatred, when their irritating mannerisms aren’t causing you to grind your teeth on an annual basis, and so we’ve found rivalries elsewhere, they pretend to hate Huddersfield and we pretend that something known as the M180 Derby is not a desperate idea.
We need a lesson in how to maintain a derby rivalry and for that we need only look at the big city down the road. No matter what division they are in, no matter how terrible they are United and Wednesday go at it year on year. The football equivalent of The Fast Show’s ‘The Long Big Punch Up’ sketch; two men on a dock, disengaged from the wider world around them, caught up in the self-importance of their own fight, trading punches over and over for eternity.
So entrenched are they in mutual loathing and bitterness they didn’t even notice their rivalry slide into the third tier, like two men in hand to hand combat rolling down a hill-side. To United and Wednesday winning the derby is everything and it matters not a jot that to everyone else Steel City Derby triumph holds all the gravitas of a scratch card win, one where you win another scratch card. United v Wednesay is slowly becoming akin to one of those Shrove Tuesday games they play in Midland market towns. They may as well kick a leather hood up and down Fargate, with the winner being whichever side hauls it through the shop-front of Lush, and when asked why they bother they’ll grin to the camera and say “because we’ve always done it” or “It’s great for the kids int it” gesturing at a sullen looking seven year old wondering what the hell is going on and when they’ll get their PSP back.
That’s how you do a derby. A single city with an indistinctive split, hating each other on the basis of which stripey top each chooses to wear. We can do that; we can go forward and seek to justify ourselves by othering the mirror image from across the Dearne. Haha look at them, they play in red, there are always loads of empty seats in their stadium, heeheehee, their industrial heritage has been decimated, large numbers of them are unemployed or illiterate, and their town is decidedly uncouth. And we shall repeat these jibes in unison at the Keepmoat later this Saturday, as we did at Oakwell in November, like the followers in Monty Python’s Life of Brian; “Yes, we’re all different”.
We are one and the same them and us. From the outside looking in, Barnsley, Doncaster, it’s all the same; northern towns where the South once dispatched men with truncheons to crush the spirit of anti-progress. And if we can’t upset the world order, then we can at least gain social superiority in our own Lord of the Flies existence. It is time for us to unite in hatred, come together in distrust, and realise that there is no greater insult we can play to the big clubs down the road than not giving a shit about them. Leeds? Nah not interested. Wednesday? No thanks. Blades? Gi’ o’er. It is about us now. Inseparable as your pick and shovel, as knurr and spell. Together we can show them.
And if Barnsley win? Fuck ‘em. We’ve got a new Civc Quarter and an H&M in the Frenchgate. I bet they’ve not even got a Starbucks the witless Kestrel flying bastards.
The original version of this article was penned as a guest column for the Barnsley fanzine West Stand Bogs