Tiverton: Boxing Day Derby

Photos by Nathen McVittie, words by Zack Goldman
 

A derby is a derby.

It doesn't matter if it's the Champions League Final or a non-league tie, rivalry is the nectar of football — and it's something we all crave.

All year, we look forward to when we get to play them.

It's circled on our calendar: When we finally get our mitts on those boys from the other side of the hill — the ones we don't much like and can't afford to lose to.

It's the day when football's richest blend of the beautiful, the ugly, and the mad all froth from the same cup. It's an occasion that presents the sport at its most visceral, its most tribal, its most passionate.

It's about playing to win; but, it's also about playing so they don't win.

Sure, you can find this in Manchester when the blue side of town breaks into Old Trafford, or in Buenos Aires when River Plate are invited inside the high walls of the Bombonera; but, "the derby" can also be observed far away from floodlights and television cameras and 80,000-person all-seaters — like on this Boxing Day, in Devon, in the eighth tier of English football.

This is Tiverton Town, or "Tivvy", if you prefer. They play in the Evo-Stik Southern Division One South & West League, a competition featuring the likes of Sholing, Bashley, and Cinderford Town. Their fortress is Ladysmead, a quaint ground rebuilt after their previous one was destroyed in World War II.

Today, their rivals come to play — Taunton Town. The Peacocks. Strutting into the city as favourites, pushing for promotion at the top of the table.

Given league position, and a bumper holiday crowd in attendance, the significance of this occasion is lost on nobody, particularly given that the passionate bunch on the terraces have braved the brutal rain and even more brutal Christmas hangover to be here. Failure is not an option.

Ladysmead is rocking — El Clásico it is not, but passionate, rollicking, muddy football it is — and that's enough to keep even the most jaded of sporting cynics engaged.

This is pure, grassroots English football. The kind of place where you can buy a ticket, a Bovril, and a programme — and still have enough pocket money left over for a few pints in the pub afterward as you cling to warmth.

This is the kind of match where you're close enough to smell the grass, to hear the squish of the mud, and to tell the manager to chuck on that promising young striker who you really think is finally coming into his own (plus, you know his family and they're nice people).

Anyway, Taunton go up 1-0 in the first half — and they've scored another since then — and it all looks hopeless and out of reach for Tivvy with no more than ten minutes remaining (we'd tell you exactly how much time, but, frankly, we're not sure; there's no scoreboard here).

But, with Tivvy on the brink, down 2-0, they earn a corner. Taunton fail to clear the set-piece, and the ball falls to Alex Faux — one-time Tauntonian but current Tiverton defender — who brings his former club down a peg by playing a pinpoint cross to local boy Jesse Howe at the back post to nod home.

It's 2-1, and Tiverton have the wind in their sails, but soon enough it's injury time and it all seems too mammoth a challenge.

Three minutes go by. Heads drop in the main stand. Wolf whistles sound from the away fans.

But, then, journeyman striker Jamie Mudge collects the ball for Tivvy on the edge of the area. He swings in a cross from the right flank for defender Ed Weeks that hangs in the air.

While the ball's sitting up there — it's taking an eternity to come down— let's just explain that Ed Weeks is, much like Alex Faux, a former Taunton player who now dons the yellow shirt of Tiverton Town. He was one of them. Some fans might still treat him that way. But, they won't in a second.

That's because Ed Weeks arrives on the scene and strikes a perfectly-timed volley into the corner of the net, sending the crowd into thunderous cheers.

The referee blows for full-time moments later, and the match finishes 2-2, but it feels more like a home win after two late Tiverton goals are brought to life by former Taunton players against their old club.

So concludes another chapter of "The Derby": A match where the drama can sometimes be too rich for theatre.

 

This piece was written by Where Is Football's Nathen McVittie and Zack Goldman