Written for Beyond The 92 Magazine, May 2016
On any other day of the year, the number 9 bus can be forgiven for being a quiet affair as it trickles through Halesowen on its way from Stourbridge to Birmingham. However, as it bundles towards the home of Halesowen Town FC for matches against their arch rivals Stourbridge FC, it is awash with red and white as Stourbridge fans don their clubs colours. The Stourbridge fans chant “you’re just a bus stop in Cradley” as they wait to get into the stadium. “Cradley is just an area on the way to Birmingham from Stourbridge” explains Will Shepherd, a 26-year-old Stourbridge fan. “When you go and play your local rivals, you’re always gonna try and wind them up aren’t you?!”
Historically, this fixture has not been as common as it has been over the last few seasons. Halesowen and Stourbridge – the Yeltz and the Glassboys respectively – have not always been in the same division. At the end of the 1960’s, Stourbridge were promoted to the newly formed Southern League, whilst Halesowen continued to compete in the West Midlands league. Despite winning the West Midlands League for four years in a row in the early 1980’s, they were still not allowed to be promoted to the Southern League. Supposedly, their ground wasn’t up to coping with the bigger crowds of the higher leagues, although this claim was disputed by Yeltz fans, who said their attendances were often bigger than most of the teams in the Southern League. In 1986, they decided to relay their pitch and renovate their seating stand to provide a higher capacity for their stadium. As a result, Halesowen were allowed to work their way up the non-league pyramid into the Southern League and rekindle their rivalry with the Glassboys.
Halesowen fan Charles Shakespeare says that this is not a new derby, with one match in 1984 being particularly memorable, “one match that immediately comes to mind is the FA Cup tie on 13/10/1984. The Yeltz were still on a high from their Fa Vase Wembley appearance in 1983 and were gaining national recognition. They were playing in the West Midlands League while Stourbridge were at a higher level in the Southern League. So the FA Cup tie attracted a lot of local attention and, as often happened in the 80s at higher levels of football, the match was marred by violence. The 1-1 draw led to police stopping fans en route to the replay at The Grove and over 1,000 saw a thriller which The Yeltz lost 3-4.”
However, the last few seasons have seen the rivalry really set alight. Charles says, “the last 2 years have seen this rivalry become greater than ever. The 2 fixtures have been on Boxing Day & Easter Monday in both seasons and this has attracted many fans from the local professional clubs. The attendances have been remarkable.” Both sides have a proud history, and despite not being in the same league for some years, they have still managed to play 88 matches against each other – with the earliest archives suggesting they played their first number 9 derby in 1949.
Halesowen’s stadium The Grove only has one stand with seats, but all four sides of the stadium are bulging as the players warm up and get ready for one of the biggest matches of the season for their teams. This season, Stourbridge are pushing for a play-off place in the Northern Premier League, and after a good run in the New Year, Halesowen are sitting comfortably in mid-table. However, league positions are irrelevant today as both clubs try to bring their fans some bragging rights. Stourbridge have won both of the previous games played this year, one in the FA Trophy and one in the league where they grabbed a last minute winner to win a memorable Boxing Day fixture 3-2.
“I don’t come to Stourbridge games very often, but the number 9 derby is one that I always try to make it to” says Will, “both towns are quite small, so you’ll get to the match and bump into friends, have a drink and watch the football. What’s not to like?! There’s a few players who have come from Premier League academies too, so the quality of football isn’t bad either.”
As I look around, cameras are noticeable around the stadium, filming the game. Ben Bullock, one of the camera operators, says he is recording on behalf of Yeltz TV – a fan led YouTube channel dedicated to creating highlights packages of all Halesowen’s matches and bringing the fans a behind-the-scenes look at how the club is run.
Ben says his favourite ‘Number 9 Derby’ goal was unquestionably Cutis Tilt’s screamer on Boxing Day 2014. Trailing 1-0 away from home with a man advantage, Halesowen were pushing for an equaliser in the second half against a strong Stourbridge side, when Curtis Tilt stepped up to produce a moment that will live long in the memory. Ben says that goal really caught the imagination of the Yeltz fans, “It was an absolute screamer from 45 yards and the video of that game has 8,000 views! There isn’t a football fan in this area that hasn’t seen that goal. For a club who gets 300/400 attendance for a normal game, to get over 8,000 views on a video is pretty amazing.”
For someone who films every game of the season, Ben is clear that this is by far the biggest one for the players, “The rivalry definitely transfers onto the pitch” he says, “although obviously the players are in game mode, the will to win does transfer onto the players. They know how much is riding on this game, they’re not oblivious! They know that for the fans it’s the biggest game of the season, so for them it should be the biggest game of the season too!”
As the game kicks off, both sets of players seem fired up, and a few scuffles break out in the opening exchanges as the referee struggles to keep control of the players and the crowd roar with excitement. Stourbridge fans shake the net in the Halesowen ‘keeper’s goal, creating an intimidating ripple effect, and hurl abuse at him each time he claims a cross or takes a goal kick. Although it sounds hostile, fans of either side walk around the stadium and there is little animosity between them. The football really does take centre stage.
Halesowen’s big striker Turner hobbles off to be replaced by Sweeney, and three minutes later, he smashes home a 20-yard strike into the bottom left corner to send the Halesowen fans into delirium. Moments before half-time, Stourbridge have a chance to equalise from the spot after star striker Karl Hawley is tripped in the box. However, he steps up to take the penalty, skies it over the bar and manages to hit the roof of the stand behind the goal. A dismal effort from the league’s top scorer.
As the half-time whistle goes, fans rush to the café and bar, the staff work furiously but there is a large cue throughout the interval. Ben is aware that derby days like this can be huge for a club with such a small budget, “The attendance today is about 2,100, adults paying £10, OAPs paying £5 and kids paying £3 – that in itself is a lot of gate money! Plus of course you have the café serving food, people will want a beer or two at the bar and the club shop is rammed so we can make a lot of money! When we lost to Stourbridge earlier on in the season in the FA trophy, some of their fans were drinking in the bar for hours after the game – so even things like that can bring in some crucial money for the club. That really does aid the club because obviously we’ve not got money to splash around as we wish. Every penny counts for us!”
In the second half, Stourbridge search for the equaliser and have a lot of possession, but struggle to create many clear-cut opportunities. The Halesowen defence stay firm and they manage to nick a crucial second goal on the counter-attack through Dumitru Chiriac as he pokes in after a good save by the Stourbridge ‘keeper. The home fans celebrate jubilantly and realise this could be the goal which confirms victory over their local rivals and puts a dent in their play-off hopes. On the pitch, the Halesowen players continue to fight valiantly for every ball until the final whistle goes and then they celebrate. It’s clear that the players on both sides know how much this game means.
Speaking after the game, winning captain Jay Denny explained how big the result was for the ‘Yeltz’, “It was superb, you don’t get many moments like this in your footballing career. Probably the best result I’ve had at Halesowen… Talking to the lads after the game, and on social media, everyone’s buzzing.”
Ben says it doesn’t get much bigger than a win against Stourbridge, “Because we’re so close to each other it’s very satisfying to grab the win. Now we need to press on with this form and see to what extent we can challenge Stourbridge in the league table next season.”
A memorable day for everyone associated with the ‘Yeltz’, but one to forget for Stourbridge and their fans. There is no doubt that when two local sides face off, no matter what level it’s at; it is loud, boisterous and colourful. This game was no different, just ask the Number 9 bus drivers.