Southern Derby, Version 2K4
Click picture for large version
Click picture for large version
by James Gregory
Happy birthday to you…..happy birthday to you….happy birthday Southern Derby….happy birthday to you!!
The Southern Derby turns 5 this year and if you're thinking of buying a present, "wood" is the traditional gift idea for year 5. Five years….who would have thunk it? When considering the historical significance of soccer events in the US of A, you have to use the dog years scale; 5 years of American soccer history equals 35 normal years. In America, there are many pro teams that haven't lasted 5 years. Shoot, there are pro leagues that have been buried in less than 5 years.
The Southern Derby was founded in 2000 by the fans of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Charleston Battery and Raleigh Express to generate interest in soccer, the A-League and for the 3 participating clubs. The clubs' fans were taunting each other good naturedly during the preseason on the fan forums (found at www.usldiscussions.com) when the discussion turned to something along the lines of "put your money where your mouth is". The discussion became a little more serious and a formal competition was quickly born in a matter of days. To make things simple planning-wise, the derby matches were designated using the regular season schedule eliminating any extra logistics for the clubs and ensuring the matches were meaningful to the players and fans.
Charleston Battery coach Chris Ramsey says that rivalries "are important because they create a friendly but fiery intensity that allows the fans to become even more emotionally involved." When asked if the derby matches generate any extra motivation for the players, Coach Ramsey said generally no, but quickly added "obviously, specific histories do come into play. And the players get up for it because they understand how important it is for the fans."
When it comes to exciting derby matches, the Southern Derby has been no exception and the participating clubs have produced more than their share of exciting moments and "upsets". The details of each year's competition can be found at the links on this page. A short walk down memory lane reveals:
- Since 2000, all participating clubs have won the cup once
- No team has ever finished the competition unbeaten
- In every year, the competition has not been decided until the last match
- In the inaugural year, Raleigh won the cup after the last match on Charleston's field
- In 2001, Charlotte scored twice in the final 5 minutes of the last match to win the cup based on the 2nd tiebreaker
In the 2003 Southern Derby, Charleston broke through to finally grasp the silver handle. While a favorite on paper, their push to claim the cup was thwarted every year, sometimes in spectacular fashion. The 2003 competition followed what has become the standard Southern Derby script of upsets, twists, turns and uncertainty. Charleston opened up with…..you guessed it, a loss, at home, to Charlotte in OT. However, they followed that up with 2 convincing wins and after 3 matches, sat comfortably in the lead. In their final match against a struggling Atlanta team, a win would have clinched it but naturally, nothing comes easy for the Battery in Southern Derbyland. Charleston quickly fell behind 2-0 before the clock struck 30 minutes. However, they clawed their way back with a goal just before the break leaving them with a 2-1 deficit. The match was winding down when Chris Bagley struck for the tying goal in the 80th minute and the whistle sounded with both teams knotted at 2.
Having finished their 4 derby matches, Charleston simply had to wait for Atlanta and Charlotte to play the final installment the following night. Charleston had a 3 point lead over Atlanta and a huge advantage in goal differential; +4 to -1. Charlotte had already been mathematically eliminated. Atlanta made it interesting, winning 4-1 over Charlotte to tie them with Charleston in points, but they were unable to overcome the GD. A sigh of relieve went up on the South Carolina coast as the Battery were finally able to claim the Southern Derby prize. Coach Ramsey says "It was an honor to be involved in a competition that was instigated by our fans!"
Regiment President Karl Hofen presents the
Southern Derby Cup to the 2003 winner,
Charleston Battery coach Chris Ramsey
So, what does the 2004 Southern Derby have in store? Well, there will be some changes. The Charlotte Eagles will not be participating due to their move from the A-League to the Pro Select League. After discussing various options, the fans of Charleston and Atlanta decided to leave the competition between just these 2 clubs for 2004. Charlotte's spot will remain open for now, in hopes that they soon return to the A-League. This year's setup ensures that for the first time in the Southern Derby's 5 year history, one of these clubs will become the first 2 time cup winner. Additionally, having 3 teams in the past meant each team played 4 derby matches. This year, the competition will be a single home/home series. This playoff-like format will be easier for the fans to follow and ensures the competition will again be decided on the last match. The first leg will be played at Charleston's Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday, May 29 at 7:30 pm. The 2nd and final leg will be in Atlanta's home at DeKalb Memorial Stadium on Friday, July 30 at 7:45 pm. Looking a bit ahead to the 2004 derby matches, Coach Ramsey says "as usual, no matter what the standings are in the league, Atlanta is an extremely difficult opponent. I believe this because there has been a lot of interchange of players over the past few years. Also, there is the geographical proximity."
Just like the meandering roads in the South, the Southern Derby has had some odd but exciting twists and turns in its past. Rivalries were born and the fires of soccer passion stoked. Tim Holt, Director of Operations for the USL, says, "We are thrilled to see and fully support fan rivalries like the Southern Derby & Voyageurs Cup growing in recognition within the consciousness of North American soccer. With each passing season, fans of A-League teams are taking more of a sense of ownership in their hometown clubs and this is certainly a welcome development for our growing league."
The Southern Derby Cup on display for the fans to see
So, if you're anywhere near Charleston on May 29 or Atlanta on July 30, come on out and see the Southern Derby party for yourself……just don't forget to bring a present.