Is it the ‘Sheffield derby’ or the ‘Steel City derby’?

Based on my research the earliest mention for a ‘derby’ football match comes from the Bradford Daily Telegraph – Tuesday 26 December 1893, in connection with a rugby game between Bradford FC and Manningham FC in an article entitled ‘The Local Derby’.

At some point in the 19th century it seems that the phrase ‘derby’ became the accepted phrase to describe is a fixture played between two sporting teams which belong to the same geographical area. I have not been able to find a definitive answer to how the phrase originated with online arguments made for both the town of Derby and for the Derby horse race.

The earliest mention for an Association football derby match I have found is in an article in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday 11 November 1907, describing the local football ‘Derby’ between Gainsborough Trinity and Lincoln City, which is then used again in the following month in the Nottingham Journal – Saturday 07 December 1907 , in an article entitled ‘The Local Football Derby’ discussing the forthcoming fixture between Notts County and Notts Forest.

My research in the British Newspaper Archive to discover when the ‘derby’ phrase was first used to describe a match in Sheffield, came up with a game in 1907 to describe the match won by Wednesday by 3 goals to one.

it seems that the ‘derby’ phrase is fairly modern addition, particularly when one remembers that the world’s oldest football ‘derby’ was in December 1860 between Hallam FC and Sheffield FC, but it seem the ‘derby’ phrase was never attached in that era.

The current phrase ‘Steel City derby’ appears to be a very modern invention as I can find no mentions in the British Press up to 1999 for this new description. To my mind the phrase ‘Sheffield derby’ should be retained for the exclusive use of when Sheffield FC play Hallam FC to respect the historic significance of the event, leaving the ‘Steel City derby’ to encapsulate the blood and guts of a United versus Wednesday clash.

I discuss this topic in much greater detail in my newly revised book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: Speed, Science and Bottom’

Link to book page –

A History of Sheffield Football - Second Edition - by Martin Westby
A History of Sheffield Football – Second Edition – by Martin Westby