Down the Southern Road: Derbies and Gents
Regardless of where played, a proper derby stokes supporters’ passions, incites vitriol to be spewed irrationally, and at times can pluck raw nerves to a bleeding point. If today’s player, often unattached or deeply affiliated with a club enough to identify with a rivalry match, actually buys in to this emotion and puts it into his play on the pitch, the results can run the gamut from being something of legend to looking brutish and petty. Whatever the outcome, the events of a derby day eventually become part of a running narrative in a club’s history, whether it is a Black Country Derby in the West Midlands, the Old Firm in Glasgow, or the Cairo Derby between Zamalek and Al-Ahly. While the Bayou Derby between Premier Development League clubs Baton Rouge and New Orleans lacks a similar maturation to those previously listed, the clubs and their supporters have done their best to foment a rivalry sufficient enough to actually be considered a derby.
Regarding the teams, what once might have been a friendly rivalry for Deep South bragging rights resolved into something with a bit more edge to it beginning last campaign when new ownership set about remaking Baton Rouge from an also-ran in the PDL to a title contender. Dr. John Hamide, a New Orleans physician, purchased a stake in the Baton Rouge Capitals and, perhaps having seen some quality on those squad lists over the years in New Orleans, enticed several Jesters players to join the capital club. Notably Ben Callon, the current player/general manager of Baton Rouge along with coach/player Stuart Hayers–whom played for New Orleans when the club was known as the Shell Shockers due to a sponsorship agreement with the Shell Oil Company–joined in Hamide’s British revolution of the Capitals, which did not sit too well with those still in charge of the Big Easy club. The Bayou Cup, which had been contested between the two sides since Baton Rouge joined the league in 2007, was withdrawn for the 2010 campaign following these events, and even mention of its absence on the summer’s fixture list was politely asked to be avoided on the Baton Rouge fan forum site.
As for the players, there certainly existed discomfited feelings seeing lads they had taken to the pitch wearing the same colours of New Orleans now wearing those of the local upstart (New Orleans having been in existence since 2003 and a bigger side in terms of attendance). That sense of unease stretched both ways, though, as when Hayers sought about addressing his squad needs for the Capitals in 2010, he chose to release all but two players from the previous year’s squad and built a side that fit his style. This clear out including parting with striker Anthony Judice, a local lad who had been with the capital club since its founding and in its infancy had often been a lone source of pride. While most local supporters stood behind Hayers as these changes unfolded, understanding the quality of players he was setting about filling his roster, a vocal minority still felt aggrieved that the new regime had seen fit to cut ties with a talented homegrown player that had shown loyalty to the club throughout its early growing pains. With all things being local, though, Judice naturally moved in the opposite direction and now laces up his boots in New Orleans.
Baton Rouge trumped their rivals at each asking last summer on the way to a conference title, but not without a fight. Each meeting in 2010 saw any notion of southern hospitality chucked out along with the baby and her bath water, so more of the same was expected in this campaign’s derby. New Orleans reasserted its status as the bigger brother in this sibling rivalry in the opening match 25 June, taking 3 points off a Capitals side that had not tasted defeat in its previous 4 matches. A positive result for Baton Rouge in the home derby four days later was paramount then, as the Black & Red desperately needed to take back those 3 dropped points should it continue to have even the faintest hope of challenging up the Mid South table. The contest at the Crusader–witnessed by a very respectable crowd for a midweek fixture–featured as much passion from the players and a dedication to thorough tackling that would have made fans of a Merseyside derby proud. New Orleans seemed to lack a certain aspect of quality to their game, and steadfast work from Black & Red CB Mark Ross ensured Jesters’ forays into his zone would be swiftly headed away. Hayers looked to have solved the problem of sides attacking down the left flank when LB Gui Brandao began Capitals’ offensive movements, having young CB Kyle Wood utilize his speed by moving laterally to choke off any advance while the athletic and acrobatic GK Kyle Buxton in the back to pull off a few noteworthy saves when exposed. James Livingston produced some of his crispest passing yet while new midfield dynamo Gary Stopforth persisted in being a pesky presence for the hulking New Orleans defensive midfielders.
For seemingly the first time all season, fans at the Crusader took part in the gladiatorial battle being waged in front of them, and as with most derbies, directed their shouts at particular players they considered were not playing football, along with giving the referee some lessons on how to do his job correctly. New Orleans players who cursed audibly were told to shut it, the referee was at times bald, blind, or lacking fitness to be in the proper position to make a call. A female fan called for the gentlemen on the pitch to remain focused, but she might as well have been speaking to the forest of trees opposite the stands or to the faint rainbow that hung over the field before the floodlights blinked to life, for there were no gents matching wits that night.
Only footballers, fighting for local honors and a chance to remain relevant in the table.
What appeared to be a legitimate call for a penalty on New Orleans in the 38th minute was waved off to roars of disagreement from the crowd, but they cheered in celebration just three minutes later as Baton Rouge forward Achille Campeon scored from a perfect chip of the Jesters’ GK near the close of the 1st half. And despite New Orleans showing a bit more quality during the 2nd half of the match, the side never looked a true threat to equalize. The match devolved into a rough tackling affair with New Orleans seeking to break up the Black & Red in the midfield while never really having much time on the ball due to Livingston’s continued passing accuracy. Another potential penalty for the capital club went begging late in the match, but it would not have factored into the final result, as Baton Rouge held out for a 1-0 victory to even its 2011 derby record.
This weekend past the Capitals followed up that difficult yet satisfying win with another 3 points away to Nashville, while New Orleans could only muster draws away to RGV and Laredo. As it stands, Hayers’ side still has an outside chance of qualifying for the PDL playoffs from the second spot, but given the upcoming fixture list, such hope would be slightly misplaced. For Baton Rouge to pip Laredo–currently the holders of that second position on the table–it likely needs to earn full points from its remaining matches and wish for some luck from Laredo’s opponents, as the Black & Red have played out both their games against the Texas club. Three of Laredo’s final contests are against the bottom sides in the division, though, while Baton Rouge sees its next two games away prior to closing out the season at home.
And the capital club’s final match at home will be against this same New Orleans side, which would be ever so grateful for the opportunity to play spoiler to a derby rival it has come to properly dislike.