Forest vs. Derby: The European Championships Edition

Words: Ashley Carter
Thursday 10 June 2021
reading time: min, words

With the delayed European Championships just around the corner, we’ve decided to answer the question that literally nobody was asking: who would win in a match between Forest and Derby if you only selected players that had been to the Euros? We picked the best XI for each (or the only XI in Derby’s case) and ran it through a well-known Football Manager match generator, and this was the result…


Good afternoon, and welcome to Wembley Stadium for this one-off exhibition match between bitter rivals Nottingham Forest and Derby County. By Wembley Stadium, I mean the match generator on my worn out MacBook. And by exhibition match, I mean the outcome of an idea I had at 2am while pondering who would win in a match between Forest and Derby, if the teams consisted solely of players who had played at the European Championships for their respective countries. Surely Forest would have the advantage, with Stuart Pearce and Teddy Sheringham being such integral members of that blistering Three Lions team at Euro ’96 joining England legends John Terry, Des Walker and Peter Shilton, and the Dutch dual-threat of Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Bryan Roy. However, Derby also have… you know… former Norwegian utility man Bjorn Otto Bragstad. Even as a Derby fan (I know, I’m sorry), I can’t see anything but a bloodbath for the European Rams. 

Forest line up with a back five consisting of former loanee Terry alongside Walker and Croatian unit Nikola Jerkan who, despite enduring a tumultuous time at the City Ground, was an integral member of Croatia’s Euro ’96 back line. They’re flanked by two of Forest and England’s greatest ever players, captain for the day Stuart Pearce on the left and Viv Anderson on the right. On paper, I can’t see Derby’s front line breaking that lot down, especially with man-mountain and Twitter disaster Peter Shilton in net. 

Sitting in front is David Platt and Aaron Ramsey, one of the standout players in Wales’ 2016 Euros campaign. They’re supporting a front-three of Teddy Sheringham flanked by Roy and Van Hooijdonk, who played for the Netherlands and Euro ’96 and ’00 respectively. 

On paper, Derby have some decent players; most notably, the only man who could rival Stuart Pearce’s claim as England’s greatest ever left back, Ashley Cole, who made a handful of appearances for Derby during Frank Lampard’s reign at Pride Park. Two talismanic Croats from that Euro ‘96 team join him: Igor Stimac, who also captains the Derby Euros team, and cultured midfielder Aljoša Asanović. Leading the line is Belgian striker Branko Strupar, whose career was blighted by injury, but always looked a threat when he played, and represented his country at Euro 2000. However, the balance of the team is betrayed by a stream of players that always have a mistake in them: calamitous Richard Keogh, who gifted Brighton the keys to the Premier League in that infamous play-off final, Roy Carroll, Derby’s keeper during their record-breakingly terrible season in the Premier League and Danish striker Mikkel Beck, who couldn’t hit the proverbial cow’s arse with a banjo during his spell with the Rams. Even though none of this is real, I’m nervous for Derby’s chances. 

And I’m right to be. Forest burst out the gates like a team with a point to prove. Manager Chris Hughton, who represented the Republic of Ireland at Euro 1988, seems to have struck the perfect balance of counter-attacking fluidity, and an Aaron Ramsey through ball finds Sheringham, who is hacked down in the box by Derby’s makeshift right-back Keogh. The Irish defender has started the game the way he ended his Derby career, looking like a drunken disgrace.

Surely Forest would have the advantage, with Stuart Pearce and Teddy Sheringham being such integral members of that blistering England team at Euro ’96...

Forest captain Pearce steps up to bury the resultant penalty past Roy Carroll, who barely moves. Putting to bed the demons of Italia ’90, Pearce pumps his fist against the Forest badge and his team take an early 1-0 lead. A bad start soon becomes a disaster for Derby, as a David Platt corner less than five minutes later finds the head of John Terry, who thunders the ball into the bottom corner. We could be looking at a cricket score here. 

Derby’s manager Wayne Rooney, who represented England at no less than three Euros tournaments, looks to his bench but, seeing only Chris Baird (Northern Ireland, Euro 2016) looking back at him, decides to stick with what he’s got. Better the Devil you know, and all that. 

The rest of the first half plays out in much the same fashion, as Forest’s front three wreak havoc on Derby’s makeshift backline. If not for the heroic efforts of Igor Stimac, Derby could have gone into half time five or six goals down. Miraculously, they pull one back with the final kick off the half – a smart move instigated by that Rolls Royce of a midfielder Paul McGrath (Republic of Ireland, Euro 1988) smartly finished by Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland, Euro 2016). 

Rather than offering hope to the disjointed Derby team, Ward’s late strike only served to anger the Forest players who emerge for the second half like a team possessed. Barely ten minutes has passed before Teddy Sheringham caresses a low shot past a sprawling Roy Carroll to make it 3-1. Sheringham then goes from scorer to provider, squaring the ball to Van Hooijdonk who rifles a first time shot to make it four. He might have gone missing during his time at the City Ground, but Sheringham certainly knew where to find him there.

The three-goal cushion sees Forest manager Hughton start to ring the changes, and we see the introduction of Steve Stone (England, Euro ’96), Nigel Clough (England, Euro ’92), Nelson Oliveira (Portugal, Euro ‘12) and journeyman goalkeeper Marco Pascolo (Switzerland, Euro ’96). 

The new recruits continue in the same way their teammates did, and Pearce and Anderson continue to cause Derby havoc down the flanks. Clough makes an instant impact, latching on to a tidy through ball from Aaron Ramsey to make it 5-1, extracting his own revenge against the team that sacked him in 2013. He peels his shirt off to celebrate in front of the ecstatic Forest fans, and is booked for his trouble. Fellow substitute Steve Stone then dummies past the hapless Richard Keogh to find Stuart Pearce, who rampages forward to unleash a blistering daisy cutter into the bottom corner to complete his brace. To add insult to injury, Keogh completes his nightmare afternoon by picking up a second yellow card, heading down the tunnel in disgrace as a clearly furious Wayne Rooney looks on. 

The second half finishes in the same manner as the first, with Derby again scoring with the last kick of the game – a thunderous free kick from the impressive Strupar, who has arguably been Derby’s standout player of the day. It’s not saying much, but credit where it’s due – the Croatian-born Belgian striker has been the sole thorn in the side of a Forest defence that has otherwise had a comfortable afternoon. 

The Forest fans are in good voice – many of them visiting the new Wembley Stadium for the first time – as the final whistle blows, and the final score is confirmed. 6-2 doesn’t come close to flattering Forest, who could have comfortably reached double figures if they hadn’t played out the last twenty minutes like a testimonial. 

The debate against which of Brian Clough’s former teams is the bigger club will rage on as long as the City Ground and Pride Park stand, but today, in the match between the two club’s European Championship alumni, there was a clear winner. Now let’s see if England can replicate Forest’s great form in real life this summer. 


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