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ARLIA: OKC, Tulsa Take Black Gold Derby to New Heights

By JOHN ARLIA -, 04/27/19, 7:07AM EDT


Mayoral bet, renewed optimism adding to excitement for Energy FC's visit to Roughnecks

The leaders of OKC supporter's group The Grid and Tulsa supporter's group The Roustabouts traditionally raise the Wrench ahead a Black Gold Derby. / Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

As the two biggest cities in the state of Oklahoma, Tulsa and Oklahoma City are always competing.

Whether that’s for new residents and state tax dollars or soccer supremacy and a ceremonial four-foot wrench, there’s always been a rivalry between the two.

“Oklahoma City is the capital. Whenever it comes to political or social or even economic things, sometimes Tulsa has felt like it’s been behind Oklahoma City and there are certain things that Tulsa has felt like it’s always had a little better than Oklahoma City,” said Denis Lane, President of Tulsa Roughnecks FC supporter’s group the Roustabouts.

While many regional rivals tend not to see eye-to-eye (just ask Nashville and Memphis), the relationship between Oklahoma City and Tulsa seems to be a little bit different. Located just over 100 miles apart on I-44, it’s easy for residents of either city to travel back and forth for various events and get the most out of their experience in enemy territory. However, one of the biggest contrasts has seemingly been the way and rate at which the two cities have modernized over the past few decades.

“You drive into Tulsa and you see refineries and you see huge industry and it seems like it’s a very blue-collar town,” said Matt Wormus, member of OKC Energy FC fan group Northend United. “Then you come to OKC and the first thing you see is the Devon Tower and you see all the major corporations located here.

“It’s a very fun rivalry because it’s one of those things where it’s regardless of sports.”

However, sports have played a role in amplifying the larger rivalry between the two cities. Just ask Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who have upped the ante before this Saturday’s first Black Gold Derby match of the season between Energy FC and the Roughnecks at ONEOK Field.

“That’s really the first time that you’ve seen leaders within the community engaging in the rivalry too,” said Wormus. “There’s always some banter between fans, especially with the Wrench and the fact that it’s pretty much lived in Oklahoma City since it was established.”

While there’s a bit of trash talk in that statement, there’s also a lot of truth to it. Energy FC boasts a 9-3-3 record over the Roughnecks in all competitions dating back to 2015 and has lost the season series to Tulsa just once (2017). OKC earned a 3-0 victory at ONEOK Field in the clubs’ most recent meeting last August, but things have changed significantly since then.

OKC Energy FC players celebrate retaining the Wrench after the club's 3-0 victory over Tulsa Roughnecks FC last August. | Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

Ahead of Friday night’s action, Tulsa (4-3-1, 13pts) sits in second place in the Western Conference standings and has already surpassed its win total from last season. Meanwhile, OKC (3-3-1, 10pts) has had a bit of an up-and-down start as it continues to deal with some early-season injuries.

That has set the stage for what could be one of the most compelling derbies between the two sides in recent memory.  

“Obviously, Energy FC has dominated us a little bit, so we need to get some revenge back in this one,” said Lane. “We’re feeling pretty good about this year. Last year was pretty tough for us, so we feel like we have a good chance of bouncing back this year and getting them.”

While time will tell if that comes to be, the one thing that is certain is that there will be plenty more back-and-forth between the two fan bases between now and Saturday’s kickoff at 8 p.m. ET.

“It does get pretty intense,” said Lane. “There’s a lot of connections people have through soccer or other connections to people in Oklahoma City. Actually, for example, my brother is an Energy fan, so we go at each other all year round about it.”

The reasoning behind many of those personal connections between fans in Oklahoma City and Tulsa has something to do with the short distance between the two cities and their mutual respect for each another. The rising popularity of soccer in Oklahoma – aided by the English Premier League – has also played its part.

“With the growth of the EPL here in the state, you kind of get to meet some similar fans, you know Chelsea fans, Arsenal fans, but then when you have that going on then you split up into well now we’re OKC fans and Tulsa fans,” said Matt Perceful, a member of Energy FC supporter’s group The Grid. “You still know those guys and ladies, so we know a lot of them, but when it comes to game day, match week, derby week, it gets pretty salty.”

However, that hasn’t stopped Lane and the Roustabouts from inviting the traveling Energy FC support to their pre-game tailgate, which will also take on a greater magnitude given the high-stakes affair.

“Obviously, this Saturday will be a little more special,” said Lane. “We’ll probably show up around noon to start cooking food, getting preparations set up for people to come out. We’ve got extra [prize] drawings, we’ve got gift cards, we’ve got koozies, just everything to kind of build up the hype and excitement for people coming out.”

Once the evening arrives, that hype and excitement will be transferred into the stands, where fans from both Oklahoma City and Tulsa will be creating all the noise they can to support their side.

“To me, when you have fans in a stadium – it doesn’t matter who they are, if they’re for or against – if everybody is cheering and making noise, to me that just makes it a better day,” said Lane.

If that’s the benchmark, Saturday should be a great day.

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