Presenting the people’s choices of the best cities for football derbies
There’s few occasions in football as big as two teams from the same city going head-to-head in a battle for bragging rights. And recently we published an article on those that may have been slightly more esoteric and held a quirky story. This sparked a debate on our Facebook page about what exactly were the best derbies in the footballing world.
We’ve taken the ten most-mentioned games from that thread and put them into an article just for you. Massive teams, huge names, and games that affect some of the biggest and most amazing cities on the planet.
Partizan Belgrade vs. Red Star Belgrade
This was one of the most mentioned ties, and with good reason. The Eternal Derby is a terrifyingly visceral experience. The two fan groups, the Delije (Heroes) of Red Star, and the Grobari (Gravediggers) of Partizan are famous for their tifo displays, producing vast banners to display during matches as well as using flares, smoke bombs and explosives to create an atmosphere virtually unmatched at any other fixture.
Their stadiums are only about a kilometre from each other in Belgrade’s Autokomanda neighbourhood and wherever you go you’ll see graffiti from both sides showing pride, triumph and trophies; these are, after all, Serbia’s most decorated sides, including dating back to the years in which they competed for Yugoslav titles.
Both teams were founded a few months apart in 1945, Red Star by the United Alliance of Anti-Fascist Youth, and Partizan as the sport’s association of the Yugoslav People’s Army. The hatred between the two sets of fans becomes even stranger when you realise just how similar the stories of – and the ideology behind – their foundation is. Neither side would ever admit this, mind you.
This fixture, as with many others on this list, is not only simply a football match, but an example of an event that an entire city is involved in. Everyone has a side, and when the excitement, the adrenaline and the anticipation (not to mention the ever-present threat of violence) is ramped up to eleven, there’s nothing quite like it in the sporting world.
Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce
Welcome to Hell, read the famous banner. When Manchester United played Galatasaray in 1993 as part of their Champions League campaign, it caused Alex Ferguson to call it “the most intimidating atmosphere I’ve ever endured”. But this was just a taste of the febrile cauldron that Turkish football can create.
Fenerbahce, based in the cosmopolitan Kadıköy neighbourhood in the Asian part of Istanbul, compete against Sarıyer’s Galatasaray, from the European side of the city. For this reason, this derby is known as the Intercontinental Derby.
Having played each other for almost a century, the rivalry shows no signs of abating; these are Turkey’s two most well-supported clubs with fans throughout the country. The clubs began by playing a number of friendly games against each other throughout the 1920s and 30s; in fact, in 1912 the idea had been mooted that they’d actually combine and play as one club – Türkkulübü or the Turkish Club – but those plans were abandoned because of the outbreak of the 1913 Balkan Wars.
Come 1934, and yet another friendly match between the two teams, the rivalry between the two sets of players boiled over, leading to a great number of fouls and a ramping up of the tension both on the pitch and in the stands.
The game ended with players fighting, the match abandoned, and the end of the friendly rivalry, replaced by a genuine dislike between fans. This was only emphasised by the fact that the two clubs were seen as representing wildly different social classes. Fener were traditionally seen as the club of the blue-collar workers, while Gala were the club of the higher class, the seemingly more educated.
In 1996, one of the most entertaining but downright insane things to have happened in this derby fixture was barely-controlled-fury’s Graeme Souness, then managing Galatasaray, taking a giant Galatasaray flag and planting it in the centre circle of Fenerbahce’s stadium after having just beaten them in the Turkish Cup. It almost sparking a full-scale riot by rabidly angry Fenerbahce fans.
Today, as I said above, these social lines have been blurred by the two clubs attracting fans not just from across Turkey, but from all over the world. The rivalry, however, continues to burn brightly, fiercely, and shows no signs of abating.
Panathinaikos vs. Olympiacos
Continuing the theme of bombastic naming where derbies are concerned, the Athenian derby is known as the in-no-way-over-the-top Derby of the Eternal Enemies. As described in the Istanbul derby, the fierce rivalry stems from the class and society differences of the two sets of supporters; Panathinaikos were founded in the centre of the city in 1908 and were seen to represent old Athenian society, with all the grandeur and class that goes with it, whereas Olympiacos were set up in 1925 in the port city of Piraeus on the outskirts of Athens, therefore attracting a more working-class following.
Despite being the young upstart, Olympiacos boasts almost twice as many Greek trophies as its older rival, although Panathinaikos fans claim a better record in European competition (despite neither side exactly pulling up any trees, either in the past or recently).
When it comes to the game itself, it’s as madly passionate as you’d expect, however it’s been marred with so many incidents of violence that in 2004 the Greek FA decided to ban away supporters from the biggest games, including this one. It didn’t work exactly as planned, with home “supporters” (read: hooligans) directing their aggression towards the opposing team and the police, not only in the stadium but on the streets as well. People who just want to watch the game increasingly do so from the safety of the sofa or the bar.
Celtic vs. Rangers*
*In which I’m obliged not to refer to Rangers as Sevco. Not even once.
The Old Firm game between the two Glasgow giants is one of the most highly-charged in world football, the rivalry being deeply infused with complex disputes to do with such things as national identity, social ideology, and religion. It was, and is, so ingrained into the psyche of the clubs that for decades Rangers had an unwritten rule about not signing Catholic players (although Graeme Souness broke this rule when he brought Mo Johnston to the club, but very few people would argue with Graeme Souness). You’re far more likely to see Union flags (Rangers) or Irish tricolours (Celtic) than Scottish saltires in the stands.
But enough of that. Both Ibrox and Parkhead are fabulous places to watch football: big, noisy and imposing. Make friends with a Scots and they’ll be the first to, shall we say, point out your shortcomings in a humorous way. Plus of course, Glasgow is a brilliant city, supremely lively, fun, cultured, and I’m not allowed to talk about it without being journalistically obliged to add gritty as well.
Because of the way the Scottish league system works, you get plenty of chances to attend this derby as the two teams will almost certainly play each other at least four times a year, plus any times they get drawn together in a cup competition. Despite the frequency, between these two old rivals, familiarity does nothing but breed contempt.
River Plate vs. Boca Juniors
The Buenos Aires Superclásico between these two South American heavyweights is one of the most colourful and vibrant sporting events on the planet. Taking place either in El Monumental, the giant 1930s bowl that’s home to River Plate, or in Boca’s emblematic, three-sided-plus-a-flat-bit Bombonera, the game is the biggest in the country, with some statistics showing that fans of the two clubs account for 70 per cent of all football support in Argentina.
The BBC describe the spectacle as “a sea of colourful flowing banners, screams and roars, chanting, dancing and never-ending fireworks”, and that pretty well covers it, with the stadiums actually bouncing as 50,000 fans simultaneously jump up and down while belting out the words to their chants and songs.
It’s so integral to Argentinian life that in 2013, the US Embassy in Buenos Aires released a spoof video called Fiebre del Superclásico in which delegates from various departments of the embassy debate Boca or River and how this fever affects life in the city.
If just watching the game is anything to go by, it affects it passionately, fanatically, and with a desperation that’s all-consuming.
Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
Visit Milan and you can’t miss its mighty cathedral. It’s Italy’s largest, and the third-largest in the world, so you can’t help but stumble across it. Atop one of the spires is a golden statue of the Virgin Mary known as the Madonnina. It is from this statue that the Milan Derby gets its name: the Derby della Madonnina.
Both teams share the iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza – commonly known as the San Siro – with its famous spiralling ramps leading up to the gods on the outside, and its square, red-girdered roof added for the 1990 World Cup. Fan of Internazionale? You’d traditionally arrive by scooter or motorcycle, you monied bourgeoise fiend, making you a muturèta. AC Milan supporter? You didn’t have that luxury, having to travel to the game on public transport. You’re a tramvèe in fact.
Both clubs had fabulous sides throughout the 1960s under coaches Nereo Rocco – whose Milan side contained a young Gianni Rivera – and the Grande Inter team of Helenio Herrera, legendary disciplinarian and catenaccio disciple. Rocco was also a proponent of this way of playing, but Herrera’s side took the idea to the extreme (while still giving freedom to the wonderful Sandro Mazzola).
Milan’s 1980s team is surely one of the best the club game has ever seen, combining the talents of the Dutch trio of van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard, backed up by the Maldini-Baresi-Costacurta-Tassotti back four that would become legendary.
Both teams are having a bit of a dry spell currently, but that shouldn’t mean neglecting to visit Milan for the fixture – oh, as well as getting the chance to go to Milan, of course!
Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid
I feel as though I’m going to be thrown the hot potato of Spanish politics here, and I’d rather not catch it, having already made the mistake of engaging on that topic on Twitter. My advice? Don’t. There are a lot of angry people on there. Who knew?
Anyway, have a bit of history. Francisco Franco’s military regime initially favoured Atlético due to the team in red and white stripes being associated with the airforce. When Real Madrid began to taste success in Europe, however, Franco’s loyalties shifted somewhat, seeking to gain recognition and acknowledgement for the country through their triumphs in the European Cup at a time when Spain was isolated politically from most of Europe.
El Real is now, as you’re well aware, one of the best-known (and richest) sporting institutions in the world, with supporters from Armenia to Zambia and beyond. Recently though, Atleti have been gaining popularity through their combative, no-quarter-asked-or-given style and their Europa League success, as well as breaking up the Real – Barcelona duopoly at the top of La Liga.
Atlético get more sympathy than Real too, as while Real have spent decades hoovering up money, trophies and glory, Atleti spent much of the 80s and 90s lurching wildly from one disaster to another, much of it involving club president Jesús Gil, whose reign involved shutting down the club’s youth academy, a relegation in 2000, and a period of using his horse, Imperioso, as an advisor.
Today however, with both clubs consistently dining at Spain’s top table, the match has become one that can decide titles and win or lose cups. There’s never been a more exciting time to see the Madrid Derby.
Lazio vs. Roma
A wonderful city in a million ways, Rome’s Derby della Capitale is played by two teams steeped in history and glory, each vying to represent the city to the wider world. In fact, due to the historical dominance of Italy’s northern cities such as Milan and Turin when it comes to football, having the bragging rights in the capital region means even more to the fans of these two clubs.
They share the Stadio Olimpico in the Foro Italico sports complex to the north of the city with Lazio fans traditionally occupying the northern end of the stadium, while Roma fans fill the south. As well as along these physical lines, the fan bases are divided politically, with Lazio ultras sympathising with the suburban right and Roma the inner-city left, although as with so many other teams, as support has grown, these absolutes have become less clearly-defined.
There’s no doubt though that if you’re a Roman, you’re either red or sky blue; a wolf or an eagle; one of the Romanisti or the Laziali. This has, unusually, joined both sets of fans together in uniting towards a common enemy – that of a number of plexiglass walls that suddenly sprang up, dividing not only sections of the curva behind each goal, but also outside the stadium, separating the different entrances.
These, coupled with face recognition technology and an increased police presence, means that ordinary fans have started to feel like criminals, watched and segregated for simply wanting to watch their football team. A solution that felt aggressive and outdated in the 1980s surely has no place in the 21st century.
Whatever your opinion though, it’s still a great game to watch: aggressively competitive and noisy with both sets of fans taunting the other about past humiliations and failures, as well as playing up their own successes. Well, when the boasting rights to the capital are at stake, wouldn’t you?
Sporting CP vs. Benfica
A military coup in which almost no shots were fired, the Portuguese revolution of 1974 was known as the Carnation Revolution, after the flowers that were put into the muzzles of rifles and attached to the uniforms of soldiers by restaurant employee Celeste Caeiro. That fiery passion but dislike of physical aggression nicely sums up the Lisbon derby. It’s as fiercely contested as any other on this list, and the insults and chants during the game are no less vitriolic, but communal areas around the stadium are generally filled with good-natured piss-taking rather than up-in-your-face, spittle-flecked aggression.
It’s yet another class-divided rivalry (Sporting were initially bankrolled by a viscount, Benfica were a bunch of students), although one that played a more active role in the animosity between the two clubs. They first played each other on December 1st, 1907, but not until after Sporting (in a most unsporting way) had signed – or stolen, according to Benfica fans – eight of Benfica’s players, promising them better training facilities, including (and this would be the clincher for me) hot water in the showers.
Today, despite not being as much of a force in European competition as they both – particularly Benfica – once were, it’s a game that, more often than not, helps decide where the Portuguese title goes. With the exceptions of Belenenses in the 1945-46 season and Boavista in 2000-01, only three clubs have won the Portuguese Primeira Liga: Porto, and the two Lisbon clubs. It’s about more than just winning the game.
Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund
“Dortmund? Is that a town? Do you mean Lüdenscheidt Nord?”
“Schalke? Nah, never heard of them. Herne, sure. This ‘Schalke’, no.”
When a rivalry is so strong that fans of one team can’t even acknowledge the existence of the other, you know it’s a big deal. It’s a game that pits neighbour against neighbour, colleague against colleague for the right to claim Monday morning supremacy. Two working class cities, two powerhouses of German football, two of the most passionate fan bases in the country, one massive game: the Revierderby.
The not-mentioning-the-other-team rule is taken very seriously. In some pubs and fan clubs, mentioning the name of the others (other than as noted above, or by using the phrase “die verbotene Stadt” – the forbidden city) is the worst swear word you can use. Stick a euro in the swear box.
It’s odd. Both teams are very similar, though very few fans would be prepared to admit it. Both Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen are industrial cities, made rich through coal and steel but rather left behind when the bottoms fell out of those industries in the 90s. Both clubs were formed by workers from those industries. The towns are only 30 km apart. Dortmund has coped better with the de-industrialisation process however, in no small part thanks to BVB’s success in Europe in the mid-90s; the club raised the profile of the town, meaning a lot of banks and IT companies relocated there.
What is true to say though is that the teams are both more famous than the towns in which they’re located. Maybe that’s why the fans’ pride is so strong. Like nowhere else on this list, Schalke is Gelsenkirchen, and BVB is Dortmund. Your team, not your town, is where you’re from. Just as their fans can say they’re German by birth, they’re also either born Schalke or born BVB. That’s just how it is.