The greatest rivalries in world football

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

world football

After the trouble that marred the Carling Cup clash between West Ham United and Millwall The Sport Review‘s Kieran Beckles looks at five of the biggest derbies in world football.

Boca v River Plate

‘Superclasico’ is the title donned on the clash between bitter Beunos Aires sides Boca Juniors and River Plate. ‘Clasico’ is the Spanish term for derby while ‘Super’ infers the meeting of the two most prestigious clubs in Argentina.

The divide between to the clubs is based on differences in social class. Boca Juniors is seen as the people’s club. The team is popular amongst the working and lower classes. Indeed when the club moved to the north of the city in 1925, it gained support from many local Italian immigrants.

River Plate is recognised as more of a middle and upper class club. The nicknames of both clubs signify the social class of their respective supporters, Xeneizes (Genosese) and Los Millionarios (The Millionaires).

The stadiums in Beunos Aires are world renowned for their atmosphere. Rife with colours, chanting and jumping it adds to the intense rivalry between both sets of fans. Opposite sides of the stadium swap insults. Boca fans shower River supporters with roars of ‘gallinas’ (chickens) inferring to the gutless spirit of the Los Millionarios. The River fans taunt the Boca side with shouts of ‘los chanchitos’ (pigs) is referring to the bad smell emanating for the stadium of their rivals.

The clash of the two sides does have a dark past. On 23rd June 1968 a tie between the pair ended in tragedy when 72 fans were killed and 150 injured. There are various tales of the event with different parties receiving accusations of wrong doing. An official inquiry led to no side being attributed with blame.

Barcelona v Real Madrid

The match is more commonly referred to as “El Classico”, with the title bearing its significance from South America. The origins of the rivalry can be traced back to political and social differences. Madrid is the seat of government and home to the royal family in Spain. During the civil war in Spain, Real Madrid was seen as the football club that embodied the “Franco” spirit and a mascot for Spain’s ruler, General Franco. Meanwhile Barcelona was the central city in Catalonia, representing republican and anarchist ideologies.

If political differences weren’t enough, the transfer of Alfredo Di Stefano, added more fuel to the fire. Confusion arose when two different Argentinean clubs believed to have acquired ownership of the player and had separately agreed deals with Real and Barcelona. Rumours suggest that Franco stepped in behalf of Los Blancos and forced Barcelona to renege their interest. The Bernabeau reject this claim, maintaining Barcelona acted voluntarily. Di Stefano became an instant hit and would cement his place in Real folklore as their greatest ever player. A spell of Madrid dominance and the success of the Argentine led to understandable bitterness in Catalonia.

Over the years there have been a number of high profile defectors switching allegiances from the Nou Camp to the Bernabeau which intensifies the rivalry. Luis Figo is possibly the most infamous of these ‘traitors’ when he swapped the Barca colours for the white of Madrid. The Portuguese star cost Real a world record figure of £37 million as he incensed thousands of Catalans. It resulted in an electric atmosphere with the Barca fans baying for the wingers’ blood.

Expect this season’s meeting between to both clubs to be as hostile as ever. The script for the 209th El Clasico is award winning. Barcelona dominated in not just Spain but Europe last season. Real Madrid was left distinctly red faced after their rivals completed the double over Raul & co., with a 2-0 victory at the Nou Camp and a 5-2 demolition in the Spanish capital.

AC Milan v Inter Milan

The most famous rivalry in Italy, the Milan derby represents one of the most fiercely contested derbies in the world. The Rossoneri and the Nerazzurri share the San Siro with both clubs having their own sections of the stadium for their respective fans to fill.

Milan was originally established as a cricket and football club by Alfred Edwards in 1899. However in 1908 after a disagreement over the purchasing of foreign players the club split. Hence Inter Milan was formed. Inter Milan represented the middle and upper class in Italian society while Milan were held sacred by the working class. Ironically this has changed with Milan now owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with businessman Massimo Moratti running Inter Milan.

Indeed Berlusconi era has seen a transformation for Milan while Inter went into decline.  However recent seasons has seen that reversed with Inter dominating Italian football since the match fixing scandals.

The clubs have met on 199 occasions in Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the European Cup. Incredibly the teams are level on victories having won 69 times each. The closest rivalry in terms of games won in World football.

The Rome derby involving Roma and Lazio is also worth a mention, ridden with politics and violence it also represents one of the greatest derbies in the World.

Manchester United v Liverpool

The biggest rivalry in English football is between the two clubs with the most decorated histories. The north-west derby between Liverpool and Manchester United is a tie filled with passion, hatred and envy.

The rivalry stems from the 19th century, when the construction of the “Manchester Ship Canal” led to many job losses in Liverpool. Manchester was a manufacturing city which depended on goods to be imported via the Liverpool docks and then transported north. The canal meant ships carrying goods could bypass Merseyside travelling directly to Manchester.

The success of Liverpool in the 1970’s and 80’s also led to resentment for United fans where unemployment was now rife. Of course the Ferguson era has seen a shift in power as Liverpool have suffered a decline. Last year, Manchester United equalled Liverpool’s long standing record league title haul which makes this year’s clashes pivotal for both clubs.

Indeed the signing of former Liverpool hero Michael Owen will only agitate Liverpool fans more, with former Everton player Wayne Rooney also playing for United. Ryan Giggs described the game as “probably the most famous fixture in English football”. He is probably correct in that assumption.

Celtic v Rangers

Almost certainly the fiercest rivalry in Britain ironically the pair once enjoyed a good relationship. According to many sources the term “Old Firm” actually signifies the friendship between both sides. Over the course of history this has evolved into a bitter hatred on both sides.

Celtic was founded in 1888 by Irish immigrants in Glasgow, based on the Hibernian model which was also founded by the Irish in Edinburgh. Established in 1873, Rangers had no particular link to a certain culture or religion. The plight of the Irish Catholics back in the Emerald Isle led to Celtic becoming a symbol for republicanism and kin in Glasgow using the club as a way to support brethren at home.

Meanwhile Rangers were well supported by city dwellers, with the fans by no means exclusively Protestants or Loyalists. Orangemen parades occurred annually in Glasgow to celebrate William of Orange’s victory at the Battle of Boyne over Catholic forces. Over the course of the 20th century sectarianism has crept into the game and now plays a major role in the hatred between both clubs. The hierarchy at both clubs have both acknowledged the existence of sectarianism and the role it plays amongst some fans, with the frequent signing of republican and loyalist songs at games.

The result: A highly charged encounter, symbolizing much more than a football game for many football fans. It will be no different come the 4th October.

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