What Is Britain's Best Derby?

Old Firm Derby

The Old Firm Derby between Rangers and Celtic is the first derby to feature on this list of Britain’s best derbies. This is as intense as a derby gets, with just four miles separating Ibrox on the west side of Glasgow, to Celtic on the East.

This derby dates back as far as the turn of the 20th century, ever since Celtic were founded in 1887, 15 years later than Rangers. This is a unique derby as the rivalry roots further than football itself, as it is partially a rivalry between Catholics (Celtic) and Protestants (Rangers).

An influx of Irish Catholics moving into Glasgow’s east end in the 1900s led to increased competition for housing and employment across the city, which caused huge tensions with the west end of the city, populated by protestants. This essentially pushed each club closer to their religious roots due to the cultural split in the city of Glasgow.

The tension between the Catholics and Protestants led to a lot of sectarianism and polarisation across the city which still exists today and this was essentially a catalyst in the hatred that the two most successful clubs in Scotland have.

As a result, the Old Firm derby has become one of the most hostile and tense atmospheres in club football. The infamous 1980 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park saw Scottish football ban alcohol from all Old Firm matches, following chaos inside the ground, with hundreds of opposing fans fighting on the pitch and stands.

Further factors have also intensified this derby, as Celtic recently matched Rangers’ consecutive league titles record of nine in a row, following the curtailment of the Scottish Premiership last season, which was also partially due to a helping hand from their enemies, as Rangers were relegated to Scottish League Two following financial difficulties back in 2012. Gers look set to win the league title for the first time since 2011, and with an opportunity to win it at Celtic Park potentially on the horizon, this could really stir the pot.

Manchester Derby

The Manchester derby remains as one of the biggest derbies in world football. The derby dates back to 1881, following the birth of Manchester City, whilst United were named as Newton Heath. There is approximately four miles between Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium.

What typifies a lot of this rivalry up until the last decade or so, is United’s ability to belittle any of City’s achievements, as in the year 1968, City won the league title ahead of United, however, the Red Devils typically eclipsed this achievement by winning the European Cup for the first time, becoming the first English team to do so.

Although United’s biggest rivals historically are Liverpool and Leeds, this game on the pitch has been intense throughout the decades, as in the 1970’s tackles by the likes of George Best and Martin Buchan ended the careers of legendary City players Colin Bell and Glyn Pardoe.

Meanwhile, in the 1973/74 season, United legend Denis Law scored a famous backheel goal at Old Trafford for City, having transferred from the red half, which all but confirmed the Red Devils drop down to the Second Division.

City also beat United 5-1 at Maine Road in 1989 which started a huge brawl in the stands and on the pitch, as several hundred United fans were in the home stands at City’s old ground. This defeat shocked United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but little did he know that this would be his last defeat against City until the 2002/03 season in the last derby at City’s old ground.

Under the “Fergie era” United’s dominance grew, which saw a huge chasm in between the two clubs, as United currently have 66 trophies to City’s 26. There was seemingly an unbridgeable gap up until 2008 when the Abu Dhabi Royal family took over the Citizens. This has since lead to a swing in the pendulum due to the heavy investment the Blues have had, and since the start of the 2011/12 season, City have won the league title four times to United’s one.

This derby has provided the fans with many famous moments down the years, such as that famous 96th-minute winner by Michael Owen at Old Trafford in the 2009/10 season, Balotelli’s “Why Always Me” celebration as City inflicted United’s joint biggest defeat at Old Trafford in a 6-1 win. Van Persie’s Free Kick and Rooney’s astonishing bicycle kick were also notable moments. The Manchester Derby very rarely disappoints on the pitch and is often filled with drama, hence why it is so good to watch.

North London Derby

The North London Derby is a grudge match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, with a mere four miles separating these two Premier League giants, with the Gunner’s Emirates Stadium situated in Islington and Spurs’ stadium being based in the neighbouring borough of Haringey.

Despite the first meeting between these two clubs taking place in 1887, the rivalry wasn’t sparked until 1913 when Arsenal relocated from Plumstead in South East London to Highbury, just four miles south of Spurs’ White Hart Lane.

The derby is often regarded as one of the Premier League’s stellar clashes for the season, with certainly no love lost between the two sides over the ensuing years.

Sol Campbell’s Bosman transfer from Tottenham to Arsenal sparked more bad blood between the two clubs in North London. When the Gunners travelled to White Hart Lane the following November, the team bus greeted with rocks, stones and bottles, as well as the England international being labelled as “Judas”.

Notably, Arsenal won their last league title in the 2003/04 season where they went invincible, not losing a single game, winning 26 and drawing the other 12. They sealed the title at White Hart Lane in a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires and have chanted “ we won the league, at White Hart Lane” ever since.

Merseyside Derby

The Merseyside derby is the longest-running top-flight derby in England, having being played in every single season since 1962. Both of these sides are located less than a mile away from each other in Liverpool, with only Stanley Park separating Anfield from Goodison Park.

This derby was initially known as the ‘friendly derby’ as fan segregation wasn’t introduced up until recent years, with fans of each side tending to mix in the stands. The 1984 League Cup Final was nicknamed the ‘friendly final’ as all sections of the ground remained mixed, with fans chanting ‘Merseyside’.

In the present day, this is one of the dirtiest derbies of all in England, with a total of 22 red cards being shown since the Premier League’s inception, with the most recent being Richarlison’s in his side’s 2-2 draw at Goodison Park with Liverpool last October. This derby intensified the relationships between each set of fans, following a horror challenge by Everton’s Jordan Pickford damaging Virgil Van Dijk’s cruciate knee ligaments.

In the 2018/19 season, a 0-0 draw between the pair in the latter stages of the campaign also saw Liverpool miss out on the league title by just one point to eventual champions Manchester City, as City didn’t drop a single point in the run-in. This draw was cheered by Everton fans, as they jeered Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, as well as several of his players off the pitch before the blue half of Merseyside, celebrated City’s win against Brighton & Hove Albion on the final day of the season as though Everton had won the league themselves.

Tyne-Wear Derby

The final game on this list is the Tyne-Wear derby. This rivalry goes as far back as the English Civil War, as 400 years ago politics divided the two cities. Since then, the resentment from both sides was carried over into football, to create a grudge match between the pair.

This derby has been fuelled with hatred in recent years, as in 2009 and 2016, the Black Cats managed to survive in the Premier League at Newcastle United’s expense, as well as winning Sunderland winning six derbies in a row between 2013 and 2015. The most notable of these coming in April 2013, when the Wearside club hammered their fierce rivals 3-0 at St James’ Park.

In this fixture, the off the pitch violence, arrests and vandalism have been intertwined with derby days in the North East. Most notably after the Black Cats 3-0 win against Newcastle as mentioned above, as there were riots which included a Toon Army fan punching a police horse. Various acts of hooliganism have been commonplace over the years, with there being thousands of arrests. Travelling individually as an away fan has been banned, with bubble trips via police escorts being used in order to stem the violence.

The Tyne-Wear derby isn’t played as frequently as it once was, with Newcastle in the Premier League, whilst Sunderland are currently in League One. However, this game is played like a cup final, as the last piece of silverware either of the sides won was by Sunderland in 1973, when they beat Leeds United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Second City Derby

The Second City Derby is contested between Aston Villa and Birmingham City, with just 2.4 miles separating Villa Park and St Andrew’s. The first meeting in this derby took place in 1879 at City’s old ground Muntz Street, with Villa players unhappy at the state of the pitch, which they later blamed for their 1-0 defeat.

There were many dramatic early encounters between the two in the early days of this derby which sparked competition between the two sets of supporters, as in a league game at Villa Park in 1925, the Blues came back from 3-0 down late on to draw 3-3. City also beat Villa in the 1963 League Cup final 3-1 on aggregate to claim their first-ever major honour.

In 2002, City were promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their history, meaning that they would be guaranteed derby games against their fierce rivals for the first time in 15 years. In March 2003 the Blues completed the double over Villa which sparked riots outside the ground, following what was a feisty clash on the pitch which saw Dion Dublin and Joey Gudjonsson sent off for Villa as Steve Bruce’s side ran out as 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Stan Lazaridis and Geoff Horsfield.

Notably, in recent meetings the relations between the two clubs haven’t improved, as last time these two met in March 2019, a City fan ran onto the pitch and assaulted Villa captain Jack Grealish, just before the midfielder went on to score the only goal of the game in a memorable derby win for the Villains.

West Ham United vs Millwall

This derby was typically known as the “Dockers Derby” as both sets of supporters were predominantly dockers in and around the shipyards located on the River Thames. Prior to being renamed West Ham United, the Hammers were known as Thames Ironworks.

The old locations of both clubs being based around the shipyards created tension in itself, as they were seen as fighting for the same business, with each side setting up rival firms. In the early 1900s, each side relocated from the Thames, as West Ham moved into the Boleyn Ground which was part of Essex up until 1965, whilst the Lions moved to Newcross in South London. Both teams have since moved again with the Irons moving to the London Stadium, just four miles away from The Den.

There is certainly no love lost between the two clubs, as they both have major hooligan firms, as depicted in movies such as The Firm and Green Street. There have been several deaths in riots between the two clubs’ firms, and in one of the last meetings between the two in a League Cup game in 2009, there were riots outside the ground which resulted in 20 fans being injured, as well as a Millwall fan being stabbed. West Ham won the match 3-1, to take the bragging rights.

Steel City Derby

The Steel City Derby, otherwise known as the Sheffield Derby is fiercely contested by Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, with just under 4 miles separating Bramall Lane from Hillsborough Stadium.

This is one of the oldest derbies in the country, and back in 1889 Wednesday actually left United’s current ground, Bramall Lane, over a rent dispute which saw the Blades take the then-vacant ground and make it their own.

It was actually Wednesday’s relegation from the Premier League in 1999/2000 which saw the re-emergence of this derby, as the pair had only been in the same division for six of the 29 previous seasons. The intensity of the rivalry began to grow due to playing one another on a regular basis, which resulted in several incidents of crowd trouble in and around the games, particularly in 2003, 2008 and 2019.

Perhaps the most notable meeting between the Blades and the Owls was back in 1992/93 in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, which was won by the blue half of Sheffield 2-1 via goals from Chris Waddle and Mark Bright.

Black Country Derby

The final derby game on this list is the Black Country Derby which takes place between the teams from the Black Country region of the West Midlands in West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers, with 11 miles separating the pair.

This rivalry occasionally includes the likes of Walsall too, although with there being such as chasm on the pitch between the Saddlers who now sit in League Two, compared to West Brom and Wolves in the Premier League, they are nearing irrelevance in this contest.

West Brom have the better derby record, as Wolves have won just six of these derbies against the Baggies in 27 years, compared to their neighbours 14. One of the most notable matches was back in February 2012, where a Peter Odemwingie hattrick saw the Baggies run out as 5-1 victors at Molineux. The last time these two sides met was back in January, where a Matheus Pereira brace and Sami Ajayi goal saw Sam Allardyce’s side beat Wolves 3-2 away from home.

The tensions between these two sets of supporters has been forever high, as there have been several riots between opposing fans and between hooligan firms such as Section 5 (West Brom) and the Subway Army (Wolves). Despite losing their last derby, Wolves are undoubtedly the better of the two on the pitch, as the Baggies currently sit in the relegation zone, with this rivalry facing the prospect of taking another break with each side possibly playing in different divisions next season.

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