What Is the Biggest Football Derby in the World?

Ismail Ansar

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What Is the Biggest Football Derby in The World?

There’s no feeling in football quite like a victory in a derby match against an opponent that you absolutely despise. These are the games that give their supporters bragging rights for the rest of the season and give supporters a great day and memories that will last a long time – and derbies can make or break a team’s season.

Derby wins can be the springboard for an upturn in form, or it can be a stepping stone for a team as they chase a league title or go on a cup run. Derbies are some of the most important fixtures in football and there are many factors that go into making a great derby – things such as the quality of the two sides involved, the sheer passion and support from fans and ultras groups of the clubs, and the history between the two clubs.

A derby is defined as a fixture between two clubs in close geographical proximity to each other, with the teams involved generally hailing from the same city. So for this reason, although rivalries such as El Clasico and the North-West rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United are considered some of the biggest and best matches in the world, they don’t meet the criteria for a derby, as both sides are located in different cities from each other. So these will not be in this list for that reason. And while it’s impossible to definitively say which derby is the best and the biggest, we can certainly try…

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Boca Juniors vs River Plate

Known as the Superclasico, the rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate is one of the most intense in not just football-mad South America, but in the world.

The two sides are sworn enemies and the atmosphere in this fixture is one of the best in the football world. The animosity between the two sets of fans is palpable, with many highly notable incidents of fan violence overshadowing the games. The origins of this rivalry, like so many, are steeped in class differences.

Both clubs came from the docks of Buenos Aires, with River Plate being formed in the working-class Buenos Aires dockland neighbourhood of La Boca in 1901 and Boca Juniors were then formed four years later in 1905. But in the mid-20s, River Plate relocated to the more affluent northern area of the city and began splashing the cash to bring in new players, and it is this heavy spending that earned them the nickname Los Millonarios, and further contributed to the idea that River were the club of the upper class, and Boca was the club of the workers.

Watching the Superclasico is considered to be something that every football fan should experience in their lifetime, with the colourful banners and tifos, non-stop singing and flares all contributing to what is an amazing atmosphere.

Further contributing to the daunting atmosphere is Boca’s steep-sided Bombonera stadium in stark contrast to River’s larger, bowl-shaped Monumental stadium, with both stadiums lined with thousands of heavily-armoured riot police on matchdays. One recent incident that shows the sheer hatred between the two is when River fans attacked the Boca team bus before the 2nd leg of the Copa Libertadores final, injuring players, and in an astonishing move that shows how dangerous this game is, the final was relocated to Madrid.

With both sides playing out classics over the years, including that Copa Libertadores final, combined with the extremely passionate fans in the stands, makes this one of the best derbies in world football.

AC Milan vs Inter Milan

There are many derbies in Italian football, but this one is one of the most historic and well-known. The derby between the two Milan clubs, Inter and AC, is also known as the Derby della Madonnina and the origins of this rivalry are not as you would expect.

In December 1899, AC Milan was founded by English ex-pats. Eight years on, however, and there was an internal disagreement regarding the signings of foreign players. Some members were pushing for the signings of foreign players but were met with resistance and the unhappy members split and formed their own club. That club’s name – Inter Milan.

Both sides have matched each other ever since they split, with each Milan side picking up 19 top-flight league titles, and with a handful of European Cups to their name as well along the way. And a big part of these trophies has been the players involved in winning them – icons of the game such as Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Christian Vieri and Franco Baresi.

With the two Milan sides both winning the Scudetto in the last two seasons and possessing many top players, it makes the future for the rivalry look very promising.

Galatasaray vs Fenerbahce

The Intercontinental Derby between Turkish sides Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe is one of the most atmospheric games in European football, and the biggest football game in the country.

Indeed, in 2011 Galatasaray’s ground recorded a noise level of over 130 decibels which at the time, was a Guinness World Record. The name of this derby derives from the fact that Turkey has land in both Asia and Europe, and both sides are situated separately in the two different halves of Istanbul – Fenerbahce in the Asian side, whilst Galatasaray are located on the European side of the city.

Like so many other rivalries, it has its origins in the class divide. Galatasaray was founded by the prestigious Galatasaray High School, which was a place where Istanbul’s wealthy would send their children, whereas on the Asian side of Istanbul, Fenerbahce was created by local workers. But with time, both clubs are considered to be of more equal standing now, with each considered no better or privileged than the other.

And the fact that neither of the two is considered stronger than the other helps as well – when derbies are one-sided it does contribute to the matchup losing some appeal, but the similarity of these two clubs helps to keep this rivalry grounded and keeps people excited for the next game.

Despite being European competition mainstays, these two sides are not of the highest quality, but the passion of the fans and both sides’ involvement in the title race every year does help to make this derby one that is still well regarded.

Galatasaray

Roma vs Lazio

It’s a rivalry with some similarities to the one between the Milan clubs – like Inter and AC, Roma and Lazio also share a stadium, and are the two main teams in their city.

With both clubs resigned to the fact that they will never be able to challenge the traditional big three of Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, the Derby della Capitale is more than just local bragging rights - it’s also about the two clubs fighting for the right to represent the city against the big three who, in contrast to Lazio and Roma, are all located in the north of Italy.

The origins of this rivalry are geography-based, with Benito Mussolini wanting to have just one club to represent Rome against the stronger northern clubs. three old Rome-based clubs all joined together to make AS Roma as we know it today, but Lazio refused and became their own club separate to Roma.

Both sides began sharing the Stadio Olimpico in 1953, with each set of ultras occupying a different area of the stadium - Roma occupy the southern Curva Sud and Lazio the opposing Curva Nord, which represented each set of fans’ beginnings (Lazio were associated with the upper-class region of Parioli in the North and Roma with the more working-class Testaccio in the South).

The class divide and the sharing of the stadium were the main sources of tension between the two clubs, with the rise of each club’s differing political ideologies also adding another layer to this rivalry. This derby is a fascinating viewing and can provide some good games, and the atmosphere that is created by fans also helps to spice this one up.

Red Star Belgrade vs Partizan Belgrade

The Eternal Derby between Serbia’s Red Star and Partizan dates back 75 years and is regarded as one of, if not the most fiercest and most violent derbies in European football.

This rivalry has its roots in politics – Partizan were formed by the Yugoslav Army, whilst Red Star were formed by Yugoslavia’s interior ministry. The two sides are the biggest, the most successful and the most supported clubs in the country, and they provide a match that is more known for what happens off the pitch than on it.

When matches are played, a lot of times the game takes second place, as what happens in the stand dominates the news. Both sets of fans are focused on being as loud, as supportive and as colourful as they can, with banner and flag displays, and flares and fireworks all used to try and create as hostile and daunting an atmosphere as possible.

Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid

The biggest game in Spain’s capital city is played out between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, with the fixture being one of the most played in the history of Spanish football and a fixture that constantly provides those watching with memorable matches.

But there has been huge differences in the history of both clubs, with Real Madrid enjoying much success since the 1950s and establishing themselves as one of the biggest and best clubs in the world.

Atletico enjoyed only sporadic success in contrast to Madrid’s success, with Los Colchoneros only picking up the occasional trophy. But with the arrival of manager Diego Simeone, the rivalry has improved and the matches between the two have started to become more closely contested, with Atletico picking up wins more frequently and starting to have the upper hand.

Simeone has helped Atletico to two Europa League trophies and two La Liga titles since 2011, and has even got Atletico to two Champions League finals. The 2014 final between Real and Atletico was the first-ever derby in a Champions League/European Cup final, and it was one that Atletico were unfortunate to lose.

Two years later in 2016, Atletico once again faced off against their rivals in the final which they again lost. The two rivals have faced off in many important, high-stakes matches that have helped elevate the rivalry to new heights, with an array of great games such as the 2013 Copa del Rey final and the 2018 UEFA Super Cup - two games in which Atletico came out on top both times.

With both sides possessing some of European football’s most talented players, it means that each time these two sides meet up they always provide us with a great game of football.

Celtic vs Rangers

Known as the Old Firm Derby, this is another rivalry that is renowned for the raucous atmosphere that their fans create, but also for the historic foundations the rivalry is based on.

Celtic and Rangers are both based in the Scottish city of Glasgow and are the two most successful and heavily-supported clubs in Scotland. Between them, they have won over 100 league titles in Scotland’s top flight, with the majority of Scottish league campaigns dominated by the two.

In the very early days of this rivalry, there was little to none of the divide that would become a feature of the rivalry in later years, and there was no animosity between the sets of supporters.

But, the opening of a shipyard in the city in 1912 brought Irish political divides to the city, with the shipyard not accepting immigrant Irish Catholic workers. Rangers, whose fans were largely Protestant, were not happy with the increased competition for jobs. The divide pushed Catholics, and Celtic, closer to their Irish origins, with Rangers moving the opposite way.

Rangers continued to be a Protestant and Unionist club, with Celtic becoming more associated with Irish Nationalism. Rangers fans tend to identify more as pro-British, waving Union Jack flags at matches, while Celtic supporters are more commonly seen waving the Irish tricolour. It is a rivalry underpinned by a mix of religion, politics and identity, which gives each clash an aura that further elevates the rivalry.

With many amazing matches over the years and many captivating title races between the two, combined with the passionate fans and the resurgence of Rangers ever since their dissolution in 2012, makes this derby one of the most compelling to watch.

Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos

Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos​ is known as the Derby of The Eternal Enemies, and it is one of European football’s most fierce, yet lesser-known rivalries.

The hatred runs deep, so much so that it in fact extends to the other sports that the two sides play, such as basketball and volleyball. In the past in this fixture, many fights have broken out, there has been chaos in the stands and matches have had to be postponed - it is one of world football’s most interesting yet very dangerous derbies.

Like other European derbies, whilst the quality of football on the pitch is not the highest, the passion of the fans and players when participating in this match more than makes up for the lack of top-quality football. The efforts of players on the pitch does elevate the match to better than what it should be, while in the stands, the displays made by the fans to show their support for their side is mesmerising to watch.

The origin of this rivalry comes from where in Athens the two sides were founded. Whilst Panathinaikos were founded in the city, Olympiakos were founded in the port city of Piraeus. Athens possesses a majority of Greece’s upper-class and ‘elite’, whereas Piraeus was home to people of a poorer, more working-class background.

Arsenal vs Tottenham

The North London Derby is contested between bitter rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, and it is a matchup that has provided spectators with many fantastic games of football.

While other derbies are more one-sided or not as full of quality, this is a fixture that always provides us with goals, great matches and memorable moments. The proper local rivalry began in the early 1900s when Arsenal moved to Highbury, just a short distance away from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane, becoming a rivalry based on geographical distance.

But the rivalry escalated when in 1919, the First Division was to be expanded by two teams. Chelsea and Arsenal were the two teams selected to take the two extra spots, with Arsenal getting their spot at the expense of Tottenham, despite Arsenal being in the Second Division at the time and Tottenham already being in the First Division – this obviously caused great controversy.

Since then, it has been an animosity-filled rivalry, with both sides trying to outdo each other in winning trophies and claiming themselves as London’s best club. Arsenal have been dominant for most of this rivalry picking up 13 league titles and 16 domestic cups, and picking up a win most times that these two faced off against each other.

But, Tottenham did pick up a few trophies along the way and did spring the occasional shock win, and with the decline of Arsenal over the last decade, Tottenham are currently in their strongest position ever in this rivalry. The changing face of this rivalry makes it great, as does the guaranteed amazing football matches that it provides.

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