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The history and stories of football derbies

13 Mar 2024

The history and stories of football derbies 

Football derbies are where passion and rivalry meet. Every story, from the matches in Glasgow to the duel between Real Madrid and Barcelona, has left a mark in the hearts of fans. The rivalry between teams can stem from historical events, regional tensions, or other sociocultural factors. Therefore, football derbies are not just about competing on the field, but also about strengthening identification with the team and creating unforgettable moments that shape the rich history of football. 

The Spanish derby El Clásico

El Clásico is among the most prestigious football derbies in the world, featuring clashes between two Spanish giants like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. It takes place at least twice a year in the Spanish league, but both teams can also meet in the Copa del Rey or the UEFA Champions League.

The mutual rivalry is influenced not only by the battle for football dominance but also by history, politics, and a sociocultural phenomenon reflecting Spanish society.

The rivalry caused by Alfredo di Stéfano

The rivalry between the two clubs dates back to the period of the First World War, when after a long silence, Madrid won in the semi-finals of the Spanish Cup. Barcelona vainly objected that a goal for the 4:2 result was offside.

Disputes peaked in 1953, when Madrid and Barcelona simultaneously signed a contract with the Argentine player Alfredo di Stéfano. FIFA resolved the dispute somewhat controversially. It decided that the clubs would loan the player to each other for two years. Barcelona rejected such a solution and gave up the player. Alfredo di Stéfano subsequently won the European Cup five times with Real and became its biggest star in history.

Messi and Ronaldo in modern derbies

In more recent history, the most watched rivals became players Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid). During their tenure, many club records were broken. Over the seasons, they alternated as the top two scorers in La Liga and the Champions League. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot three times and Messi five times. Likewise, Messi won the Ballon d'Or five times and Ronaldo four times. In the nine years of their concurrent tenure at their clubs, they scored a combined total of 922 goals, of which 38 were in El Clásico matches.

As of 2023, Ronaldo holds the title of the all-time top scorer in the UEFA Champions League. Messi, who follows him in second place, boasts the title of La Liga's top scorer with 474 goals. Both players contributed to the dominance of their clubs in Europe. Their era ended in 2018 when Ronaldo left Real Madrid, and Messi injured his hand.

English Northwest Derby

The Northwest Derby ranks among the high-profile rivalries among English professional clubs, FC Liverpool and Manchester United. Players, fans, and media consider the match between these two rivals as the greatest European contest based primarily on the close proximity of two major cities they represent.

Both clubs belong to the most successful English teams in domestic, European, and world competitions, accumulating various accolades.

Historical Reflection

The history of the Northwest Derby dates back to the 19th century when British football was shaped through historical encounters. Their ups and downs have constantly alternated. The direct confrontation occurred in 1962 when Liverpool advanced under the guidance of Bill Shankly. The manager became the founder of the so-called "Boot Room dynasty," the center for planning tactics and team development for Liverpool.

Subsequently, both clubs shared four league titles between 1964-1967.

While Manchester experienced 26 years without major success from 1967, Liverpool enjoyed years in the limelight from 1972 to 1992. The successful career of manager Bill Shankly, who secured eight trophies in fifteen years, was followed by the equally capable Bob Paisley. Over nine seasons, the club accumulated twenty trophies.

Between 1990-2020, the roles were reversed again. Manchester United gained dominance this time with 13 league titles, 23 domestic cups, and five European trophies.

Player rivalry leading to broken legs

The rivalry extended to the players who openly displayed it. Wayne Rooney, a Manchester player from 2004 to 2017, admitted a lifelong hatred for Liverpool. Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, on the other hand, displayed to filmmakers a collection of jerseys he exchanged with rival players. However, he admitted that he would never accept any from Manchester United. Among the most extreme forms of rejection is the gesture of Liverpool defender Neil Ruddock, who broke both legs of Manchester forward Andy Cole in a reserve match. Later, in an interview in his defense, he admitted that he only intended to break one leg.

Italian derby della Madonnina

The Derby della Madonnina is the football city derby between two of Milan's biggest clubs, AC Milan and Inter Milan. The name Madonnina refers to the statue of the Virgin Mary crowning the Milan Cathedral, highlighting the historical and cultural connection between the clubs and the city of Milan.

The city contests take place roughly twice a year through league matches. However, it has also expanded to the Coppa Italia, the Champions League, and the Supercoppa Italiana. All derbies are played at the San Siro stadium, which both clubs consider home.

What happened in history

In the past, there was only the AC Milan club, founded in 1899. Later, several dissatisfied members broke away to found the rival club Internazionale. This began the origins of Italian football rivalry.

The difference between the clubs grew due to social circumstances. Inter Milan was considered the club of Milanese bourgeoisie, who could come to the San Siro stadium on scooters. While AC Milan was mainly supported by the working class, which traveled by public transport. Nowadays, property preferences have shifted to personal or family ones.

Pyrotechnics at the San Siro Stadium

As mentioned, football fever hits the hearts of fans even more strongly when the derby of their favorite clubs takes place. And as everyone knows, actions influenced by emotions do not always align with reason. One such situation, where fans couldn't control their emotions, occurred during the derby in 2004/2005. The match between the Milan city clubs descended into chaos after Inter fans repeatedly threw pyrotechnics onto the San Siro pitch. Referee Markus Merk halted play twice to request an end to the disturbances. However, after goalkeeper Dida was struck, Merk immediately abandoned the match. UEFA awarded AC Milan the victory. The fans' behavior was condemned by both sides and by the European governing body.

Scottish Old Firm derby

The Old Firm Derby is the name for football matches between the two most popular Scottish clubs based in Glasgow, Celtic FC and Glasgow Rangers. They compete for the Scottish League title every season. Their rivalry primarily stems from religion and history, with Celtic being associated with the Catholic Church, while Rangers adhere to the Protestant faith.

Historical overview

The first mutual match took place in ancient history in 1888 as a friendly game, with Celtic defeating Rangers 5-2. Due to the religious differences between the clubs, an unwritten rule prohibiting the recruitment of players of the Catholic faith was in place from the 1930s to the 1990s. However, in 1986, manager Graeme Souness violated it by bringing in player Maurice Johnstone from Celtic.

The Old Firm derby was played in the Scottish Football League competition continuously from 1890 until 2012 when Rangers were removed from the league due to financial reasons. They subsequently returned in the 2016/2017 season.

Until May 2022, 430 derby matches were played, with Rangers narrowly leading with 168 victories compared to Celtic's 161.

As an interesting fact, it's worth mentioning that the Scottish flag is not displayed at the stadium during the matches. Rangers honor the Union Jack, while Celtic honors the Irish flag.

Skull fracture resulting in death

Although derbies are characterized by great emotion and passion among players and fans, serious injuries or deaths are rare. However, on September 5, 1931, during a classic Celtic vs. Rangers match at Ibrox Park Stadium in Glasgow, a tragedy occurred witnessed by 80,000 spectators. John Thompson (Celtic) collided head-on with the knee of Sam English (Rangers), resulting in a skull fracture and a ruptured artery on his right temporal bone. Although most fans believed that Thompson would only suffer a concussion at most, he succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.

Argentine Superclásico derby

The Superclásico is the term for football matches between the two biggest and most popular Argentine clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate, both based in Buenos Aires. Boca Juniors play at La Bombonera, while River Plate play at El Monumental.

According to the media, the Superclásico is one of the best and most passionate derbies in the world.

A glimpse into history

Both football clubs have their roots in La Boca, Buenos Aires. River Plate was founded in 1901, and Boca Juniors in 1905. Social differences existed within these clubs as well, especially after River moved to the wealthier neighborhood of Núñez in 1925. Boca Juniors remained known as a working-class club, with a large portion of its fanbase comprising members of the Italian immigrant community known as Xeneizes.

Before their first official match, Boca Juniors and River Plate played two friendly matches in 1908 and 1912. The first official match took place on August 24, 1913, at Racing Club Stadium, with River winning 2-1.

In the years 2000 and 2001, Boca eliminated River from the Copa Libertadores, winning titles, and reached the final in 2004. In June 2011, River was relegated for the first time to a lower league, only to return in 2012. Subsequently, the tables turned, and River Plate eliminated Boca Juniors in the Copa Sudamericana 2014, Copa Libertadores 2015, Supercopa Argentina 2017, Copa Libertadores 2018, and Copa Libertadores 2019, winning trophies in all matches except the Copa Libertadores 2019.

English Manchester derby

The Manchester derby is a football match between the two most significant football clubs in Manchester, Manchester United and Manchester City. Both clubs play in the prestigious Premier League, boasting rich fan bases, and their clashes always bring tension and anticipation. Manchester United plays their home matches at Old Trafford stadium, while Manchester City plays at the Etihad Stadium.

Window into history

English football clubs from Manchester first clashed in November 1881. The game ended in a 3-0 victory for Manchester United (then known as Newton Heath LYR). At the time, the match didn't play a significant role as both teams were lost among other emerging clubs in Manchester. By the end of the 19th century, they were gaining dominance, joining the Football League in 1892.

The first meeting between the clubs at the highest level of English football took place in December 1906. More frequent encounters occurred a few years after World War II.

In the 1980s, Manchester United's dominance began to rise. They maintained their lead in subsequent seasons until Manchester City defeated them 5-1 in 1989. However, it was their last victory against United for another 13 years.

In the 1990s, United dominated the derby for the entire decade. In the following seasons, victories leading to further league successes were exchanged several times. City even managed to win the league four times out of six seasons until 2020, with United mostly finishing closely in second place. The competitiveness and unpredictability of the derby matches between the clubs continued.

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