It’s “just another game” remarked Holland legend Ruud Gullit when he was asked about the famous Tyne-Wear derby, while he was in charge of Premier League side Newcastle United.
How wrong he was as neighboring Sunderland defeated Newcastle 2-1 at St James’ Park in 1999 in a game which shocked the Dutchman because of its ferocity. Gullit soon realized derby day was not just any old fixture in the North East – and he paid for the defeat with his job in the EPL a few days later.
According to Wikipedia football derby matches in the United Kingdom are often “heated affairs” and “the matches and the rivalries they encompass are frequently listed among the best in the sport”. While Wikipedia’s reliability can often be questioned, on this occasion their description of football derbies is spot on.
There are few sporting occasions like derby day in soccer and the clamour for the biggest and most intense rivalry is hotly debated. But whether you’re in Rome watching Lazio v Roma at the Olympic Stadium, in Milan watching AC Milan v Inter, Argentina watching Boca Juniors tackle River Plate or at The Emirates seeing Arsenal play Tottenham the intensity and passion for the game is the overriding factor. The atmosphere on derby day is something to behold. Class, culture, geography and civic pride are usually the driving force for such feelings, but any description of the events cannot do a derby justice. You simply have to attend one and take it all in.
Manchester City v Manchester United
Legendary Man City striker Rodney Marsh, who described the Manchester derby as “completely different and special”, became the darling of the Kippax with the passion and effort he displayed, especially against their rivals United.
“It’s crucial, absolutely crucial, that the players realize just how important playing in a Manchester derby is. I’d only been in Manchester for two or three weeks after joining in March 1972 from Queens Park Rangers when I really understood the importance of the derby from the Man City fans’ point of view,” Marsh told the Guardian last October.
“The Manchester derby is something completely different and special regarding other games I played in,” he added.
It’s hard not to visit Manchester without being posed the question: “Are you a red or a blue.” It’s probably the first thing you will be asked before the conversation can move on to other lesser topics, because football in Manchester is a way of life. It’s not uncommon for households in Manchester to be split over their footballing rivalries. Fathers, aunties and sons will often be seen supporting United with mothers, uncles and daughters flaunting the blue colour of City. That’s not given a second thought until derby day arrives when footballing rivalry for many exudes family ties.
The first meeting between the two teams occurred on 12 November 1881 and was unbelievably described by the Ashton Reporter at the time as “a pleasant game”.
It’s not the adjective that has been used to describe more recent Manchester derbies, but that game finished 3-0 when West Gorton (St. Marks) – who would later become Man City – hosted
Newton Heath – who would later become Manchester United.
The first Football League meeting between the teams came in the 1894–95 season, Newton Heath beating Manchester City 5–2. This century, in the December 1970 derby a tackle by the legendary George Best broke the leg of City player Glyn Pardoe, while more recently in 2001 a long-standing feud between Man Utd’s Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haland resulted in Keane making a knee-high tackle on Haland before getting sent off.
Manchester derbies are not just noted for their aggression and physicality though because goals and plenty of them have been a feature more recently too. In 2009 Michael Owen scored deep into injury time to give United a dramatic 4-3 victory, while United’s 2010/11 victory over City at Old Trafford came courtesy of an iconic winning goal from Wayne Rooney. The England captain’s spectacular bicycle kick firing the hosts to three points as they eventually went on to claim 19th league title.
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Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid made history in Lisbon in May 2014, when they contested the first-ever derby in a Champions League or European Cup final.
Diego Simeone’s Atleti were La Liga hampions for the first time since 1996, while Carlo Ancelotti’s Real, having won the Copa del Rey, were chasing la Decima – an unprecedented 10th European Cup and they landed it, just by scoring in stoppage time to force extra time and then won 4-1 in extra time.
The rivalry between the two capital city clubs has been fiercer than ever in recent seasons due the improvement of Atletico under Simeone and the 2014 final date.
Real’s Santiago Bernabeu is situated alongside the banks and businesses on the upper class Paseo de la Castellana street, while the Vicente Calderón can be found near a brewery, along the Manzanares River. And that pretty much tells the story of the clubs’ fanbases with Real drawing greater support because of their greater resources and success, while Atlético have relatively a more working class fan base from the south of the city.
Inter Milan v AC Milan
The Milan derby is named in honour of one of the City’a most well-known sights, the Virgin Mary statue on the top of the Duomo which is usually called the ‘Madonnina’.
The rivalry is now more about City pride than any religious or cultural differences, although historically AC Milan’s supporters were drawn from the working classes and the trade unions, while Inter fans have tended to be from the more prosperous areas of the city.
Inter, who were formed in 1908 by breaking away from the Milan Cricket and Football Club over a dispute concerning the recruitment of foreign players, have been the more successful of the two rivals in recent years with five consecutive Serie A titles which ended in 2009-10.
Milan, who share the San Siro stadium with Inter, did claim the Scudetto the following season, but both teams have been starved of success ever since due to Juventus’ dominance.
Still the Derby della Madonnina is a sight to behold and as the Telegraph said: “Few experiences in football are as tense or exciting as taking a seat in the Tribuna Est or Ovest on derby night and watching the spectacle of Inter fans in the Curva Nord face off Milan fans in the Curva Sud with flares and beautiful, often profane banners that celebrate their own glory and taunt the opposition.”
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