Football's biggest derbies

Our writers debate the biggest derbies in English football.

Tom Hardwick
26th November 2018
Image- Wikimedia Commons

Football is a game defined by derbies, those nerve-wracking encounters that see sworn enemies do battle amidst raucous atmospheres. Each person thinks the derby involving their team is the most intense, and that is no different with our writers, who each make the case for a different derby being superior to the rest.

Sheffield United vs Sheffield Wednesday- Tom Hardwick

Let’s face it, if a derby isn’t inter-city, it just isn’t the same. The people of Norwich and Ipswich, Manchester and Liverpool and, dare I say it in a Newcastle Uni newspaper, Newcastle and Sunderland, will rarely mix with one another. The intensity of a derby is increased tenfold when it draws battle lines between husbands and wives, parents and children and the closest of friends, turning loved ones against each other for 180 minutes each season.

This couldn’t be more resonant than in Sheffield, a place its inhabitants often refer to as the biggest village in the country. There is the feeling that everyone knows everyone, and because of this, everyone knows a United or Wednesday fan that they want to euphorically gloat to or hide away from, result depending of course.

Both clubs are essentially dormant giants, teams who have Premier League aspirations that in recent years they have struggled to fulfil, making the Steel City derby a game that can be season-defining. Both sets of players realise this, fighting doggedly to avoid defeat and the lambasting from their fans that would follow suit. Sheffield is full of passionate football fans and each encounter between United and Wednesday is a cauldron or noise (more so at Bramall Lane), with each set of fans determined to out-sing the opponents they so vehemently hate.

This is a derby that brings a city to a standstill, turns love into fervent hate and provides the opportunity for players to become immortalise themselves in Sheffield folklore. In short, if you want to see a derby that is contested as though the lives of both players and fans depend on it, look no further than Sheffield United vs Sheffield Wednesday.

Sunderland vs Newcastle United- Rebecca Johnson

Contrary to fellow Sports Editor Tom Hardwick’s belief, rivalries between cities hold just as much intensity, ferociousness and anxiety as inter-city derbies- the Tyne Wear derby is no different. Arguably one of the most vicious and nastiest matches in the sporting calendar, the Sunderland vs Newcastle is one of the best contests around.

Sunderland vs Newcastle dates back way before the football rivalry. Its roots lie as far back as the English Civil War, when Newcastle sided with the Royalists and Sunderland sided with the Parliamentarians. Furthermore, this intense opposition continued into the Jacobite Risings whereby Newcastle sided with the Hanoverians and Sunderland sided with the Stuarts.

Off the football field, the rivalry between the two cities has seen many an act of violence. Both sets of fans have been responsible for acts of hooliganism down the line, but the most famous set of fights must be after the 2013 derby in Newcastle. After the Mags lost, seas of angry black and white fans trickled into the city and proceeded to smash it up. This horrific incident produced one of the most infamous images in football of a Newcastle fan punching a horse.

The first game between the two mighty cities was in 1883 in an FA Cup match which Sunderland won 2-0. Since then, Sunderland and Newcastle have both won and lost 53 games each when facing each other, and have drawn 49. The last fixture the two teams played against each other was in 2016, which resulted in a 1-1 draw. However, the way things are going at the minute, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams play each other in the Championship next season.

For me, living in a town situated between both cities there is a mixture of footballing allegiance. There’s no knowing for sure who supports which side. Living here has its ups and downs, when Newcastle won that infamous 5-1 victory in 2010, Sunderland fans didn’t hear the end of it. We still don’t hear the end of it now, even though in the following years we went on to win six derbies in a row.

Southampton vs Portsmouth- Jack Dugan

You may hear Premier League pundits claim that when the likes of Bournemouth and Brighton play against Southampton that it’s a “south coast derby”. Don’t believe a word. The loathing, the ferocity, and the true rivalry in the south is between Portsmouth and Southampton.

It is a rivalry often overlooked by those elsewhere in the country, despite the bragging rights between the Portsmouth and Southampton being just as valuable as anyone else. The tale of the two teams is one of shifting fortunes. Ten years ago, Portsmouth were FA cup winners, facing star studded A.C. Milan in the Europa league. Conversely, Southampton were battling to get out of League One. Yet due to financial issues, the south coasts most successful Portsmouth plummeted to League Two as Southampton rose to become a top half Premier League side.

Originating from a divide between the Royal and Merchant Navy, the meeting has always been an heated affair. The rivalry had its hottest period in the 2004/2005 season with Harry Redknapp’s treacherous move from Portsmouth to Southampton. With both teams wrestling with relegation it ensued that Harry “Judas” Redknapp’s return to Portsmouth would not be a low-key affair. The two sides met in April at Fratton Park in a day still regarded as “demolition derby” by the Portsmouth fans. Yakubu put a hattrick past Southampton in a 4-1 victory that catalysed Portsmouth’s escape, keeping them up and sending Southampton down. In fact, the hatred ran so deep that on the final day of the season, with Portsmouth already safe, Pompey fans arrived at the Hawthorns wearing West Brom shirts in hope that they lost to relegate Southampton.

The last meeting between the two sides was a 2-2 draw at St. Mary’s in 2012. A season where Southampton were promoted to the premier league, as Portsmouth continued to tumble. Characteristic of the fixture, it was filled with drama as David Norris scored a last-minute equaliser, volleying from outside the box, etching him deep into Portsmouth folklore. Though it is approaching seven years since Norris’ screamer, fate appears to be changing favour once again on the south coast. With Portsmouth top of League One and Southampton fighting at the bottom of the Premier League, next season the Championship may be home to a fixture filled with bottled up resentment.

Manchester United vs Liverpool- Sesha Subramanian

The biggest fixture in English football.

That is a phrase that many journalists like to use when they describe the games between Liverpool and Manchester United. Between them, the pair have won more than 120 trophies– both major and minor. They have had eras of domestic and European dominance like no other from the country. The rivalry is unique in that they are not from the same city, as rivals usually are, and even though local derbies against Everton and Manchester City matter to fans of the Reds and the Red Devils respectively, nothing is more satisfying than beating the other team down the M62.

The rivalry has its roots far beyond football though with the cities themselves not being big fans of each other. Since the industrial revolution, the two have competed with each other to be the hotshot of the North West. Things came to a head with the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal- which allowed Manchester to supersede Liverpool as the main port in the region - with tensions between labourers in Manchester and dockworkers in Liverpool at an all time high when Liverpool met Newton Heath (Manchester United’s original name at formation) in a play-off game to determine the former’s entry into the First Division.

Since then, the two sides enjoyed many years of success, especially post-World War II. The clubs enjoyed a brief four year period when both sides were on top between 1964 and 1967, both winning two titles each. Liverpool would then go on to enjoy more than 20 years of sustained success winning the league eleven times along with many cup competitions. The cycle would go on to be reversed post-1990 when Manchester United would win 13 league titles and in that process, surpass the Reds as England’s most successful team in history under Sir Alex Ferguson.

The two sides, through a century of rivalry have met 200 times in all competitions with Manchester United having won 80 to Liverpool’s 65 with 55 draws between them. The matches have been characterised by bad blood, frequent altercations, rough tackling, celebrating in front of opposition fans and more recently, accusations of racism. No player has transferred directly from one side to another since Phil Chisnall back in 1964 although players such as Paul Ince and Michael Owen have played for both clubs with spells at other clubs in between.

It may not be an inter-city rivalry, but with all this history, emotion and success packed into one ninety-minute game, Liverpool playing Manchester United is indeed the biggest fixture in English football.

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