European football provides some spectacular derby matches. Nothing thrills and exhilarates football fans more than seeing their favorite team take the spoils in an intense and fiercely-fought local derby. These games are not just between two local teams; there’s more to it than that, as derby games often provoke the emotional, religious, cultural and historical backgrounds of the two teams. Though the matches between top clubs in a league may be the most-anticipated ones during a season, derby matches are the ones that matter the most to fans of any team as neighbourly bragging rights are at stake.
This is a list of the top 10 best and most-passionate European football derbies, each with a little history and culture of their own. These derby matches assimilate the very nature of football and engender such a spiritual and emotional response from everyone, including the fans and analysts, that these matches are not just another fixture. The players are enthused on the field, the media becomes lively, the managers feel the pressure and fans are overwhelmed with emotions.
To make it clear, a derby is a match between clubs from the same city or state, so popular European matches like Barcelona – Real Madrid, Inter – Juventus, Bayern Munich – Borussia Dortmund or even Liverpool – Manchester United are not included on the list. The focus is more on the rivalry and not really on the trophies won between the two or their international results.
So, here are the top 15 biggest football derby matches across Europe.
15. Benfica vs Sporting Lisbon (Lisbon, Portugal)
Benfica and Sporting Lisbon are two of the most eclectic football teams in Portugal; the two have won 32 and 18 Primeira Liga titles respectively. The match between them, known as Derby de Lisboa (Derby da Capital) is the most important match in Portuguese football. Historically speaking, Sporting fans represented the wealthier societies of the capital city, while Benfica fans used to represent the working classes. The rivalry dates back to 1907 when 8 Benfica players transferred to Sporting in search of better working and living conditions.
14. Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid (Madrid, Spain)
Atletico Madrid, known as the Los Indios (The Indians), are the traditional enemy of Los Blancos (The Whites), Real Madrid. The El Derbi madrileño between the two intensified during the 1970s, when Atletico started bringing several South American players into the team. Today, the derby is contested by the two halves of the Spanish capital, and unlike the Manchester derby or the Milan derby, it has long been heavily influenced politically. Real Madrid have always been seen as the established club, regularly praised, whereas Atletico have been characterized by a sense of rebellion, as a working class club. Statistically speaking, Real has won 85 of a total of 154 matches played between the two; Atletico has won 36 and 33 have ended in draws.
13. Schalke vs Borussia Dortmund (Ruhr, Germany)
Schalke and Dortmund are the long-standing arch-rivals in the Ruhr region of Western Germany. Referred to as the “Revierderby”, the match between the two is arugably the most well-known and widespread rivalry in the Bundesliga. During the 2007-08 season, Dortmund came back from three goals down to earn a deserving 3-3 draw. A passionate fan-base, a history of momentous results, title dream-shattering defeats and goalkeepers with last-minute equalizers, great football overall and electrifying atmosphere inside the stadium with chants, banners and flags; all this makes the Schalke-Dortmund derby one of the best in Europe.
12. Manchester United vs Manchester City (Manchester, England)
The Manchester derby was first contested in 1881 and the derby statistic to date stands as 69 wins for United, 46 wins for City and 50 draws between the two. United have won 20 domestic league titles and 11 FA Cups, while City have won only 3 domestic league titles and 5 FA Cups. With the quality of football the two teams produce in the field, boasting a number of goals, and the fully packed stadium divided in Red and Sky Blue colors, the Manchester derby is one of the most highly-anticipated matches across Europe. The 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford proved to silence the taunts of United last season, as City went on to win their first League title in 44 years. City’s meteoric rise to success in English football will make this derby more and more important in coming years.
11. Spartak Moscow vs CSKA Moscow (Moscow, Russia)
Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow are the two teams with the fiercest rivalry and the most passionate fan-base in not only the capital, but the whole of Russia. The two have won a total of 21 and 19 Russian Premier League/Soviet Top League titles respectively. Spartak are nicknamed The People’s Team whereas CSKA are called the Militarians. The rivalry between the two is relatively recent, having only come forth in the last 20 years. However, the derby game is intense, sometimes even violent, and the stadium’s atmosphere is lit up with banners and flags of the two sides. In recent years, seven out of the 10 games with the highest attendance in the Russian Premier League have been the Spartak-CSKA derbies.
10. Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal (London, England)
The first match played between these two dates back to 1887. Before World War I, the local derby between Tottenham and Arsenal appeared to be a friendly one. But after that, Arsenal were voted into the English First Division, at the expense of Spurs, a long and unforgettable moment for the Tottenham faithful. Since then, the rivalry between the two has sparked and intensified in the name of the “North London Derby”, arguably the most important one in England. Though the two have never met in the final of a championship, they have met quite often in the semi-finals and decisive title matches. Out of the 177 matches played between the two, the Gunners have won 76, Spurs have won 54 and 47 games have ended in a draw. The North London Derby is the fixture that has produced the highest number of goals in the Premier League, with 125 goals scored in 43 competitive matches.
9. Sevilla vs Real Betis (Seville, Spain)
While Real-Barca is unarguably the biggest rivalry in Spanish football, the Seville derby is the most passionate and highly anticipated cross-town showdown. The first match between the two was played in 1915, a match Sevilla won 4-3. The two arch-rivals were founded as Sevilla FC in 1905. But after only two years, following an internal split, the club was divided into two to form a new team called Real Betis. Since then, both have won one La Liga title each. Today, Betis boast 3.3% of Spain’s football fans, a little higher than Sevilla’s 2.3%. The Sevilla-Betis matches have provoked genuine hostility and animosity in recent years. In 2002, a Sevilla fan ran onto the field to confront Betis goalkeeper Toni Prats, and in 2007 Juande Ramos, the then Sevilla manager, was hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd. In a total of 118 Seville derbies played so far, Sevilla has won 53, Betis has won 37 and 28 games have ended in a draw.
8. Dinamo Bucharest vs Steaua Bucharest (Bucharest, Romania)
“The Eternal Derby” between Dinamo Bucharest and Steaua Bucharest started in the communist era and was basically the Police vs the Army. The two are the most successful teams in Romanian football history; Dinamo has won 18 Liga I titles, while Steaua has won 24. With both teams founded in the communist era, the rivalry between them was previously influenced by politicians and generals. During that time, basically all the good players were divided between the two teams, and the Romanian national side was a mix. These days, clashes inside and outside the stadium are very frequent at Dinamo-Steaua matches. In 1997, Dinamo’s fans had set a portion of Steaua’s stadium on fire. The derby is very important for the Romaninan League Championship, and most people from Romania pick one of them to support.
7. Liverpool vs Everton (Liverpool, England)
Liverpool and Everton, the two most successful clubs from the city of Liverpool, have been based at the Goodison Park since 1892. The local derby between the two is popularly known as the Merseyside derby, the longest running top-flight derby in English football, being played since the 1962-63 season. It was traditionally a friendly match as large number of families had both Reds and Blues supporters amongst them. But, the rivalry has intensified since the mid-1980s, and fans are often seen showing off their colors at the wrong end of the stadium. The game stands as the most ill-disciplined and explosive fixture in the Premier League; the Merseyside derby has produced more red cards than any other matches since the inception of Premier League in 1992.
6. AC Milan vs Inter Milan (Milan, Italy)
The Derby della Madonnina is one of the most anticipated and followed derbies in world football. History says Inter broke away from Milan; AC Milan, in 1899, was founded by a group of English immigrants, but then some dissatisfied members cited disapproval at a lack of international member to form a city rival. The first match played between them in October 1908 saw the Rossoneri win 2-1. As the two share the same stadium San Siro, the Milan derby is the only major cross-town derby in club football, fought mainly for glory and prestige. Rivalry is fierce and the result of the match is everything to the supporters. In the 2005 UEFA Champions League quarter-final, with Inter trailing, tempers boiled as Dida, the then Milan goalie, was hit by a flare from the stands and the game was soon abandoned. Statistics show the win record shared by the two is quite close; out of 294 Milan derbies contested so far Milan has the slight upper hand with 110 wins, while Inter has won 107 matches.
5. Olympiakos vs Panathinaikos (Athens, Greece)
Olympiakos and Panathinaikos are widely regarded and termed as the ‘eternal enemies’ of Greek football. The matches between the two are some of the most intense and violent in the stands with riots breaking out on numerous occasions. The great footballing atmosphere created by flags, banners and chants from the passionate fan-base on and off the field makes this one of the most important derbies in not only Europe, but the whole world of football. The rivalry between the two in the city is often sparked up by the political forces present in the clubs’ respective corridors of money and power. History favors Olympiakos as they have won 76 of the 189 derbies played so far; Panathinaikos have won 47 games. In September 2009, the British Daily Mail ranked the Olympiakos-Panathinaikos match as the 9th greatest football rivalry in history.
4. Roma vs Lazio (Rome, Italy)
The Derby della Capitale is one of the most intense and emotional rivalries in world football. It’s not just a game; it’s a footballing war between two clubs who share the Stadio Olimpico stadium. Along with massive crowds and excitement, violence has always been a part of this derby, and the nadir was reached in 1979 as Vincenzo Paparelli, a Lazio fan, died of an emergency flare fired from the Curva Sud. Most recently in March 2004, the derby was cancelled following rumors of a child death leading to riot outside the stadium, stands set on fire, 13 arrests and over 170 injuries. Today, the derby has gone political as well, and one can see many racist banners inside the stadium during the matches. Out of the 174 matches played between the two, Roma has won 64, while Lazio has won 48 of them.
3. Red Star Belgrade vs Partizan Belgrade (Belgrade, Serbia)
The rivalry between Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade started since their founding in 1945. The match between the two is popularly known as The Eternal Derby, a very violent match in which policemen being wounded and some sectors of stadium being set on fire are not something rare. This is probably the most violent match on this list; arrests, injuries and even casualties are very common in every Red Star-Partizan match. Flags, banners and chants fill the air in this one match, and the attendance is usually over 90,000; the highest was 108,000 spectators at the Red Star’s home stadium. The rivalry between the two is not limited to football matches; even basketball and handball matches between them are very intense. Statistically, Red Star has the upper hands with 60 wins out of the 145 matches played to date; Partizan has won 42. In September 2009, the British Daily Mail ranked “The Eternal Derby” as the 4th greatest football rivalry in history.
2. Galatasaray vs Fenerbahce (Istanbul, Turkey)
To the respective fans of these two clubs, the result of Galatasaray-Fenerbahce is more important than their team’s final standings in the Turkish Superleague. The match is a heart-thumping and enthralling derby with sparks bound to fly as these clubs are added to a city, Istanbul, separated by sea straddling Asia and Europe. Historically, Galatasaray faithfuls were amongst the society’s affluent mass, whereas Fenerbahce, located on the Asian bank, were amongst the working class. Fener were seen as the ‘people’s club’, while Gala were jeered for aristocracy. The first Gala-Fener match was played in 1934, a friendly match, but that was just in name as the match was abandoned prior to the start as riots broke out. In September 2009, the British Daily Mail ranked this derby as the 2nd greatest football rivalry of all time, behind Boca Juniors vs River Plate.
1. Celtic vs Rangers (Glasgow, Scotland)
Celtic and Rangers are by miles the two most successful clubs in Scottish football history. The two have shared 98 Scottish League Championships; Rangers with 54 and Celtic with 45. They have played each other 399 times in the Old Firm Derby: Rangers have won 144 matches and 96 ended in draws. Today, the rivalry stands as one of the oldest in the world, and is all about religion, Catholics vs Protestants. With a great enthralling atmosphere, violence is not uncommon in the Old Firm as the game is always full of hate given the religious history of the two. Celtic have the Irish roots and thus represent the Catholic mass, while Rangers seem to represent themselves as more Scottish of protestant faith. The match also differentiates the two in terms of politics and social attitudes, so supporters usually let their feelings get the better of them. The most notable riot was seen in 1980; in the outcome of Celtic’s memorable 1-0 win in the final of the Scottish Cup, over 9,000 fans fought an on-field battle at Hampden.
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