Top 16 Fiercest Football Rivalries
The beautiful game can conjure the most extreme feelings and emotions. Every football fan on the globe has a team they love and on the contrary, a team they hate, their rival.
These rivalries are what make football the greatest sport on earth.
1. Liverpool v Manchester United
For a long time both clubs have competed to be the best and most successful club in England, which has led to some fiery encounters.
The rivalry stems from the proximity of the two cities being located only one hour away from each other, which historically created economic and industrial competition.
In recent years, with Manchester United overtaking Liverpool’s long held success, the rivalry has stepped up a level with distasteful chants about the Munich plane crash and Hillsborough disaster frequently being heard from opposition fans.
This rivalry is only destined to intensify with Klopp and Mourinho at the helms next season.
2. Arsenal v Tottenham
The North London derby, like most common rivalries, stems from proximity, 4 miles to be precise. There’s no wonder the fans can’t help stepping on each other’s toes and taking shots at the opposition club.
This is highlighted by St Totteringham’s Day, which celebrates the day Tottenham can no longer finish mathematically above Arsenal in the league, and St Hotspur Day, which honours Tottenham’s FA cup semi-final win over Arsenal in 1991.
Over the past few seasons, with Tottenham increasing their influence as a top Premier League team, the rivalry is reaching boiling point and soon the fixture could decide the league title.
3. Olympique Marseille v Paris St. Germain
Le Classique is the biggest rivalry in France and somewhat new, due to PSG being formed in 1970. This rivalry pits north v south, capital v province, stylish Paris v working class Marseille.
Although the fierce rivalry stems from political and social dimensions rather than proximity, it also comes from the success of both clubs as the two best teams in France.
With PSG recently inheriting vast wealth and becoming hated across France, you can understand Marseille fans begrudging their enemies money and further fuelling the fire.
The fixture has seen many incidents due to fan trouble and rarely does a fixture pass without violence and numerous arrests.
4. Barcelona v Madrid
El Clasico needs no introduction. What is different from many rivalries on this list are the underlying political factors that add to it.
Spanish nationalism v Catalan nationalism – if you’re not aware, Catalonia is an area in northern Spain consisting of four regions of which Barcelona is one.
For a long time the area has looked to leave the rest of Spain. This has caused a lot of tension between the teams.
The rivalry is intensified due to the teams dominating Spanish football and having such big worldwide fan bases.
Recently, the rivalry has been so fiery that the national team have tried to cool it so it doesn’t affect the players called up to represent Spain.
5. Glasgow Rangers v Glasgow Celtic
If I asked you to name Scottish football clubs, you would probably struggle to get more than two. But I bet you got these two.
The Old Firm derby is more than a football rivalry – the matches are a melting pot of two groups of people that don’t see eye to eye on anything.
If you’re unaware of the history, Celtic are catholic, republican, socialist, Irish Scots. On the other hand Rangers are Protestant, loyalist, conservative, British.
It doesn’t help that most seasons the champion is usually one of these two clubs or that they are of course from the same city.
For such a small country with relatively modest football success, to produce such a world renowned and fierce rivalry shows how big this derby is.
6. Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04
The Revierderby pits two teams, both from the Ruhr region in North West Germany, against each other. The miners of Gelsenkirchen against the brewers of Dortmund, separated by only 20 miles.
For over 90 years, these two German football giants have gone toe to toe, each scoring knockouts on various occasions.
What is beautiful about this rivalry is the similarity of the cities, people and history of the clubs, which sees friends, families and colleagues divided by more hate then a Donald Trump rally, for two weekends of the year.
7. Aston Villa v Birmingham
The Second City Derby is another derby that splits households in two. Families can be torn apart by this fierce rivalry where bragging rights will be upheld until the next fixture returns.
Having first played each other 136 years ago, I’m sure you can understand that the history of this fixture grows deep.
Although this fixture has been off the league calendar for a few years due to Birmingham’s championship position, Aston Villa’s recent relegation will be slightly softened by the thought of squaring up to their most hated rival.
8. Newcastle v Sunderland
The Tyne-Wear Derby as it is known in England dates back far beyond the formation of the football clubs.
In fact, cast your mind back to 1642 and the English civil war where initial disagreements began over ‘we hast more fans than thee’… I jest. Rather, over merchant royalist advantages, or more simply put, ‘rich people getting richer’.
Fast forward over 350 years and disagreements continue.
In 1901, riots broke out after 120,000 thousand fans attempted to get into a 30,000 capacity stadium – I don’t know how good your maths is but those numbers don’t work.
Today, the rivalry is as fierce as ever and probably the hardest to claim bragging rights over with tie finally balanced with 53 victories apiece.
9. West Ham v Millwall
For my sins, I was unaware of this rivalry before it was brought to life by the hooligan movie ‘Green Street’, which I’m sure you’ve watched.
To defend my naivety, I point to the fact that in the past 20 years there have only been 7 meetings in all competitions between the two sides.
With both teams renowned for their hooligans, it is no wonder that most games are marred by violence and that Hollywood chose the fixture to be the face of football hooliganism.
The fact that there are so few meetings between the teams seems to simply stoke the fire, rather than douse it.
10. Fluminense v Flamengo
Fla-Flu as it is often shortened to takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Football’s importance in this part of the world ranks somewhere between religion and oxygen.
The rivalry started 100 years ago when unhappy Fluminense players left the club and formed their own. Since then, the rivalry has grown and grown, currently holding the world record football attendance of 194,603 fans in 1963.
The long history of the fixture and the passion of the fans is obvious at the game where flares, smoke grenades and drums are the norm, and outside the ground military and armed police line the streets to subdue the inevitable trouble.
11. Palmeiras v Corinthians
Sao Paulo is the home of the Paulista Derby. Like the Fla-Flu, what makes the derby so fierce is the sheer number of fans that worship football in this part of the world.
This passion often spills over into violence, both on and off the pitch, as crowd trouble and player clashes often become the key talking points of fixtures.
Added tension to the game comes from the fact that both teams have taken part in so many high stakes matches whether it’s in the cup or league.
12. River Plate v Boca Juniors
Superclasico brings together the most successful and popular teams in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In fact, the two clubs have over 70% of the fans in the country between them. I don’t know about you but I call that glory hunting.
Like many rivalries, nicknames and name calling is common – Boca refer to River fans as ‘Chickens’ to which their come back is ‘Little Pigs’. A bit harsh, don’t you think?
The rivalry between fans is second to none. Unfortunately, these passions led to tragedy in 1968 when 71 fans were crushed in an incident blamed on both sets of supports, although no one has been found guilty.
13. AC Milan v Inter Milan
This famous Milanese football fixture is known as the Derby Della Madonnina in honour of the Virgin Mary statue located in Milan.
Originally the same club, but after a bit of an argument they spat the dummy out, split and the feud began.
The fans from the two clubs historically have been different with a working class background at AC and Inter being in a more prosperous area.
Would you share anything with your worst enemy? Apparently here they do, with both clubs calling the San Siro home.
They also don’t mind sharing players, including Ronaldo, Andre Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahmovic. ‘Judas’.
14. Roma v Lazio
Benito Mussolini is known for being a fascist dictator – I’m sure you’ve heard of him, he’s Adolf’s mate. He decided that Rome needed a football team to compete with the northern teams (see above).
He tried to merge the four existing clubs but Lazio resisted and thus Roma were formed from the remaining three.
There must be a lack of space in Italy because these teams also share a stadium, the Stadio Olimpico.
The brilliant football and passionate fans that are common between the two clubs have been marred numerous times in the past. Various violent incidents in the stadium in addition to common racism in the stands often pollute post match reports.
15. Olympiakos v Panathinaikos
You will have noticed that many of these rivalries have their own nickname. This one is my favourites: ‘Derby of the eternal adversaries’ or ‘Mother of all battles’. You just know it’s going to be fierce!
Athens itself has fantastic history and many stories of ancient battles; the football teams are no different.
The rivalry stems from the higher class fans of Panathinaikos and the working class fans of Olympiakos who often claimed social and political unfairness – I think most of us will claim some of that.
With many of the biggest derby games, fan violence and hooliganism are never very far away.
16. Ajax v Feyenoord
De Klassieker is the Dutch version of the classic football rivalry. The rivalry stems from the ‘Artists’ of Amsterdam’ v the ‘Workers’ of Rotterdam and comes from both their successes and their close proximity.
Both clubs have experienced great success in their histories including four European cup wins between them in the 1970s.
However, throughout the history of the fixture there has always been fan violence which came to a head in 1997 in what has been called the Battle of Beverwijk.
The battle was basically a huge fight on a motorway between the rival clubs fans and resulted in the death of a supporter. As a result, the Dutch government made reforms to combat the escalating football violence problem.
It’s Only Football
Well that’s the lot. I’m sure you have your own view on the fiercest rivalry in football.
But remember, “it’s only football”… said no one, ever.