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In this post, we will check out the top 10 biggest rivalries in football.
Football, the beautiful game, is not just about goals and glory; it’s also about intense rivalries that ignite passion and fuel fierce competition on the pitch.
In football, some rivalries transcend the sport itself, drawing in fans from all corners of the globe. These rivalries are steeped in history, culture, and a burning desire to outdo the opposition.
From heated clashes on the field to memorable moments etched in the annals of the sport, these rivalries are the lifeblood of football.
In this article, we’ll look closer at the top 10 biggest rivalries in football, where emotions run high, and every match is a battle for supremacy. So, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to delve into the world of football’s most epic showdowns.
Table of contents
What Creates a Good Rivalry?
A good rivalry in sports is born from a potent mix of history, competition, and intense emotions. It’s the clash of two teams with a storied past, battling relentlessly to prove their superiority.
These rivalries are stoked by close matches, disputed titles, and memorable moments that etch themselves into the collective memory of fans. Whether it’s AC Milan vs. Inter Milan or Barcelona vs. Real Madrid in soccer, these matchups ignite passion and draw spectators in like a magnet.
They’re fueled by the desire to triumph over a bitter adversary, creating an electric atmosphere that keeps fans coming back for more. Ultimately, the drama, tension, and sheer unpredictability of these rivalries make them a captivating spectacle for sports enthusiasts worldwide.
Top 10 Biggest Rivalries In Football
10 The Old Firm Derby
The Old Firm Derby, featuring Celtic and Rangers, is undeniably one of football’s top 10 greatest rivalries. Originating in 1888, it has witnessed 437 fiery encounters, extending far beyond the pitch.
This clash carries profound themes of national identity, politics, and religion, making it an integral part of Scottish culture. These matches, worth £120 million to Scotland’s economy, are hotly contested and keenly anticipated, not just for their footballing prowess but also for their broader social and political significance.
For some, it transcends sport, serving as a platform for religious and political expressions, with ramifications felt not only in Scotland but also in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
This fervent rivalry between Celtic and Rangers, two of Scotland’s most successful clubs with a combined 75 Scottish Cups and 108 Scottish Premier League titles, is deeply rooted in history and tradition.
It’s a complex battle, both on and off the pitch, intertwined with political and religious undertones, making it one of the most exciting derbies globally.
The Old Firm Derby’s influence has even stretched to other countries, with rivalries like Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb drawing inspiration from it, often leading to intense confrontations.
However, when it comes to the oldest international fixture, England versus Scotland takes the spotlight, having faced each other 112 times since their historic 1872 encounter. The Old Firm Derby is number 10 in our list of most intense football derbies.
9 The Merseyside Derby
The Merseyside Derby, a fierce football rivalry between Liverpool and Everton, is a cornerstone of English football history. These two clubs, whose home grounds are separated by just a mile, have clashed for over a century, with their first showdown in 1894.
This fixture has been played a remarkable 291 times, making it the most frequently contested top-flight derby in English football. It’s a rivalry that possesses the unique ability to both divide a city and exemplify unity and respect among fans.
What sets the Merseyside Derby apart is the extraordinary relationship between the supporters. Despite the intense competition on the pitch, there exists a mutual respect that transcends the game.
Unlike many other rivalries, there are no political, social, or religious divides between the two clubs or their fans. This foundation of respect forms the core of what makes this rivalry truly distinctive.
The Merseyside Derby has etched itself into English football’s annals with unforgettable moments and iconic players like Steven Gerrard, Dixie Dean, and Ian Rush.
This fixture has also witnessed significant victories, with Liverpool prevailing 123 times and Everton 83 times. Undoubtedly, the Merseyside Derby ranks among the top 10 greatest football rivalries, promising to continue captivating football enthusiasts worldwide for years to come.
8 El Derbi Madrileño
The Madrid derby, known as El Derbi Madrileño, is undeniably one of football’s top 10 greatest rivalries. This fierce clash unfolds between two iconic clubs from the Spanish capital, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.
Rooted in the early 20th century, the rivalry’s origins saw Real Madrid’s relentless pursuit of dominance in Madrid, absorbing rival clubs through mergers and buying the best players with their substantial financial backing.
Over the years, this contest has expanded to encompass every match between the two sides, including UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey encounters.
Regarded as one of the premier city derbies in the world, the Madrid derby has even earned Madrid the title of the European capital of football.
Of the 226 El Derbi Madrileño’s played across all competitions, Real Madrid has claimed victory in 115, with Atlético Madrid managing 58 wins, just two short of the number of draws between them. This rivalry is synonymous with fervent fans, an electric atmosphere, and high-stakes showdowns.
Beyond being a local clash, El Derbi Madrileño is a clash of giants in global football. It has been fueled by the remarkable success of both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, with numerous domestic and international titles to their names.
The two clubs have notably crossed paths in two dramatic Champions League finals, both won by Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016. In conclusion, El Derbi Madrileño stands as a historic and fiercely competitive rivalry between two of the world’s biggest football clubs, a spectacle known for its passionate fans, intense ambiance, and high-stakes drama. For any football enthusiast, the Madrid derby is a must-watch event.
7 The North London Derby
The North London Derby, featuring Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur, secures its place among the top 10 greatest rivalries in football history.
While the two clubs first crossed paths in 1887, the true rivalry ignited in 1913 when Arsenal relocated to North London from Woolwich, south of the River Thames. This geographical shift stirred Tottenham fans’ ire, and six years later, a fierce rivalry took hold as both teams vied for the coveted spot in the first division.
Rooted in politics, Arsenal’s move to Highbury encroached upon what Tottenham considered their territory. The First World War era saw regular clashes between the two sides in local competitions, cementing an enduring rivalry.
Today, the North London Derby is renowned as one of the most intense derbies globally, characterized by the unrelenting desire of each team to outshine the other.
Remarkably, this rivalry is not marred by sectarianism, thanks to London’s diverse population. Instead, it thrives on the fierce competition, elevating hostilities to new heights.
The balance of power in North London has remained delicate, with Arsenal typically holding the upper hand, although occasional signs of a shift in favor of Spurs have emerged.
The North London Derby consistently delivers exceptional football, showcasing both teams at their best (and occasionally their worst). While it may not be the fiercest rivalry in world football, it undoubtedly contends for the most entertaining.
Recent years have witnessed epic battles, with Arsenal and Tottenham both upholding rich traditions and a commitment to captivating football.
6 Der Klassiker
Der Klassiker, the renowned football rivalry between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, undoubtedly earns its place among the top 10 greatest rivalries in the sport’s history.
These two German giants have collectively claimed a staggering 26 out of 30 Bundesliga titles as of the 2022-23 season, underscoring their dominance.
While the inaugural match occurred in 1965, it wasn’t until the 1990s that this fixture evolved into a genuine rivalry, with Dortmund securing their first Bundesliga title and challenging Bayern’s domestic hegemony.
Der Klassiker stands as one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in any Bundesliga season, occupying a prominent position in German football.
This rivalry shares its moniker with the Clásicos found across Europe and South America, highlighting its global significance. These matchups often prove pivotal in the title race, drawing colossal and vocal crowds to witness the intense clashes.
Over the years, the rivalry between these two teams has intensified, fueled by player transfers that have deepened the bitterness. Bayern’s habit of poaching Dortmund’s top talents has left a lasting mark, further stoking the flames of this fierce contest.
In conclusion, Der Klassiker is a heated rivalry between two of German football’s most successful clubs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. It ranks among the top 10 greatest football rivalries, known for passionate fans and high-stakes showdowns, with player transfers adding a layer of bitterness to an already fiery rivalry.
5 Derby d’Italia
The Derby d’Italia, a storied football rivalry between F.C. Internazionale de Milano and Juventus F.C., ranks among the world’s most renowned and recognized football clashes.
Coined in 1967 by an influential Italian sports journalist, the name aptly captured the essence of a rivalry pitting Inter, then the most successful Italian team internationally, against Juventus, the reigning local powerhouse.
These clubs hail from Northern Italy’s two largest cities, with fans spread throughout the nation, boasting numerous fan clubs in Lombardy for Juventus and in Piedmont for Inter, including both cities themselves.
The Derby d’Italia has consistently delivered fiercely contested matches, featuring two of Serie A’s strongest teams. The showdown between Juventus and Inter stands as one of Italy’s most intense intercity clashes, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s but reaching a fever pitch, especially after the Calciopoli scandal, which saw Juventus stripped of their 2005-06 league title in favor of Inter.
In the world of sports, rivalry games always command attention, drawing both neutral spectators and passionate fans. The most prominent Italian football rivalries are eagerly watched by viewers of all stripes, as these encounters often produce the season’s most thrilling moments.
In some instances, these rivalries even determine the league title winner for a given year. While the list of the top 10 biggest rivalries in Italian football may not have a specific ranking, each rivalry holds immense importance to the respective fan base, collectively making them the most significant rivalries in Italy.
4 The Manchester Derby
The Manchester Derby, a football clash between Manchester United and Manchester City, traces its roots back to 1881. Today, it stands as one of the most significant derbies in English football, transcending geographical boundaries to become a highly anticipated spectacle in the world of sports.
With 190 matches played in all competitions, United has secured 78 victories, City 59, and 53 ending in draws. In recent times, the Manchester Derby has gained heightened importance throughout England, largely due to Manchester City’s newfound financial prowess.
One unforgettable moment came in 2011 when City’s resounding 6-1 victory over United left an indelible mark on the rivalry’s history. The term “noisy neighbors” aptly describes City’s role as a constant thorn in Manchester United’s side, drawing fervent supporters to these captivating encounters.
While the Manchester Derby may not boast the age or historical significance of some English football rivalries, it undeniably holds unrivaled contemporary importance.
It even surpasses matches between other local football rivals, such as Everton and Manchester City, in terms of fan enthusiasm.
The North West Derby is a testament to the unrelenting spirit of English football, consistently delivering thrilling contests. Overall, the Manchester Derby takes its rightful place among the Greatest football derbies.
3 The North West Derby
The North West Derby, an iconic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United, undeniably earns its place among the top 10 greatest rivalries in football history.
This historic rivalry, initiated in 1894, stands as one of the oldest and most enduring in the sport. Beyond the realm of football, it embodies the deep-seated history of both cities, a narrative played out on the hallowed football pitch every time these storied clubs collide.
Situated a mere 50 kilometers apart, Liverpool and Manchester have long been industrial and economic competitors, lending an extra layer of intensity to this rivalry.
These two footballing giants, boasting a staggering 116 trophies between them, dominate English football’s history. Even if they haven’t been direct Premier League rivals in recent decades, when they face off, historical context takes precedence.
The North West Derby is a fixture fervently awaited by fans, transcending the confines of a league. It holds a revered status among supporters, surpassing even matches involving local rivals like Everton and Manchester City.
For those involved, this clash is undoubtedly the highlight of the season, a testament to the relentless passion of English football. Beyond the realm of sport, the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United serves as a profound reflection of the history and culture of these two remarkable cities.
2 Derby della Madonnina
The Derby della Madonnina, more commonly known as the Milan Derby, is a fiercely contested football match between two storied Milanese clubs, Inter Milan and AC Milan.
This iconic rivalry has been a staple of Italian football since the inception of the Divisione Nazionale in the 1926–27 season. The name ‘Derby della Madonnina’ was inspired by the statue of the Virgin Mary atop the Duomo, often referred to as the Madonnina, adding a touch of local significance to the rivalry.
The first derby match took place in 1908 during the final of the Chiasso Cup in Switzerland, with AC Milan emerging victorious.
Widely regarded as one of the premier rivalries in European football, the Derby della Madonnina is closely followed by fans worldwide. Both Inter and AC Milan share a common goal—to assert themselves as the premier club in Milan.
The origins of this rivalry can be traced back to a social divide among supporters, with Inter attracting the lower class and AC Milan drawing the working class. Despite the fierce competition, this matchup is characterized by a relatively civil atmosphere compared to some other heated derbies.
The Derby della Madonnina rightfully claims its place among the top 10 greatest football rivalries, epitomizing Italian soccer’s iconic moments.
It ranks among the top three most prolific derbies globally, showcasing a unique fan dynamic. Not far behind the renowned El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona in terms of global significance, the Milan Derby’s history and passionate following divide the city of Milan into two distinct colors, resonating with millions of fans worldwide.
1 El Clásico
El Clásico, the storied football rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, stands as one of the most iconic clashes in the world of sports.
This intense rivalry, often hailed as one of football’s greatest, transcends the boundaries of the sport itself. Its roots trace back to the Spanish Civil War, a period that ignited a strong sense of nationalism in Catalonia and fostered a siege mentality in the club and region toward the central powers in Madrid. The oppressive Francoist regime’s treatment of Catalonia only served to further intensify the fierce rivalry between the two clubs.
On the pitch, El Clásico has delivered explosive encounters, characterized by thrilling, top-quality football. Memorable moments include Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory at Camp Nou in the 2002 Champions League semi-final and Barcelona’s 3-0 triumph at the Bernabeu in November 2005.
Beyond the realm of football, El Clásico encompasses history, regionalism, culture, and politics. Barcelona proudly represents Catalan nationalism, particularly during the Franco era, while Real Madrid is viewed as the club of the Spanish establishment, with its royal connections.
El Clásico’s status as one of the world’s premier rivalries is not solely due to its tumultuous history but also because both teams are titans in the football world.
Real Madrid boasts 35 Spanish titles, while Barcelona has secured 27, leaving all other teams far behind. This spectacle has consistently featured some of the sport’s greatest players, including Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Johan Cruyff, and Ronaldinho.
Today, El Clásico remains the most eagerly anticipated fixture in the football calendar, serving as a clash of identities, both in sporting and political contexts.
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