Sunday 4 December 2016

What's the fiercest rivalry in English football? Here is the top 20

Jonathan Liew

Published 03/04/2015 | 12:28

Newcastle and Sunderland meet this weekend in one of the fiercest rivalries in English football. Jonathan Liew looks at the top 20 rivalries in football across the water.

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20) Oxford United v Swindon Town

Also known as the "right, you'll do" derby. Two clubs separated by 30 miles, but who have settled into a sort of loveless marriage over the years. By far the most entertaining encounter was in 1982, when a smoke bomb was thrown into the Oxford penalty area from the Swindon end, allowing Swindon to score in the havoc.

19) Hereford United v Shrewsbury Town

One of those fierce local rivalries that nobody really cares about except the two teams involved. Cherishably small-time - a mass brawl in 2010 saw "about 25 police officers" deployed to the scene, which rather brings to mind a scene from Hot Fuzz.

18) Grimsby Town v Lincoln City

It may be a strictly non-league affair these days, but this maritime maul has seen its fair share of bad blood in recent years. In 2005, a Lincoln fan was stabbed near Blundell Park, while in September this year a steward got injuries after being hit by a seat thrown from the crowd.

17) Luton Town v Watford

Luton's tumble through the divisions has taken the spice out of this one, but during the 1980s it was a humdinger. In the 1990s, Watford's signing of former Luton legend Kerry Dixon created a schism amongst the club's fans, who actually ended up fighting each other over the issue during one home game.

16) Brighton and Hove Albion v Crystal Palace

Not the most obvious rivalry, perhaps, but blame Alan Mullery. It was in an FA Cup tie in 1976 that the Brighton manager got a cup of coffee poured over him by a Palace supporter, reacted by making rude signs at the lot of them, and thus was a deep antagonism born.

15) Chester v Wrexham

Oh, yes. According to North Wales Police, this fixture carries a greater hooligan risk than the Manchester derby. It's the derby with everything: Anglo-Welsh antagonism, middle-class against working-class, and a shared history of ruin. Even in the Conference, it's a "bubble fixture", with both sets of fans under heavy police escort.

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14) Everton v Liverpool

Maybe not the "friendly derby" any more, and the Premier League fixture with more red cards than any other, but over the years Everton and Liverpool have shown they have more in common with each other than most rivals. There's a certain respect there, and you sense that the relationship is defined more by irritation than hatred.

13) Portsmouth v Southampton

It's about rival shipping ports, but then again it's not really. For Portsmouth and Southampton fans, hatred of the other is something that just is, passed on from generation to generation. Yet their divergent fortunes have brought hostilities to an indefinite halt, and they can now bond over a shared dislike of Harry Redknapp.

12) Aston Villa v Birmingham City

Alex McLeish got death threats from Birmingham fans after he left them for Villa, which in retrospect was a tad over the top. Birmingham's promotion to the Premier League breathed new fire into this fixture, which has always been at its best when there's a bit of novelty value to it.

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11) Manchester City v Manchester United

In pure footballing terms, undoubtedly the biggest derby in English football. And yet, if we're honest, United didn't really care about City for about 25 years, and are still getting used to it. The globalisation of these two clubs means it's less of a Mancunian affair than ever before. Either way, there's something missing.

10) West Bromwich Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers

It's funny how the Midlands shakes out. Both these clubs hate each other more than they do Villa, probably because they're similar-sized clubs with similar histories. The games tend to be pretty good as well, most notably West Brom's 5-1 win at Molineux that cost Mick McCarthy his job in 2012.

9) Blackburn Rovers v Burnley

You know it's a decent rivalry when the players get involved. David Dunn's description of Burnley fans as "Dingles" in 2009 stirred the pot beautifully. But Burnley fans got their revenge: when Blackburn were relegated a few years later, they hired a plane with the message "In Venky's We Trust".

8) Bristol City v Bristol Rovers

For a city that doesn't really like football enough to support two teams, this one gets surprisingly heated. Though Rovers are in the Conference now, they still play each other occasionally, matches that almost invariably end in a pitch invasion, a line of police horses across the pitch and dawn raids the following morning.

7) Derby County v Nottingham Forest

Not a meeting of opposites, but of kindred spirits, tussling for the same turf. It's why they share so many players and managers, going right back to Brian Clough. And it's a rivalry that players feel as much as the fans. "No disrespect to Derby," Stuart Pearce once said, meaning maximum disrespect to Derby. "But even if they were only club around, I'd rather go on the dole."

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6) Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur

Though nowadays Arsenal and Tottenham fans are basically the same people - middle-class London professionals on six-figure salaries - there is not only real hatred there, but shared destiny. From 1919 to 1971 to 1991 to 2004, it is a rivalry that has shaped many of the key moments in English football. Spurs fans still sing about Sol Campbell, even though he left 13 years ago. That's how much it still means.

5) Ipswich Town v Norwich City

They're 50 miles apart, but then who else is there? The very isolation of the 'Old Farm' derby is its great asset: the sense that in this fenland universe, these are not football teams, but empires, and the only two empires that matter. The atmosphere is never less than scintillating, and now they're rivals for promotion expect it to step up another gear.

4) Millwall v West Ham United

Millwall Athletic and Thames Ironworks were made up of dock workers from opposite sides of the river, competing for the same business. Small wonder it got so spicy. The criminal underworld began to infiltrate the rivalry in the 1960s and 1970s, and the antipathy continues today. The Upton Park riot of 2009, in which a Millwall fan was stabbed, remains one of the worst hooligan outbreaks of recent years.

3) Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday

The world's oldest football rivalry - an 1862 fixture descended, quite naturally, into fisticuffs - and perhaps the fiercest outside the Premier Legaue, one that has showed no signs of abating despite both clubs falling on hard times. Although the hooligan element has been largely controlled in recent years, a deep well of resentment still exists, contributing to an electric atmosphere across the entire city for the whole week.

2) Newcastle United v Sunderland

People say the Tyne-Wear rivalry is really about the English Civil War, when Newcastle remained loyal to the crown and Sunderland sided with parliament. But tell that to the Newcastle fan caught punching a police horse last year. This is not just a tale of two cities, or a football game with riot police attached, but a fixture of real symbolic importance, the sort that defines an entire season, an entire career. A couple of years ago, Steven Taylor got death chants for suggesting that no Sunderland player would get in the Newcastle team. It's that sort of game.

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1) Cardiff City v Swansea City

For some years away fans were banned from this fixture, which gives you some idea of how bad it got. There was the 1988 incident when a bunch of Cardiff fans were chased into the sea outside the Vetch Field - to this day, Swansea fans wear armbands and swimming caps.

Heavy-duty policing has largely taken the violence out of the occasion, but not the seething menace, a swirl of political and cultural and social grievances. And that's before you even get to the football, which in recent years has seen Wales's two big teams engaged in a furious race to the Premier League. It's the perfect rivalry: heartfelt, meaningful and completely off its head.

Telegraph.co.uk

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