Football is filled with rivalries, from engineered hype such as MLS rivalry week to those which border on cultural divides created throughout history. Cynics may say the former exists to boost the interest in soccer betting odds, but there are many genuine rivalries throughout the sport.
Here are ten of the biggest rivalries in football history and a look at why they happened, and what to expect when the teams meet.
El Clásico – Barcelona and Real Madrid
The rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid has less to do with soccer and more to do with politics. It dates back to the 1900s, and although generations have come and gone, the anger from both sides is still raw.
It has some roots in the Spanish Civil War when people chose soccer as a way to show their political alignment, wearing jerseys on non-match days in open rebellion.
Breaking a complex subject down to a few sentences is difficult, and whole books have been written on this topic, but those who supported Barcelona were also supporting the Spanish Republic and wanted a left-leaning elected government. Whereas supporting Madrid meant backing up the Nationalist movement and putting all of Spain under one flag.
The Nationalists won the war and caused mass executions. Shortly after, World War 2 began, and leader Fransisco Franco declared neutrality despite having similar political beliefs to Nazi Germany.
With so much history attached to these teams, the divide between players and fans is still mixed with political opinions.
El Súper Clásico – Chivas and Club América
El Súper Clásico is another rivalry based on politics and culture. Originally the regional matches in the Mexican Primera Division (which we now call Liga MX) were friendly. They weren’t competitive.
However, when Televisa bought América, they poured money into the sport and encouraged competition. Nicknamed Las Águilas due to the new owners from the Azcárraga family, the culture of Mexican soccer was about to change.
Because América had the most money, they could buy the best players. Whereas Chivas believes in finding players from the area and growing them to be expert players. Even today, Chivas will only sign Mexican players.
This meant that América became a rich man’s club for overseas potential, with no connection to Mexican land or culture.
The Old Firm Derby – Celtic and Rangers
The two teams from Glasgow are the richest and most successful teams in Scotland. The rivalry is connected to bragging rights in Glasgow. Or at least that’s the modern version of events.
Originally the Old Firm Derby was based on a religious difference. The Rangers community was mostly Protestant and considered themselves to be native Scots. Before 1986, the team didn’t sign a Catholic player for decades.
Celtic, however, have a community of Catholic players. Their colours match their Irish heritage.
The cultural and religious divide powered this rivalry until 2012. In that year the Rangers experienced a financial collapse.
Some say the rivalry is less heated since, but there are no signs of that on matchday, and if anything has added extra heat to one of the biggest rivalries in football.
The North London Derby – Arsenal and Tottenham
This rivalry started after WW1, when the owner, Sir Henry Norris, used his power and money to move Arsenal into the First Division of English Football, leaving Tottenham behind.
The English Football League opened the competition up for 2 new teams. Moving it to a 22-team-tournament instead of 20.
This meant other teams were able to snap up the opening spot in the First and Second divisions.
Instead of picking the strongest team to move up the ranks, the league asked for the owners to vote. Tottenham should have taken that role, but Sir Norris, with his wealth and power, secured the lucrative First Division spot.
Not to be confused with El Súper Clásico, El Superclásico is the rivalry between River Plate and Boca Juniors. These are Argentina’s most successful clubs and developed their rivalry through finances and the contrast between their two neighbourhoods in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.
Derby Della Madonnina
This rivalry is between Milan and Inter, the biggest teams in the football-mad Italian city.
The Der Klassiker was created simply through competition. Both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are great teams and constantly find themselves matched against each other in the Bundesliga, with Dortmund often considered the only team who can stop Bayern’s dominance.
El Trafico is new and shows a short story between LAFC and LA Galaxy. Their matches seem to always end unexpectedly, creating feelings of bad luck or jubilation, depending on which side you are on.
The Northwest Derby
Any match between Liverpool and Manchester will bring in a global crowd as one of the most high-profile games in world football between England’s two most successful teams.
The Derby of The Eternal Enemies
A dramatic name for these Greek teams. Panathinaikos is a wealthy club while Olympiacos is supported by working-class sports fans. You can expect broken seats and fights in these matches.