From the frozen pitches in Tampere, Finland to the massive old stadiums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, football leagues have special games few times every season. These are the moments when fans chant louder than usual, players cross the field at higher paces, and pressure reaches its peak. You might think this is the final game where the league champion is decided. No, it’s something better: it’s a derby.
Football, just like any other sport, is a competition, and there is no way to avoid rivalries. While teams play against every other team in championships, some games attract more attention than others. These intense rivalries always become the highlights of the football season. Players work harder than usual to dominate the pitch, and their fans prepare spectacular performances to show support for their favorite team or, more often than not, to mock the rivals.
These rivalries are called “derbies” — games between teams from the same city or region; the term refers to major historical rivalries as well. They are present all over the world and range in popularity. Some derbies, like “El Clásico”, a meeting between Real Madrid and Barcelona, attract millions of fans and immediately fill the front pages of newspapers. Others, like the rivalries between Tirana and Partizani in the Albanian Superliga are not as famous in mass media, but when it comes to the game, they are equally fierce and tense.
Each derby has its own unique and rich history of origin. They are mostly due to teams coming from different parts of a city, like the Intercontinental Derby, which started 110 years ago in Istanbul between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe representing the European and the Asian sides of the city respectively. This rivalry is considered one of the most violent in the entire football history. Both teams’ fans put their efforts into terrifying their opponents by firing flares and torches, playing drums, and chanting slogans. There is even a “Welcome to hell” sign on the entrance doors of the Galatasaray stadium. Almost every derby between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe ends with fans cursing, smashing stadium seats and fighting on the streets.
Others, like the French “Le Classique” between Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille, have appeared due to the social contrasts between their fanbases. The cultural and social differences between the two cities created a confrontation: the south versus the north, the working class port of Marseille versus the rich and cosmopolitan Paris, the province versus the capital — these conflicts make “Le Classique” the most important game in France.
In derbies, team class is not the top priority. The Berlin derby, for example, features Hertha and Union Berlin, teams from the second half of the table. Yet the last game between the teams from West and East Berlin gathered more than 74,000 fans. That derby ended with Hertha managing to avoid defeat by scoring twice, despite trailing 0-2 with less than 20 minutes left to play.
The derby night always becomes the hottest discussion topic before the game. Local newspapers and magazines flood their websites with articles featuring previous game statistics, win probabilities, and speculations on who will be in the starting eleven. As the game begins, it seems that teams play as if trophies are at stake; but in reality, the stakes are even higher — the team’s pride itself is on the line. A humiliating defeat will be remembered for years, and the winning team’s fans would not miss the chance to remind their opponents of that horror game. A popular way to mock rival fans is to upload the game footage to a pornsite, which is what many German fans did after Germany destroyed the Brazilian team with a score of 7-1.
So whenever you hear that there is a derby coming soon — make sure to watch the game, even if you’re not a football fan. No matter what derby it is — a North London bout between Arsenal and Tottenham, or the Two Capitals derby in Russia — every single one of them deserves the special attention they get. While we don’t know how a certain derby will end, we definitely know that it’s not going to be boring. So if you see a derby in the matchday list, be sure to watch it and enjoy the battle on the pitch.