Every league needs rivalries to stand out from the average game. These matches are what fans look forward to at the release of the fixtures at the beginning of the campaign They are the highlight of a season, as it is more than just a game at stake, it’s bragging rights. Down through the years, the Premier League has seen some fierce rivalries. Rivalries that split families and friends. But how did they all start and just how much do they mean?
Football rivalries are what makes the sport so unique and add an extra dimension to the games and the league. These rivalries consist of history, brawls, feuds, and genuine competitiveness. The more hatred that these teams have towards each other, the better the rivalry. Look at some of the biggest rivalries in world football; Celtic v Rangers, River Plate v Boca Juniors, Real Madrid v Barcelona and Inter v Milan, to name a few. These games are bigger than the sport itself. They mean more than just winning a football match. If one team loses, you know you are in for a rough few days ahead. The braggings rights that come with matches like this are incomparable and are what make the sport what it is. The fans are up for these games like no other and create a truly mesmerising atmosphere. England has more rivalries than any other country, but where did they start?
To trace back to where rivalries began, you need to take a look at the geographical stance of clubs which is a clear indicator of the competitiveness in that area. Most of the major rivalries across the world are all local derbies; teams from the same city or region fighting it out for the top spot. No team wants to be the second-best in their area; they want to be first. Even if teams aren’t from the same town, their stance in the league table will form new rivalries. English football throughout the years has seen more rivalries than any other country, which is what makes it so special. Almost every town and city in England has a football team that comes with a large following. There are rivalries from the top leagues down to the lower divisions due to the support that each club has. Small local derbies that most people wouldn’t even know about are held in the same regard as the ‘El Clásico’ in that area. It is hard to find more passionate fans than football fans, which is what makes this sport so unique. Let’s take a look at the biggest rivalries the Premier League has seen and what kicked them off.
Manchester United v Liverpool
The biggest rivalry in English football has and always will be between England’s two most successful clubs; Liverpool and Manchester United. This rivalry has spanned across decades that can be traced back to the 19th century. It is a rivalry between the two cities that started over economic and industrial differences. Liverpool was England’s main port at this time and so charged the city of Manchester incredible taxes for access to the sea. Manchester then built their canal that would go through Liverpool to give them the feeling of superiority over them. This is why there is a boat on the United and Manchester City crests. This was where the rivalry began between the two cities. Although their first match against each other was played in 1894, their footballing rivalry didn’t take off until the 1960s.
Liverpool took hold of English football in the 1960s with the introduction of Bill Shankly that would lead to almost two decades of dominance. Once Matt Busby departed Man United, they struggled during this period and didn’t redeem themselves until Sir Alex Ferguson’s appointment in 1986. This was a turning point in the future of both clubs that no one saw coming. Liverpool’s success dried up, and Manchester United’s took off for the next 30 years. The competitiveness to be the best club in England was a driving factor in the hatred between the two clubs. Although both clubs have their local derby, due to Everton and Man City’s (until recently) struggles, this match is given the greater importance.
No United fan wants to see Liverpool be successful and no Liverpool fan wants to see United be successful. It is a rivalry like no other in English football. No matter what team is facing both clubs, rival fans will cheer on the opposition. To go from one of these clubs to the other is seen as sinful and unheard of. No player since Phil Chisnall in 1964 has been transferred directly between the clubs, as it was this period saw the beginning of their rivalry. Michael Owen and Paul Ince are the only two players to have played for both clubs in the Premier League era, a grudge that is still held against them into their retirement. The matches between the two have been feisty and electric throughout the years. Fans even have their chants for one another. It is the biggest rivalry in English football and up there with the best in the world.
Arsenal v Tottenham
The North London derby is one of the oldest and fiercest derbies in England. The battle for supremacy in North London has been long-standing between Tottenham and Arsenal. The first recalled match between the two clubs can be dated back to 1887. It wasn’t until Arsenal’s move to Highbury in North London just four miles away in 1913 that set the rivalry between the clubs alight. This was a move that was opposed by Tottenham which now saw Arsenal become their closest rivals.
Further fuel was added to the rivalry in 1919 when the league was to be expanded by two clubs via a vote. Chelsea and Tottenham were the favourites to get the nod with Chelsea in 19th getting the first spot. Tottenham who were in 20th position lost the vote to Arsenal who only finished fifth in the second division. They lost their place in the first division and were replaced by their rivals. This infuriated all involved with the club and thus began the rivalry.
There have been a total of 199 games played between the two clubs with Arsenal coming out on top with 82 wins. The only season since the 1950s where the two teams were not in the same division was 1977-78. Arsenal have always had bragging rights in this fixture due to their success on the trophy front. Gloating between both sets of fans is something that we are used to seeing at these matches, no matter the occasion. It is never a friendly encounter between the two clubs, as both desperately want to beat the other. In 2017 Spurs finally broke a 22-year spell of finishing below Arsenal in the league. Only eight players have played for both clubs in North London derby history, with Jimmy Robertson and Emmanuel Adebayor the only players to have scored for both in the derby. It is a bold move to make, which we have not seen in quite some time. North London is red for now, but don’t tell that to a Spurs fan.
Newcastle v Sunderland
This famous rivalry is classed as the “Tyne-Wear derby.” It is one of English football’s fiercest rivalries, with 11 miles separating them in the North-East of England. It has been an area in decline for quite some time with the loss and closure of steelworks, shipyards and docks, leading to a rise in unemployment. One thing that they didn’t lose is their passion for football, and they are known nationally as some of the most loyal and passionate fans in England. The rivalry between both cities traces back to the 17th Century when Royalist forces were pitted against Parliamentarian ones. This split both cities as Newcastle took to the Royalists and Sunderland were pro-Parliamentarian. They would always find themselves on opposite sides when it came to politics. This opposing of one another would be taken into football.
The first match between the two clubs was in 1888, and since then both clubs are split for bragging rights with both having 53 victories apiece and 50 draws. It is one of the most intense affairs as it is a rivalry that splits both families and friends in the area. They haven’t met each other since 2016, but no doubt fans will be chomping at the bit to face their bitter rivals again. There have been multiple occasions of outbreaks and violence occurring at these games due to the nature of the fixture and the passion and hatred involved. They are not clubs that are often associated with success in recent history, although Sunderland still holds the bragging rights with six league titles to Newcastle’s four. It is a rivalry that is missed in the Premier League, and we look forward to seeing it one day again.
Manchester City v Manchester United
The Manchester derby needs no introduction as it is one of the most famous derbies in football. The history of both these clubs is genuinely unique, and their first meeting against each other was in 1881, except they went under different names at this time. United were known as Newtown Heath, while City went by St.Mark’s (West Gorton). The grounds are separated by 4 miles, and it is another example of where families are split in support of the two clubs. The rivalry was not as hostile back then as it was just seen as two local clubs making their way in the English game, but that has recently changed.
United have always been the dominant team in this fixture and therefore been the dominant team in Manchester. It wasn’t until the 2010s that Man City began to challenge in this fixture to become more than just the “noisy neighbours” that Alex Ferguson once coined them. The fixtures became closer and closer as City grew more potent by the year. Their most famous triumph over their rivals came when they dramatically sealed their first league title. Sergio Aguero’s last-minute goal pipped United to the title and gave City their first taste of league success in 44 years. This was to be the turning point for the blue side of Manchester, as since then they have only grown stronger. The rivalry stepped up a notch as it was now United’s turn to watch City win the silverware. This derby is more significant now than ever with City finally being respected as a real rival in the sense of challenging for trophies, which they weren’t for so long. Pep Guardiola has taken this team to the next level, and are currently miles ahead of United following Ferguson’s departure. What colour is Manchester now then?
Liverpool v Everton
The rivalry between Liverpool and Everton goes way beyond just football. Goodison Park and Anfield are only a mile apart, on either side of Stanley Park. The support for both these clubs divides families, friends and every other social aspect in the city. It is the longest-running top-flight derby in England that has seen both teams face each other every season since 1962. The first meeting between the clubs was in 1894, and they have met each other 233 times since. While it was traditionally referred to as the “friendly derby,” that name would soon change come the 1980s.
The glory days for both clubs in the 1980s saw their rivalry intensify like never before. They were both battling for league titles and cups, and their matches against each other held great importance to this success. It is a derby match that has seen more red cards than any other game. Anfield was the original home of Everton before several board members left to create another club that would become Liverpool FC. Both clubs took the short trip across Stanley Park to swap stadiums, and the rest is history. The city of Liverpool is statistically the most successful in England. Both clubs have had their fair share of success, but Everton have always been in the shadow of their neighbours when it comes down to it. With Liverpool’s recent triumphs in both England and Europe, they are breaking further away from their rivals and leaving this fixture to be a bragging rights affair more than anything else.
Arsenal v Manchester United
Two of the biggest clubs in English football at separate ends of the country produced one of the greatest unexpected rivalries the Premier League has ever seen. The first meeting between the two clubs was back in 1894. While they were almost always in the same division since 1919, it wasn’t really until the 1990s that the rivalry truly ignited. With Arsène Wenger taking over Arsenal and Alex Ferguson at United, it was a battle that would push both managers to become the best the game has ever seen. Confrontations on the pitch were something that became common in this fixture. Each game was more anticipated than the last with both clubs going for domestic success season after season. There has been a total of 233 meetings between the clubs, but their matches between 1996-2005 were seen as truly iconic.
Both clubs vied for domestic trophies and were almost unchallenged by other clubs. It was a two-horse race with both managers wanting to win at all costs. The rivalry only heated up at the turn of the millennium with incidents like tunnel bust-ups and on-field brawls becoming a part of this fixture. The legendary battles between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira had everyone looking forward to this game and are still talked about to this day. Arsenal’s iconic invincibles season gave their fans the bragging rights for a time. This unbeaten run was eventually ended by United which only added to the already intense rivalry. Both clubs underwent a transition from 2005 onwards as José Mourinho’s Chelsea ended their dominance in the league. It is a fixture that still whets the appetite to this day.
These are the greatest rivalries that the Premier League has seen down through the years. It is an entirely different atmosphere as form goes out of the window. It doesn’t matter how far apart you are in the table; this is a grudge match and always has been. No team wants to lose bragging rights.
While some of these rivalries have lost their bite and flare in recent years, they are still as important as ever. One new rivalry that is taking English football by storm is Liverpool v Manchester City. These teams are now the two most dominant in English football as they sweep up both domestically and in Europe. They are classes ahead of the chasing pack, and it looks like it may be that way for some time. This rivalry is getting bigger and better and who knows, in ten years time it might go down as one of the best the league has seen.