Football is about the fans. There’s nothing that attracts supporters to the stadium and gets them on their feet like a game against their biggest rivals.
In cities all around the world, the atmosphere changes in the lead up to the big game, often days in advance of kick off. No other games have the same passion, intensity and opportunity for individual and collective glory. Today we look at ten of the best derby games in world football, some globally renowned, with a few lesser known rivalries also making the cut.
FC Barcelona v Real Madrid
El Clasico, perhaps the most famous game of football in the world. It is a derby based in political ideology. Barca, whose motto ‘Mes que un club’ translates as more than a club, represent the people of Catalonia, a region of Spain that wants independence. Real Madrid, the team of the Spanish royal family, represent the establishment. Throw in the fact that whenever they meet the game usually helps determine the destination of another title, and it’s no wonder that games between these two hugely successful clubs get heated.
The intensity of the rivalry can best be portrayed by an incident involving Luis Figo, Real Madrid’s first ‘Galactico’ and Barcelona’s biggest traitor. In 2000, he moved from Catalonia to the capital for a then world record fee of £37 million, the release clause in his contract. Upon his return to the Camp Nou, he was spared corner kick duties by Real, despite being their regular taker, to avoid abuse from the fans who held aloft banners denigrating their former hero – one stating:
“We hate you because we loved you so.”
That was not the end of the matter as far as Barca fans were concerned, and in November 2002 – more than two years since crossing the divide, Figo returned to the Camp Nou once again, and this time he was back on set piece duties. In the second half, when Real were attacking the end occupied by the Barcelona ultras, every corner was greeted with a deluge of missiles, including golf balls, a whiskey bottle, but most shockingly of all, a severed pig’s head.
If such passion wasn’t enough to draw you in, the host of world class players involved, including Ronaldo, Messi, Bale, Suarez, Neymar and James, ought to get any true football fan excited.
River Plate v Boca Juniors
South Americans are known for their football fanaticism, and supporters of Boca Juniors and River Plate are no exception. The two teams contest the Superclasico, the biggest game in Argentine football. The rivalry is rooted in socio-economic differences, with Boca represent the working class section of society, with Boca fans known as Xeneizes (Genoese), as many of their fans came from the local Italian migrant community. River became associated with the higher classes, and as a result earned the nickname Los Millonarios (The Millionaires).
The fans themselves have slightly more insulting names for each other, with Boca calling River supporters gallinas (chickens), implying they lack courage, while River fans refer to their Boca counterparts as los chanchitos (little pigs) or bosteros (manure collectors), alluding to the smell that emanates from the river in the area around their stadium, La Bombonera. Carlos Tevez, now back at Boca, taunted the River fans with a ‘chicken dance’ celebration after scoring in the Copa Libertadores semi-final back in 2004.
Both La Bombonera and River’s El Monumental are said to visibly shake on game day, such is the chanting of the fans, but the match was marred by ugly scenes in May this year, with four River players being hospitalised after Boca fans sprayed pepper spray at the opposing players after they emerged from the tunnel. It was the second leg of a Copa Libertadores knockout tie, and with Boca trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the game was cancelled with River advancing to the next round.