Celtic vs. Ranger. Boca Juniors vs. River Plate. manchester united vs manchester city. Whether it’s bragging at school, work, or family, nothing gets soccer fans off their game like a clash with their fiercest rivals, also known as a “derby.”
but how do we define derbies? can matches between united and liverpool really be considered a derby when they come from different cities, simply because they have been in direct competition with each other for as long as football has been played? and why is it called “derby” anyway?
Reading: What does derby mean in football
what is a derby in football/soccer?
Strictly speaking, many define a derby as a match between two clubs that are very close geographically. however, since there is some debate as to whether games like united vs liverpool could be called ‘derbies’ given their staunch opposition to each other historically, perhaps this explains why ‘derby’ is often tagged with the prefix ‘local’ before today in day.
if we were to apply this logic, then the aforementioned trio would be derbies, because celtic and rangers hail from glasgow, boca junior and river plater are based in buenos aires, and united and city, obviously. both hail from manchester.
in the same way, then, everton vs liverpool is a derby, because they are both football clubs based in liverpool, but manchester united vs liverpool is not. some may argue that it could be given they are both based in the north west of england, but if we’re coining the term ‘north west derby’ now then you could essentially put stockport vs southport or bolton vs preston under the same umbrella.
There is, of course, a “north-east” derby between Newcastle and Sunderland (also known as the Tyne-Wear derby), but then again, they are both single-club towns, only 12 miles apart. not exactly the same.
Is ‘El Clasico’ a Derby?
although they are tough rivals and the matches between the two are the most prestigious fixtures in spanish football, the ‘clásico’ between real madrid and barcelona is not considered a ‘derby’ as the teams are not in the same locality.
You may hate the fans of other clubs further away more than the closer ones, but that doesn’t make games against them derbies. you get the idea.
However, Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid is a Madrid derby, and Barcelona vs Espanyol is a Barcelona/Catalonia derby (or Barceloni derby, as it is also known).
why is a derby called a ‘derby’?
The phrase “derby” is believed to come from the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. since the 12th century, two teams from opposite sides of ashbourne have been playing a game called the royal shrovetide football match (also known as ‘hugball’) between the ‘higher’ and the ‘lower’, those from opposite sides of the river that runs through the city.
This ‘us-and-them’ mentality may go some way to explaining how we view derbies in football today. In theory, the players came from the two opposing parishes, All Saints’ and St Peter’s, but in practice the game was a free-for-all with as many as 1,000 players.
Whoever gets a painted leather ball into the opponent’s goal, fair or unfair, wins. the targets, at the nuns’ mill to the north and the gallows to the south, are three miles apart and one of the few rules is that “unnecessary” violence is frowned upon. this used to be common on bank holidays in england, and is still played every shrove tuesday at ashbourne.
That said, there are other theories about how the term came to be; one is that it originated from ‘the derby’, a horse race in england, founded by the 12th earl of derby in 1780. another is that the so-called ‘derby match’ arose when liverpool were playing everton. Its two grounds were separated by Stanley Park, owned by the Earl of Derby, and one of the earliest uses of the term ‘local derby’ in print came from the Daily Express in October 1914, which described a game between the Reds and the Candy as such.
so, to summarize…
what is meant by “derby” in football?
A soccer derby is a match between two closely related teams with a long-standing rivalry. derby matches can involve teams from the same town or city (eg everton and liverpool) or from neighboring towns or cities (eg southampton and portsmouth).
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