To fanatics, football takes the precedence of religion. Most are more than ready to lay down their lives for the game, and their beloved clubs. Sometimes these emotions boil over when teams with fanatical following lock horns.
Such big games are usually a powder keg with a mistake or a moment of magic having the potential of creating history, sparking fierce fights, riots or even deaths. There are of course many such matches across the world but a few stands several stadias above the rest.
Major European clubs usually have millions of fans not only in their respective countries but also across the world. Hence during some of their derbies life sometimes comes to a standstill around the globe, with some people placing huge bets on the outcome.
One of the most famous football battles across on earth is between the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. The contest between these two sides is seen as a clash of cultures between the regions of Catalonia and Castile. Dubbed el classico this titanic showdown more often than not determines the destiny of the Spanish league title race.
Over the years the rivalry have been intensified by defections and counter-defections by star players from both sides of the football divide. The first dispute over a player’s signature manifested in 1953 when the two clubs sought the services of Alfredo di Stefano. The midfield maestro, better known as the Blonde Bullet, finally opted to play at Santiago Barnebeu where he was instrumental in the club’s success in subsequent years.
However bad blood between the two perennial rivals hit an all time high in the year 2000. Louis Figo unexpectedly crossed over to Madrid under the coaxing of the legendary club official Florentino Perez. The unrelenting Perez had hinted during campaigns for the club’s presidency that he would bring Figo over but many had doubted. They were proved wrong when the mercurial Portuguese midfielder signed a $37.5 million that was to keep him in Madrid for five years.
Things turned ballistic when Figo came back to Nou Camp for the el classico. While preparing to take a corner in the section of the field populated by Barca ultras the player was overwhelmed by missiles, among them a butchered pig head that later became a symbol of sympathy for animal rights activists across Europe and beyond. The match had to be stopped for 12 minutes as riot police tried to bring things back to order.
But even after a huge media storm in which Nou Camp officials accused Figo of being provocative, the “Barca’s Great Judas” was unapologetic.
“I don’t know if Gaspart (club president) is taking the piss,” Figo said in response to coach Louis van Gaal’s comments adding that he was “plain surprised-after all, he never said anything when he was my manager for two years.”
While Real Madrid remains the most successful in Europe between the two Barcelona set a world record in the 2009 by winning all the six competitions they participated in. According to survey by Sport+Markt in 2009 Barcelona has about 44.2 million supporters throughout Europe, 2.9 million more than Real Madrid.
Across the border in Italy Derby della Madonnina between Inter and Milan and Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter are also ranked as some of the most explosive matches across Europe. In England the North West Derby between Manchester United and Liverpool is considered one of the most nail biting by both local and international fans. Although the two are the most successful clubs in England having won 115 combined, Liverpool has failed to win the Premier League since it’s founding in 1992. Other equally exciting English derbies popular among English and global fans includes the London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal, the Manchester derby between United and City and of course Arsenal versus Manchester United.
The Rangers-Celtic derby in Scotland is the most politically charged and animosity-filled derbies in the United Kingdom. Dubbed the Old Firm derby this game between the two Scottish giants is more than just a football match. It pits religion, politics and opposing attitudes between supporters of the two teams. While Celtic is considered a Catholic club with Republican and Nationalist supporters, Rangers pass as a Protestant outfit with Unionist and Loyalist backing.
The game between the two rivals usually have a bearing on the conflict in Northern Ireland from where thousands travel every year for the explosive encounter at Ibrox Stadium or Celtic Park. In 1980, 9,000 fans fought a bloody on-pitch battle after Celtic won 1-0 in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, making it the worst inversion into a football pitch ever reported.
However, all these European rivalries fades in comparison to the events that graces the Buenos Aeries derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate. Whether the game is in the La Bombonera or the El Monumental (Boca and River home grounds respectively) the atmosphere for this famous match is always electric. Intensive chanting, fireworks, flags and rolls of paper always paints the sky a familiar red and blue of the two teams. Among the famous Boca Bosteros that went on to conquer the world includes Diego Maradona, Hugo Ibarra, Walter Samuel and Juan Roman Riquleme.
Last year the match between the two teams during the Copa Libertodores round of sixteen, with 1,200 police officers deployed to contain troubles, was abandoned in the second half after Boca Juniors fans sprayed River Plate players with an irritant. Four River players were hospitalized.
The Superclassico is now so popular that it’s included among the various tourist attractions in Argentina. Visitors can now buy holiday packages that include a ticket to watch the famous game. This, perhaps, prompted the English paper The Observer to put it at their list of “50 sporting things you must do before you die”, adding that “Derby day in Buenos Airies make the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about”.
In the neighbouring soccer mad Brazil, the most emotionally encounter is between Corinthians and Palmeiras in the old city of Sao Paolo. Dubbed Derby Paulista this rivalry is so huge that its outcome more often than not decides the outcome of the regional, national championships and sometimes the continental Copa Libertadores. Several books have been written and many movies shot about this rivalry, the most famous being a version of Romeo and Juliet where Palmeiras and Corinthians take the place Montagues and Capulets respectively.
Other seasonal crackers are found in Africa between Al Ahly and Zamalek in Egypt, Club Africaine and Esperance in Tunisia, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in South Africa and Hearts of Oaks verses Asante Kotoko in Ghana.