The alternative top five derbies in Europe
There is no feeling in football quite like a derby match. We look forward to them all season until the week before the actual game, when we remember they are the most terrifying thing in existence and just wish for the whole thing to be over. This week has seen some of the biggest derbies in European football all arrive at the same time, with Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke and Manchester United vs. Manchester City in the space of a couple of days. Neutrals will have enjoyed watching two highly competitive fixtures between extremely equal sides, and also the game at Old Trafford,
These games attract a lot of hype every time they come around and there are hundreds of articles available on the internet which can tell you everything you need to know about the history and intensity that comes with these games. As I was thinking about which of these games to watch (I skipped the 4 – 3 and watched the 0 – 0, naturally), I began to think about the best derby matches in Europe that don’t receive the attention they deserve.
Along with a friend who has an excellent knowledge of Eastern European and Russian football, I decided to put together an ‘alternative’ top five derby matches. I limited the list to one fixture per country and only picked games which I felt did not get the widespread attention they deserve, so please keep this in mind before racing to the comments section to shout at me about games I missed. One fixture which is missing is the Belgrade Derby, a game I decided to leave off as it has been growing in exposure recently and I produced a full report on it in November after my unforgettable trip to Serbia.
Without further ado, here are what I believe to be the five best ‘alternative’ derby matches in Europe:
Levski Sofia vs. CSKA Sofia – Bulgaria
Known as the Eternal Derby of Bulgaria, these two hated rivals are also the two most successful teams in the history of the country. Indeed, one of these two teams has finished as champions on more than 50 occasions in the 87 seasons that the league has been in existence. This means that more often than not, there is far more than local pride at stake when these two meet.
I haven’t actually been to one of these fixtures, but I have visited both stadiums when in Bulgaria with the Welsh national team. I browsed the official club shop of CSKA Sofia, and found all the usual stuff you might expect. Replica shirts, scarves, mugs featuring a rival fan being strangled and stabbed to death…wait, what?
‘Unusual’ merchandise in Sofia
This rivalry began in the 1940’s as CSKA took the title in their very first year in existence, sparking a hatred which will last forever. Every clash between the two is full of memorable moments, but one derby in 1985 stands out above them all. The two sides met in the final of the cup, a game played at the national stadium. There were a number of contested refereeing decisions, with the officials clearly losing control of the game. It resulted with a mass brawl on the pitch, with the players from both sides involved. The violence was widespread and long-lasting, a witness I was able to speak to called it the craziest thing he had ever seen, beyond even when he was in the army.
CSKA won the final 2 – 1, but the violence was so much that the communist party in charge of the country ordered that both teams be punished as harshly as possible. Never mind a points deduction or even relegation, both clubs were disbanded permanently. Six players were banned for life, and three more received bans of up to three years.
The decision was of course later reversed and both clubs were restored, but still – can you imagine things getting so far out of hand between Yaya Toure and Michael Carrick that the FA decided that both Manchester clubs simply weren’t allowed to exist anymore?
Things are slightly calmer these days, but the fixture remains incredibly volatile. I heard a story that in 2010 there was so much trouble in the away end at CSKA that the police simply arrived in full riot gear and ejected the entire section from the stadium. This resulted in a battle with the police that lasted for some time, the departing Levski fans refusing to go without a fight (literally).
CSKA have won more titles, but Levski have won more of the head-to-head clashes between the two, including a 7 – 1 victory in 1994 which remains the largest margin of victory in the history of the fixture. The intensity of the rivalry recently hit the world stage, after Levski Sofia’s new manager Ivaylo Petev was driven out of the club after a single day due to rumours that he was a CSKA supporter. A group of Levski Ultras stormed the press conference, demanding that Petev take off the club clothing he was wearing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Petev was gone the next day. The manager was gone, but the eternal hatred remains.
AIK vs. Djurgarden – Sweden
I believe Sweden to be a country which is criminally underrated when it comes to fan culture, with the Scandinavian country the home to some of the finest fan groups in Europe. There are several great matches which could represent Sweden in this list, but AIK vs. Djurgården is generally regarded as being the craziest of them all.
This game is known as Tvillingderbyt in Swedish, which translates into English as ‘The Twin Derby’. Not only are the two clubs located in the same city, but they were founded at almost exactly the same time – AIK being the older of the two clubs by roughly three weeks.
As with many rivalries in Europe, the hatred extends beyond just football for these two, with the ice hockey matches also creating an intense atmosphere. The sides have met countless times by now, but surprisingly it took 36 years for them to collide in the league for the first time after the clubs were formed. AIK have the honour of taking victory in the first ever league derby, and indeed, they dominated the early years of the rivalry. Djurgården did not win one of these games until 1951, bringing to an end a run of 13 games without victory, including just four draws and eight losses.
Once they did start winning however, they didn’t stop. Between 1955 and 1970, they lost just six of 28 games between the two, going unbeaten in home derbies the entire time and picking up a string of trophies.
After these periods of dominance for both sides, it has reverted to an extremely equal game. Although AIK did the double in 2010 and Djurgården in 2006, things are usually very unpredictable. There are two highly significant moments in the history of the derby that I should mention, the first coming in 2002. This was the very first (and so far only) time that the sides have been paired together in the Swedish Cup final, and it was Djurgården who were able to take the trophy and the ultimate bragging rights, winning with an extra time ‘Golden Goal’ in the 99th minute, scored by instant club hero Louay Chanko. Not only did this allow the blue stripes to win the cup, but it also completed the double. So far AIK have not had the chance to take revenge for this cup final disappointment, something their supporters are surely itching to achieve.
The other example is from 2011 and also a 1 – 0 win for Djurgården, but it was not the result which made this game significant. For the first ten minutes of the match, supporters of both sides protested the Swedish FA’s attempts to curb their fan culture by remaining completely silent. Banners appeared in both ends, which when translated to English would read “This is football without supporters” and “The future the federation wants”.
When that ten minutes came to an end, well, just look…
The Swedish FA got the message (how could they not?), and both teams fans continue to create a magnificent atmosphere at these matches every season.
I am travelling to Sweden in August for my first live experience of this derby, one I have been waiting to cross off the list for some time. Watch this space for a full report…
PAOK vs. Aris – Greece
Greek football is well-known for having intense rivalries, with the Athens derby between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos one of the most dramatic rivalries in Europe, known in the country as the ‘Mother of all battles’. Plenty has been written on this fixture, and while it is one I certainly plan to attend one day, I do not feel it qualifies as being an overlooked derby.
One that certainly does however, is the derby of Northern Greece. Contested between P.A.O.K, both the football and basketball encounters between these two are fiercely contested as they battle for control of the city of Thessaloniki. It is not just in the stands that things get a little out of hand here, with a staggering 48 red cards in the recorded history of the derby – including the time Sotiris Balafas managed to be sent off during a penalty shootout!
Both sets of supporters are capable of creating 90 minutes of absolute madness, with many of my friends who support Manchester City stating that the support of Aris was the best ever seen at the Etihad, surpassing the likes of Ajax, Dortmund, Hamburg and many more.
The roots of the rivalry go beyond sport, with Aris originally being the club for local Greeks, while PAOK was the club established by Turkish immigrants. The conflict between these groups was present in every aspect of life at this time, with the sports clubs offering the perfect outlet for the hatred and distrust between the factions.
PAOK have traditionally been the more successful of the two clubs in derby matches with significantly more victories when the two go head-to-head, but Aris have won the title on more occasions. The yellows have taken the Greek championship three times, once more than their city foes. They also have a Greek Cup victory to their name, coming in 1970. Better still for the fans, this win came in the derby, as they triumphed 1 – 0 in the first ever cup final meeting between the two sides.
This was a feat they were able to cherish until 2003, when PAOK had their revenge with a 1 – 0 cup final victory of their own. It was their fourth Greek Cup, but perhaps the sweetest of them all.
As you may expect from a derby built on such hatred, the action does not always stay confined to the pitch. This fixture has twice been abandoned due to general mayhem, most recently in 1972 as PAOK took a 2 – 1 lead into the closing minutes of the cup quarter-final. Don’t go to this one if you have a phobia of fire…
Rapid Wien vs. Austria Wien – Austria
I make no secret of the fact that my Austrian side of choice is the rebrand rebellion team Austria Salzburg, but there are many teams in the small country with great supporters. Despite Red Bull doing all they can to end football culture in the country, many great matches can be found in the Austrian Bundesliga.
Perhaps the best and almost certainly the most volatile of these is the Vienna derby, the second most played city derby fixture in Europe, behind only Scotland’s Old Firm.
Just as with Celtic and Rangers, the game is no stranger to controversy, with the 2011 edition of the derby abandoned after Rapid supporters invaded the pitch en masse, causing a prolonged riot which involved hundreds of police officers and scenes which looked like they belonged at a civil uprising rather than a football match. Flares, fireworks, fists, seats and pretty much everything else you can imagine flew back and forward in some of the worst violence that Austrian football had ever witnessed.
This is not the only time the derby has had to be abandoned, with previous incidents in 1923, 1934 and 1937, although it appears that these incidents were related to the actions of the players, rather than the supporters. With Austrian football dominated by sides from Vienna until recently and the endless pot of money which Red Bull threw at the league, this was another derby fixture that often offered more than local pride as a result of victory.
Traditionally Rapid were seen as the club for the working class with their rivals representing the middle class, although this image has changed in recent times as they became fan owned in 2008. Rapid take the majority of their support from the North and West of the city, while Austria are said to rule the South. As with Merseyside and Manchester however, ties are often split down family lines, and where you are born does not necessarily dictate which of the two clubs you choose to support.
With so many encounters between the clubs it is difficult to pick out those which are the most memorable for the football rather than the mayhem. One that does stand out however is the 1986 Austrian Cup Final, one of eight that have been contested between the two. The game was as intense as the atmosphere was fierce, with Austria eventually defeating Rapid 6 – 4 after extra time. Austria were also triumphant in the most recent cup final meeting of the two, winning 3 – 1 in 2005. This may slightly help Austria’s cause to city bragging rights, although Rapid do have more titles and more overall derby wins.
Whichever side you choose to call the pride of Vienna, this derby is certainly one of the most eventful and storied in Europe. Rest assured that plans are in place for me to travel to one of these games next season, although I probably won’t be storming the pitch unless absolutely needed.
SV Spakenburg vs. IJsselmeervogels – Holland
This fixture is one of European footballs most unusual occasions, and certainly the only amateur game that I would have considered putting on this list. The Dutch third does not generally draw much interest from the footballing public, and while the players are of course still much, much, better than me, they would certainly struggle against opponents of a similar level of the pyramid across Europe.
However, two weeks a season this all changes, as the village of Spakenburg grinds to a standstill for the derby to end all amateur derbies. Up to 9,000 fans pack into the stadium for these games, which is impressive enough even before you consider the fact that the population of Spakenburg is only around 18,000.
In the red corner is IJsselmeervogels, the team that is said to represent the fishermen of the town and has won the overall Dutch amateur championship on seven occasions, most recently in 2011. This makes them far more successful than their hated blue counterparts SV Spakenburg – who lifted the overall championship for the only time back in 1985. However the team for the farmers has been the better of the two in recent years, finishing top of the table in 2012 but failing to win the playoff that would have seen them overall champions.
The passion in this one goes far beyond friendly village rivalry, with the most dramatic moment in the history of the fixture coming in 1987, with a red supporter throwing a bomb on the pitch. To clarify, this wasn’t a smoke bomb or a banger which are often used in European football, but an actual, exploding bomb. Thankfully nobody was killed in this incident, but the linesman did suffer significant injuries. The final score that day was 0-0, by the way.
Things have calmed down since then, but madness continues to run riot at this fixtures. Pitch invasions are a regular occurrence at full-time, and these invaders are not always human, a couple of years ago a pig was released onto the field of play during the match by red supporters. No news on whether or not #NoPigNoParty was painted on the side, but they were missing a trick if it wasn’t.
The latest installment of this bizarre but brilliant rivalry is on Saturday 29th March – I’ll be there to report on it in person, a fitting finale to my investigation into the best non-mainstream derbies that Europe has to offer.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to let me know which games you would have chosen in the comments below!