Do people still care about the local rivalry?


Jorgah Herbert (She/Her) discuss the relevance of the derby to fans and players and the continued violence

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Image by William Small


Securing bragging rights, enjoying a lively Monday at work, and arguing during morning form time are all part of winning a football match over the weekend. But winning a local derby is nothing short of pure heaven. However, is this feeling starting to lack authenticity in the media?

Focusing on the top five divisions in English football, local derbies have been compiled for well over a century, often engaging in biannual clashes. The Merseyside clubs provide an example of this tradition, with their respective stadiums merely 0.8 miles apart. Although referred to as the ‘Friendly Derby’, as families in Liverpool are usually a mixture of both clubs, their hatred for one another runs deep.

Pundits claim that the Manchester derby is one of the most anticipated matches in English football. It is plastered on televisions and city billboards. But is it overdone? Do we risk derbies becoming boring if they happen every year?

It is hard for everything to keep being exciting – the Manchester teams play one another at least twice a season. Only in cup matches do many classic derbies take place. The Tyne-Wear derby made its first ap-pearance in 2024 since 2016, with the Premier League team taking the win. It went without major violence, unlike the 2013 clash which saw over 100 Newcastle United fans charged after a brawl in the city centre. Even with-out the violence, both sets of fans turned up on the day and proved that local derbies are exciting.

In spite of this, it felt as if the media were more excited for Arsenal versus Liverpool which was taking place on the Monday. It seems as if the top six playing one another means more than a local derby, not only in cups but in the league as well. It is understandable that the encounters between ‘bigger clubs’ perhaps have a bigger impact on the race for a league title, or qualification places, but they lack this unique intensity and passion fuelled by historical rivalries. This is something that the media and streaming services tend to neglect.

Recently, the Black Country derby between West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers reached national news after violence between fans broke out in the 82nd minute. It took people right back to the seventies, with no VAR and pure hatred from both sets of fans. The last time both met with fans in attendance was 2012, with the Baggies battering Wolves 5-1. It seems as if, for the past decade, tensions had been bubbling in the Black Country and over spilled onto the pitch. Afterwards, the media decided to focus on the negatives of the day, rather than Wolves breaking their Hawthorns’ curse. Whatever the score outcome, it proved something, that fans still care about derby rivalry.

But what about the players?

Bellingham and Grealish’s days of playing the Second City Derby are over. Not many footballers play for their boyhood club anymore and player loyalty is not what it used to be. The professional mindset of players means that all games are viewed equally, a derby shouldn’t affect how you play. For them it’s a job, for us fans it’s a bit different. But many players understand how important local derbies are. For example, Alan Shearer made a remark about wanting Sunderland to be promoted in order for the Tyne-Wear derby to be played more often. Even Pickford’s appearance at that same derby shows how players still have love for their boyhood club.

It is challenging for players to understand their fans when playing a rival, especially when they have no emotional connection to the opposition. The supporters, deeply connected to the rivalry and the club, are seen as catalysts capable of inspiring the players to rise to the occasion. The fans become a driving force of history being each monumental meeting between the two clubs, and the players need to embrace this.

It is vital that historic derby matches are maintained and nurtured in our modern game. It is clear that people still care about derby matches. It is something exciting and different, everything goes out the window when you play a rival. Streaming services and pundits may neglect the true emotion behind these games, but the fans keep this passion alive.