What Are the World’s Biggest Football Rivalries?

Football is built on rivalries. However, there is not just one sort of rivalry, as teams can have rivals based on geographical, cultural, and even religious differences. Whatever the reason for rivalries, a victory over the old enemy always tastes sweeter than against any other team.

Throughout European football, these rivalries can often be fierce. Here are some of the biggest rivalries from various regions and countries.

A political and societal divide in Spain

real madrid and barcelona shirts side by side with badges

One of the biggest rivalries in world football is that of Barcelona and Real Madrid. The ‘Clasico’ games between the two teams have saw record viewing figures around the world.

Despite the two clubs being rivals simply because they are the two most successful clubs in Spain, the rivalry is based on far more than just on-field success.

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the region has long desired to be autonomous from Spain. The region is perceived to have struggled during the reign of dictator Franco between 1939 to 1975.

Whereas Real Madrid was considered to be the team favoured by the dictatorship, while Madrid was considered to be closely linked with the regime.

On the field, Barcelona and Real Madrid have been fighting tooth and nail for supremacy in the Spanish game for over a century. No other Spanish has got close to the pair in terms of success or branding.

Religious divides in Glasgow

celtic fans celebrating european tie

Just like in Spain, Scotland’s biggest clubs Celtic and Rangers are divided by more than just sporting success. The main divide between the two clubs involves their religious beliefs, as Celtic fans are traditionally from an Irish Catholic background, while Rangers’ supporters with Scotland’s protestant community.

It’s important to note that while the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers has its roots in religious and cultural differences, it is not solely based on these factors. Many fans today support their respective clubs without any religious or cultural influence. However, the historical context and traditions associated with the clubs continue to play a significant role in the rivalry.

On the pitch, the two teams have both enjoyed periods of domination of the Scottish game, with not much between them in terms of domestic titles or derby victories. For most, it is the most fierce rivalry in the Scottish game.

Money in Manchester

man city man united rivalry

Manchester is a football-mad city that now contains two of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, if not the world, Manchester City and Manchester United. Unlike the top two rivalries, this rivalry is more based on geography rather than any major cultural or religious differences.

The presence of two successful clubs in one city has led to a massive rivalry especially with Manchester City becoming a force in English and European football. Traditionally, United had more success both on the pitch and in branding their club.

The Red Devils are regarded as one of the biggest clubs in the world, while City were often branded as ‘the noisy neighbours’. That has changed slightly in recent decades due to the Citizens’ huge investment in top-class players and head coaches.

The rivalry dates back over a century and a half and is unlikely to ever die down, as both clubs thrive for success at home and abroad.

Derby della Madonnina

inter milan and ac milan shirts side by side with badges

Another rivalry between two massive clubs from the same city is between Internazionale and AC Milan. The pair from the fashion capital of Italy has a fervent rivalry that dates back to their first-ever meeting in the Derby Della Madonnina or the Milan derby in 1909.

Both Milan giants have enjoyed successful periods in domestic and European football and they are two of the biggest clubs in Italy. Even after other successes, for the Milanese, there is still nothing better than to get one over on the old enemy.

Manchester vs Merseyside

liverpool and manchester united crests rivals

One of the biggest rivalries in the English game is Manchester United vs Liverpool. Some will say that historical differences between the two cities separated by just 40 minutes are the main reason for their rivalry that almost borders on hatred at times.

However, the main reason for this rivalry in sporting terms is mainly because the pair are the most successful clubs in the history of English football. Both clubs have traditionally dominated their cities and overshadowed their neighbours, until City’s rise to dominance.

They have offered each other some healthy competition in the English game over the years. Some supporters of both Liverpool and United have even claimed in recent decades that the games against each other are now bigger than their respective city derbies.

Mayhem on the Mersey

street sign showing directions to liverpool fc and everton fc

Another rivalry that still exists, despite some dilution in recent years by a period of stagnation of one of the pair, is that of Everton’s rivalry with city rivals Liverpool. Both clubs have previously been giants of the English games and remain amongst the most successful teams in winning the English top flight.

Liverpool has had the better of the rivalry in recent decades, as Everton have struggled for success since the 1980s. However, the rivalry is still going strong on Merseyside and it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.