Football is most popular sport in Britain. From the moment the game was created in London, 1863, it has been played in back gardens, on street corners, on Sunday league pitches and at 80,000 seat stadiums. Premier League football is the highlight of many people’s week, so naturally, this level of passion leads to intense rivalries. These ten matches are the biggest rivalries in UK football and are usually brilliant spectacles.
10 – Burnley vs Blackburn Rovers
There are just 8 miles between the East Lancashire towns of Burnley and Blackburn, creating an intense rivalry between the two clubs. Both teams have enjoyed domestic success over the years, with Blackburn winning the top division in the 1911/12, 1913/14 and 1994/95 seasons and Burnley in 1920/21 and 1959/60.
The derby is often referred to as the East Lancashire derby, but is also dubbed the Cotton Mills derby or El Lanclasico. Burnley and Blackburn both used to be mill towns and have employed members of each fanbase. It may not be the most famous derby in English football but you cannot doubt the passion of each club’s fans and players, making it a highly underrated rivalry.
9 – West Bromwich Albion vs Wolves
Birmingham’s second-most intense rivalry. Know as the Black Country derby due to the location of the two clubs, this one is one of the oldest in the world and goes back to 1883. Wolves and West Brom were both founding members of the English Football League.
The similar level of football, combined with local, passionate fanbases mean that this game is always a little spicy. The close proximity of both clubs can lead to neighbours being rival fans.
Iconic figures: Peter Odemwingie, Paul Scharner, John Richards
8 – Newcastle vs Sunderland
Brits love football, that is true. But in the northeast of England exists a microcosm where football takes precedent over virtually everything else. Sunderland and Newcastle have some of the most passionate fans in the world, and with the two cities just 12 miles apart, the Tyne-Wear derby is always a highly competitive and feisty affair.
Iconic figures: George Holley, Alan Shearer, Paulo Di Canio, Kevin Nolan
7 – Aston Villa vs Birmingham City
Birmingham is known as the UK’s Second City, hence this derby being dubbed the Second City derby. If you’re from Birmingham or support Villa or Blues, the date of this game will be ringed in red on the calendar. Both clubs used to be in the Premier League and the quality of football, along with the explosive nature of the games, made it a very entertaining fixture.
Blues have been in the bottom half of the Championship now for quite a few years and don’t always put on the best displays, but the derby with Villa is always an entertaining watch. One of the most recent games involved a Blues fan running onto the pitch and punching Jack Grealish.
Iconic figures: Dion Dublin, Robbie Savage, Jack Grealish
6 – Liverpool vs Everton
One of the most famous rivalries in English football, the Merseyside derby was named so because of the close proximity of the clubs. It is the longest-running top-flight derby in England, having been played every season since 1962-63.
This derby is usually the highlight of a weekend of football – fans from all over the country will tune in to watch. It is also the fixture with the most red cards since the inception of the Premier League (21).
Iconic figures: Steven Gerrard, Duncan Ferguson, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler
5 – Manchester United vs Manchester City
One of the biggest games in world football. Like the Merseyside derby, the Manchester derby is always the biggest game of the weekend, and almost always delivers high-quality football, drama and incredible atmospheres. The derby has grown in significance over the past decade as the so-called “noisy neighbours” (Man City) have been very successful and knocked United off their perch.
Some famous moments including a 1-6 City win at Old Trafford in 2011, and an insane overhead kick by Wayne Rooney in the reverse fixture that year.
Iconic figures: Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, Mario Balotelli
4 – Millwall vs West Ham
This derby in the capital is known as the Dockers derby due to the docks in East London which has employed many members of each fanbase over the years. It’s one of the longest-standing and most bitter derbies in English football. Millwall fans have a bad reputation for violence and racism, while West Ham fans also rarely shy away from a fight.
This rivalry was at its peak during the height of English football hooliganism in the 70s and 80s. The 2005 film Green Street is an entertaining portrayal of the intense hatred between the two clubs. It has calmed down in recent years due to increased police presence, harsher penalties against fighting and the gulf in quality between the two teams. However, if the two were to meet in a cup game, there would be fireworks.
Iconic figures: Teddy Sheringham, Neil Harris, Kevin Nolan, Junior Stanislas
3 – Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal
The North London derby first took place in 1887 but did not become a fierce rivalry until Arsenal moved from their original stadium in Plumstead up to Highbury in North London; right next door to Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. As of January 2021, out of the 188 games between the two, it’s 77 wins for Arsenal, 60 for Spurs and 51 draws.
Arsene Wenger was in charge of Arsenal during their best years in the Premier League and made Arsenal the dominant force in the derby, but since his departure, the gap between the two has shrunk and Spurs have arguably overtaken Arsenal in recent years. The derbies are usually heated affairs with scuffles, fights and crunching tackles quite common. Some highlights include a classic 4-4 at the Emirates, Paul Gascoigne’s brilliant free-kick in 1991 and Arsenal’s invincibles winning the title at White Heart Lane.
Iconic figures: Thierry Henry, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, Jermaine Jenas, Robert Pires
2 – Manchester United vs Liverpool
The biggest game in English football. One of the biggest games in world football. Basically, it’s a big game. United and Liverpool have two of the most international fanbases so this derby is an international sporting occasion.
This rivalry goes deeper than football – the two cities are just 35 miles apart and are in competition over sport, culture and commerce. Many trace the rivalry back to the building of Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 which led to massive job losses in Liverpool.
Both sets of players, fans and the media consider this game more important than the two clubs’ respective local derbies (Man City and Everton), as historically they have usually been competing with each other for the league title. Some famous moments include the Suarez/Evra racism incident, Steven Gerrard kissing the camera and Dimitar Berbatov’s sublime hattrick in 2010.
Iconic figures: Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Kenny Dalglish
1 – Celtic vs Rangers
Arguably the deepest rivalry in world football, the Old Firm has existed since 1888 and is made up of Scotland’s two best teams: Rangers and Celtic. Both situated in Glasgow, the Old Firm has become a significant part of Scottish culture and has contributed to political, social and religious division in Scotland. Typically, a Celtic fan is from a Catholic and nationalist background, while a Rangers fan is Protestant and believes in the union of the United Kingdom.
This ideological split in the city of Glasgow has created an extremely hostile environment at Old Firm derbies, with casualties of fan violence littered throughout history. The games normally involve some violence too, with an average of 29 fouls per game and 50 more fouls in the last 20 games than any other fixture.
The two clubs have shared 105 Scottish League championships, 73 Scottish Cups and 46 Scottish League cups between them, which is why this is probably the only game in Scotland you’ve heard of.
Iconic figures: Henrik Larsson, Ally McCoist, Kenny Miller, John Hartson