MEHSTG Vol. 2  Issue 18  -  January 2001

With the Manchester derby being reinstated for the first time in quite a few years, it raises the question – are they as important as they used to be ? Indeed, you could question the nature of the derby already mentioned as technically, Manchester United does not lie within the boundary of Manchester and is really in Salford, so perhaps they should be playing Bury or someone, I don’t know. So what should determine the underlying reason for making a match a “derby” ?

While Leeds United have taken up a big grudge against Manchester United, traditional rivalries with other Yorkshire sides have fallen by the wayside. Bradford City are now in the Premier League, but there seems a lack of commitment to this derby by Leeds fans to make it a hotbed of football rivalry. Leeds have really taken up the old War of the Roses battle to make Man U their big rivals and perhaps other clubs will choose opponents on opposite sides of the Pennines to produce fiery encounters with. Another resurrected derby that will surface this season is the Sheffield version. With Wednesday’s relegation to Division One, they meet the Blades for the first time in League competition for a few seasons in the pig derby. This will really be a classic local rivalry, with communities split within the same city. Look at Wales and the hatred between Cardiff City and Swansea City comes of civic pride, rather than any local difference of opinion.

Even further up North, the Newcastle-Sunderland-Middlesbrough axis seems to be turning alright. However, smaller clubs who are nearer to the big boys appear to be excluded from the three-way North-East battle for local bragging rights. Darlington and Hartlepool United both seem to have to choose teams from their nearest leagues to have derbies with when one or the other moves up. It appears that without much hope of reaching the exalted heights of their traditional rivals they have to settle for second best.

For many consecutive years, the Merseyside derby has run its course. Liverpool and Everton have produced the reputation of a “friendly” derby with members of the same family happily tripping across Stanley Park, hand in hand to the matches. If this is actually the case, then surely there is not much passion within the city for the match. I am not advocating violence between the fans, but can you imagine being sat in the middle of the Arsenal crowd (and I know some of you out there have) for a Spurs visit, wearing your colours and everything ? Friendly isn’t the word I would use. However, the image of the happy-go-lucky Scouser isn’t really one which tallies with some of those who attend their games and may be a myth perpetrated by the media to make everything seem rosy in the area which surrounds the team of the seventies and eighties.

If you look at the London scene for example, you would find that many of the so-called London derbies, have little to recommend themselves for the title. Chelsea like to think that Arsenal is their big derby now. They take little pleasure in playing Tottenham any more as the result is so much of a foregone conclusion that everyone could save themselves the time and money and just hand the points to the West London branch of the United Nations. But why would there be any rivalry between the two sides ? Hardly local, when you have a long trip up the Piccadilly/District Line to get there. Still in London agreed, but surely Fulham or Queens Park Rangers or Brentford would be more suitable alternatives, being within a darts throw of their rivals ? Chelsea are like some jumped up parvenu who think they can dictate terms to those who have been around for much longer than them. In fact, should they want to play someone on a derby basis, then Fulham would be the better bet for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you get out at Fulham Broadway to get to Stamford Bridge, indicating it’s proximity; Secondly the Blues’ ground lies within the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and lastly, the man who founded Chelsea only did so because Fulham preferred to play at Craven Cottage. Boy, that would make me sore !!

As for Wimbledon, they really belong in the Surrey heartland with Crystal Palace. Yes, yes, they have London postcodes, but then so do other places that most Londoners wouldn’t really subscribe to the fact that they are within the Metropolis. What possible rivalry could these teams have with Tottenham ? As for East London, West Ham have perfectly good local rivals in Leyton Orient and should really stick to someone they have a chance of beating rather than trying to mix it with the big boys. As for the big South London derbies, Charlton are really stuck out on a limb somewhat. Millwall are a possibility, but they tend towards the Kent side of South London and maybe Gillingham would do best to pair up with the raw meat-eating Lions. Crystal Palace have their own manufactured derby match with Brighton – the Eagles-Seagulls derby, which could be resurrected soon (one way or another). So who really are their local rivals ?? Step forward the South London Wanderers … none other than Arsenal. From Woolwich they are the natural rivals who were on Charlton’s doorstep and are perfect opposition now they are back in the Premier League. Having mooted the idea of moving back to their roots (something that has unfortunately fallen through), it would have been one of the closest derbies played outside of Dundee, where the two teams play on the same street. South London would at last have a derby to call it’s own.

However, if this did go ahead, then Spurs would be left without local rivals to play. While this is something we all could swallow if the lot from N7 went back to where they belong, it would leave a hole in our footballing calendar. However, with Barnet moving to a new stadium in Mill Hill and if they ever made it to the Premier League, then perhaps there could be a real North London derby for the first time in ages.

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