Epic showdowns: The most intense rivalries in football history

Football, as we know it today, is hundreds of years old, with evidence that similar types of games were played as far back as over 3,000 years ago in places such as the Aztec Empire, as well as other locations around the world.

Throughout football’s long and rich history, many team rivalries have formed, some of which have been much more significant than others.

Here’s a look at some of the most well-known rivalries between teams throughout modern history.

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

El Clásico is the name of the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid and is one of the most well-known in all of the sport. These two Spanish clubs are some of the most successful in the world.

The friction between the two extends beyond football, as Barcelona represents Catalonia, a region in Spain that has significant political tension with the rest of the country.

The competition between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing on either team added to the discord.

Boca Juniors vs River Plate

The Superclásico sees two of the best Argentinian clubs facing off against one another, with many media outlets in the area calling the derby a must-see.

Since their start in the early 20th century, Boca Juniors and River Plate have both been competing to take the title of the best club in Bueno Aires.

Shortly after its inception, River Plate moved into an affluent area, and in doing so, a new class divide was born. River Plate became the club of the upper class, while Boca Juniors was largely supported by the middle and lower classes.

Fans of the clubs take the rivalry very seriously, with incidents taking place in 1968, 2015, and 2018 where fans of the two teams were attacked, injured, or in the case of 1968, even killed.

AC Milan vs Inter Milan

Originally, AC Milan and Inter Milan were one team. They would end up splitting into two teams because of a disagreement surrounding the signing of foreign players.

Many on the team were only willing to sign Italian players. Those who wanted to sign international players left to form Internazionale Milan, or Inter Milan, and the rest of the original team became AC Milan.

This disagreement naturally created a rivalry with Inter being seen as the representation of the wealthy, and AC Milan representing those from the working class.

Both teams also share the San Siro stadium as their home stadium, bringing clashes between the two even closer together.

Liverpool vs Manchester United

The North West Derby is one of England’s most intense rivalries, with Liverpool and Manchester United representing the industrial and economic competition between the two cities.

Only 50 km apart, the two regions are some of the most successful football clubs in the world.

Both teams have been top contenders in the Premier League over recent years, and it doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon.

Corinthians vs Palmeiras

The Paulista Derby is the twice-annual meeting between Corinthians and Palerias, São Paulo’s two oldest clubs.

The rivalry started in 1917 when Corinthians, who hadn’t lost for the previous 25 games, were defeated by Palmeiras 3-0.

There have been many close games between the two teams, with neither team being too heavily favoured to win over the other. They regularly have exciting games that are a treat to watch.

These close matches have resulted in the Paulista Derby being the biggest football rivalry in Brazil.

América vs Chivas

In Mexico, the two most successful clubs are Club América and Chivas. The games played between these two clubs, known as El Súper Clásico, are some of the most watched and anticipated matches in the country.

One of the reasons for this rivalry is the fact that Chivas uses talent from Mexico, while América focuses on using many foreign-born players.

Chivas is from the city of Guadalajara, and Club América is from Mexico City. This has resulted in games commonly being seen as Mexico City vs. the rest of the country.

Celtic FC vs Rangers FC

Celtic and Rangers are the two most successful clubs in Scotland, by quite a large margin. One of these two teams has come in first every single year since the 1985/86 season, with no other team finishing in the top two since 2017/18.

The two Glasgow-based clubs have been dominating the Scottish league ever since its inception in 1890. Between the two teams, they share 108 first-place finishes. Aberdeen is the team following behind them, with a total of four wins during that same period.

Their success alone is enough to create a huge clash between the two. However, their rivalry goes deeper than that.

Those who are native Scots typically support the Rangers, while those who immigrated from Ireland typically support Celtic.

This difference is largely due to the history of each club. Celtic was founded with the idea that they would donate to those in Ireland who were in poverty, specifically if they were involved with the Catholic church. At the time of its inception, Rangers, on the other hand, had many supporters who did not support the church.

The rivalry has continued to this day, supported by their battle for the first-place spot in the country.

Olympiacos FC vs Panathinaikos FC

The rivalry between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos in Greece is known as the Derby of Eternal Enemies.

It’s yet another rivalry that has its roots in a class divide, as Panathinaikos is based in the capital, Athens. As for Olympiacos, they are from Piraeus, a city with largely working-class people. The two have been competitors ever since they were formed in the early 20th century.

It is one of the most passionate and violent rivalries in the world, with riots, fights, and even deaths taking place in the days leading up to a game between the two Greek clubs.

Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur

Looking once again at the Premier League, we can see The North London Derby, played between Arsenal and Tottenham.

The two teams first faced off back in 1909. However, it wasn’t until 4 years later in 1913 when Arsenal moved to Highbury, only 5 km away from Tottenham’s home stadium, that the rivalry began.

Things took off in 1919 when Arsenal was promoted to the First division, despite placing lower than Tottenham. The gunners have been able to enjoy the fact that their club has been largely more popular and successful than their rival ever since.

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