Sweet FA 2016-17 Podcast Eight: English Football Rivalries—The Good, the Bad and the Violent

Welcome to the eighth Sweet FA podcast of the 2016-17 season. Regular panellists, Robert Mitchell and Hugo Jennings, look at the biggest English football rivalries and their histories. From the fierce to the tepid; the one-sided to the competitive; the local to the historical; the violent to the friendly, rivalry plays more of a part in football—and in particular English football—than any other sport in the world.

The podcast starts off with a look at the Manchester Derby. This used to be relatively one-sided, but the newfound wealth of City has made them direct rivals with United in the league table. Rob and Hugo look at the turning points in this fixture, such as Michael Owen’s late winner in the 4-3 at Old Trafford in 2009.

Moving across the North-West of England, the topic moves onto the Merseyside Derby. Once one of the most exciting rivalries in world football, matches between Liverpool and Everton have become tepid and at times predictable. Moreover, has this conflict become a bit too friendly in recent years?

Hostilities will resume between Aston Villa and Birmingham this season in the Championship, and Hugo can’t contain his excitement. The level of hatred between the two clubs is something else and this fixture could well be the one to watch this season. Steve Bruce was recently unveiled as the new Aston Villa manager. He was one of Birmingham’s most successful managers in recent history; will things get ugly when he returns to his former club?

Next, the focus is on London. Every time two teams from the capital play each other it’s called a “London Derby”, but which games are true rivalries? As well as the big fixtures like the North London Derby, Arsenal vs Chelsea and Spurs vs West Ham, Rob and Hugo, who can often be seen at The Den when Arsenal aren’t playing, look at one of football’s fiercest rivalries: Millwall vs West Ham. The two haven’t played each other much recently—much to the relief of the Metropolitan Police—but the hostility between these two teams is fascinating.

There are plenty of other London rivalries, such as QPR and Fulham vs Brentford and Charlton vs Millwall, but why isn’t there much of a divide between Crystal Palace and Charlton? The two certainly don’t like each other, but there doesn’t seem to be the level of hatred that is associated with local rivals in England.

The Tyne-Wear Derby is one of the most exciting that English football has to offer. The fixture is unlikely to happen this season, but matches between Newcastle and Sunderland are rarely dull. The Newcastle-Middlesbrough rivalry used to be just as intense, but why don’t Boro and Sunderland engage in the same hostility?

Moving to the East Midlands, the two Nottingham teams never play each other but the region still has a fascinating rivalry in the form of Nottingham Forest vs Derby County. Matches between the two never really became confrontational until Brian Clough moved to Forest, and since then the two clubs have been at war with each other. Meanwhile, Leicester City certainly do not like either team, but due to the hatred between Brian Clough’s former clubs and the Foxes’ recent success, the malice has cooled a bit.

This brings the discussion onto Manchester United vs Liverpool: the most famous rivalry in the country. Much is made of the historical rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool as cities, but does it really have as much a part to play as people say it does, considering City and Everton do not have much of a rivalry with either team from the “other” city? The two then look at the long history of matches between United and Liverpool, and how regardless of changes in fortune, the rivalry has never lost its magic.

Continuing the theme of non-local Derbies, the focus moves onto Arsenal vs Manchester United; the “Hugo vs Rob Derby”, if you will. Things really exploded between these two when a brawl broke out in a match at Old Trafford in 1990, which was followed by another big fight—mostly initiated by the Arsenal players—in 2003, before the fighting with fists turned into fighting with food the following season. A long history of exciting matches, individual battles, title races and culinary conflicts means that whenever these two meet, it’s bound to be captivating.

The feud between Chelsea and Liverpool is a modern one, but it’s become every bit as exhilarating as some of the oldest disputes in football. The “ghost goal” controversy in the 2005 Champions League semi-final set things in motion, and since then hostilities have never ceased between the two.

The final section of the podcast looks at an unlikely rivalry: the M23 Derby between Crystal Palace and Brighton. The two don’t have much reason to hate each other on the face of it, but they’ve found plenty to fight over and this has given birth to plenty of memorable matches. The two haven’t played each other in a couple of years, but as Brighton continue to push for promotion to the Premier League, this particular battle could be about to get even more interesting.

Robert Mitchell covers a range of sports for Lastwordonsports.com, including the NFL, Rugby, Formula 1 and the Premier League. Author of the Co$t of Winning column focused on the business of sport, he is also the host of Last Word Radio’s Rugby show Absolute Flanker and an analyst on Sweet FA.

Hugo runs lastwordonfootball.com. A regular on Sweet FA and occasional panellist on Treble Radio, he mostly writes about Arsenal, Spanish football and cricket. He is a season-ticket holder at Arsenal.

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