Ranking the nine best derbies in the UK: Old Firm, Manchester, Merseyside…

Quick Reads

There are dozens of derbies in UK football which mean everything to fans on the two sides of the divide – and we’ve ranked some of our favourites as neutrals.

In Nottingham, the biggest derby in the world is Forest v County. In Stoke-on-Trent, it’s Stoke City v Port Vale. In Bristol, it’s City v Rovers. But some rivalries become essential viewing for fans even outside of the local areas.

Sky Sports often base an entire day in the footballing calendar around them, and predictably we lap it up. Certain derbies are simply box office, as the extra emotion and meaning add another dimension to it all. Here’s a completely subjective and unscientific ranking of the best derbies in UK football.

9. Dockers: West Ham vs Millwall

Like a Poundland version of the South American derbies that are defined by partisan fandom gone toxic, it’s hard to imagine this fixture ever staying on the right side of the line.

But when heated rivalries are something commodified and sold to global audiences who will never experience the local flavour, it’s important to have a game that genuinely still holds the same meaning to those involved.

For many, the hype around this fixture romanticises the outdated, anachronistic ‘Green Street’ hooligan culture around football.

While that’s undoubtedly the case for a lot of the noise around it, there’s an edge to it that’s some way off the sanitised image of the game sold by those in charge.

8. Edinburgh: Hearts vs Hibs

In ‘we don’t like to see that’ scenes, the ugly side of the game was on show in the latest Edinburgh derby between Hearts and Hibs, with Neil Lennon speaking out about the sectarian abuse he’s always faced while working in the Scottish game after he was struck by a coin for celebrating a disallowed goal by Hearts.

But there was something undeniably golden about the sequence of events in the latest encounter at Tynecastle, or at least the live match editing on Sky.

The cries of “weyyy” from the crowd as Hearts’ late winner was denied by the flag. The look of pure schadenfreude on Lennon’s face as he turned to goad the crowd, arms aloft. The next cut back to the sidelines with him down on the floor.

7. Dundee vs Dundee United

A city derby that might not have the prestige of the Old Firm but nevertheless sums up a lot of what’s uniquely brilliant about Scottish football.

None more so than their meeting of May 2016, when Dundee United had to live through the nightmare scenario of being relegated at the ground of their fierce rivals – and by a former player, too.

The writing might have been on the wall, but the indignity of it being confirmed in the derby was an especially cruel aligning of the stars. Dens Park lapped up the utter despair of the visiting support as former United man Craig Wighton won the match for Dundee in the 93rd minute.

6. Steel City: United vs Wednesday

The best English derby currently in the Football League, the first Steel City in over five years lived up to the hype on Sheffield United’s return to the Championship.

Chris Wilder has built a quite special team, and they showed that against their rivals in a memorable game that swung one way and the other in September 2017.

United took an early two-goal lead before goals from Gary Hooper and Lucas João had it level at 2-2 going into the last 30 minutes, as Mark Duffy and Leon Clarke hit straight back to make it 4-2 away for the Blades from home.

Young David Brooks was electric that afternoon and announced himself as the starlet currently making a big impact in the Premier League at Bournemouth.

The last two meetings have been goalless but keenly contested. United are pushing for a play-off place and could come to regret David McGoldrick’s early penalty miss against Wednesday this season.

5. Tyne-Wear: Newcastle vs Sunderland 

A derby day that always envelopes the two football-obsessed neighbouring cities, it might be some wait before the next one as Sunderland sit currently sit two tiers below Newcastle, having avoided each other for the last two seasons as Rafael Benitez’s Magpies were promoted as David Moyes’ Black Cats were relegated in 2016-17.

However, those on Wearside might hope for a derby next in the second tier season as Newcastle are far from safe from the drop, while under Jack Ross, Sunderland are vying to bounce straight back up to the second tier. They’d have every reason to look forward to it too, given their recent record reads won six, drawn three, including three 3-0 victories.

Sunderland’s best day of recent years arguably came in the latest Tyne-Wear derby, when a 1-1 draw at St. James’ Park under Sam Allardyce all but confirmed their survival that season while sending their rivals down at the end of 2015-16.

Geordies will never forget the 5-1 on Halloween 2010 as a Kevin Nolan hat-trick and a brace from Shola ‘Mackemslayer’ Ameobi completed a humiliation.

4. Merseyside: Everton vs Liverpool

In the Premier League, especially in latter years, this is a rivalry that’s been diminished somewhat by one club’s dominance, as Everton plug away and look for a first Merseyside Derby win in eight years, despite enjoying periods of relative success and teams that should have been worthy competitors, especially in Liverpool’s numerous fallow years.

But Jurgen Klopp, like Brendan Rodgers before him, has never lost a Merseyside derby, and you have to go back to Roy Hodgson’s sorry time at Liverpool tenure to find an Everton win, with goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta completing a comfortable victory at Goodison in October 2010.

Since then, Liverpool have enjoyed a couple of 4-0s and a 3-0 at Anfield, while the happiest Toffees moments have been from draws.

Phil Jagielka’s unlikely long-range equaliser in September 2014 won’t be forgotten, and nor will the 3-3 from a year earlier as a late Sturridge equaliser denied Roberto Martinez’s side three points.

3. North London: Arsenal vs Tottenham

Rarely ever goalless draws, a highlights reel of derby goals as good as you’ll find and at least a dozen truly memorable games since 2000. It consistently delivers.

Tottenham supporters are living through a golden age, having ended the St. Totteringham’s Day curse and having the edge over the Gunners in the Mauricio Pochettino era, but a couple of cathartic occasions will always stand out: winning away at Arsenal for the first time in 17 years as Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart and finally Younes Kaboul completed a comeback from 2-0 down.

Or having gone through the 2000s without a home league win, ushering a new era in 2010 as a teenage Danny Rose scored a stunning volley on his debut in a 2-1 win.

Arsenal supporters will look back on fondly on their years of dominance but particularly on the 5-4 in November 2004 in which their list of goalscorers read: Henry, Vieira, Lauren, Ljungberg, Pires. Or in 2012 when they would thrash Spurs 5-2 twice at home.

2. Manchester: City vs United

For years, this was one of those derbies that meant everything, but as Manchester United dominated the Premier League for the first 20 years, that was reflected in their record against their city rivals, who would have to be satisfied with an intermittent day of glory, always made the sweeter by their standing as the underdogs.

But it’s a derby that has exploded into life ever since Sheikh Mansour pumped millions into the blue half of Manchester.

City announced themselves as United’s as a force to be reckoned with when they knocked out the Reds in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final, en route to the lifting the first trophy of many more to come.

They underlined their new status later that year when they inflicted United’s worst home defeat in 55 years, winning 6-1 during the first season they’d win a title.

The Guardiola-Mourinho years haven’t quite lived up to the hype of the toxic, timeless years of their rivalry at Barcelona and Real Madrid, given both men have mellowed in their stance of one another, at least publically.

And on the field, Jose Mourinho hasn’t proved a worthy adversary as his miserable team have been left in City’s record-breaking dust.

But he’ll always have the match in April 2018, in which Paul Pogba really stepped up to help mount a comeback from two goals behind to spoil their title party.

1. Old Firm: Celtic vs Rangers

A city derby that hasn’t been on a level playing field for some years now, with Celtic dominating the derbies as they romp home to title after title as Rangers have had to rise back up through the divisions, witheringly called a different, “zombie club” by their rivals.

If this truly was a different Rangers, you wouldn’t know it by how intense the Old Firm remains in Glasgow. Celtic fans are revelling in this era of superiority as they can have genuine ambitions of not losing a league derby as they look to eventually make it ten straight years of SPFL wins.

But Rangers fans will always have their penalty shoot-out win of the Scottish Cup semi-final in April 2016, as they’re waiting to turn Celtic’s monopoly into a duopoly once again.

No amount of imbalance will ever extinguish the burning flames of this rivalry.


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