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3 European Football Rivalries with Surprising Backgrounds

Manchester United is destined to have a rivalry, considering that it “lives” in the same city as another Premier League club, Manchester City. Yet it has several more that are not about who wins the Champions League or the Premier League but about which one gathers the most wins over the other in derbies that have been ongoing for centuries at times. United has such rivalries with Liverpool, Arsenal, and Leeds, the latter bearing the name of the “Roses Rivalry” and dates back to the “War of the Roses” fought between 1455 and 1487.

While the history of football is the longest in England, it’s not the only country with historic and long-running rivalries. And it’s also not the only country where derbies often come with cultural and political substrata.

The Oldest Russian Derby (FC Spartak Moscow and FC Dynamo Moscow)

While the saying “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us” is a typical cliché of the “decadent capitalists” in the old Western movies, it has been adopted by Moscow’s two major football clubs, Spartak and Dynamo as well. This rivalry has an origin story that would be a great movie plot: Nikolai Starostin, the founder of Spartak, was tried along with his three brothers for an alleged plot to kill Stalin in the 1940s – this resulted in two years of interrogations and ten years in Siberia. Starostin suspected that the accusations originated from Lavrentiy Beria, the chief patron of Dynamo and chief of the Soviet Union’s national security. Upon returning from his exile, Starostin became the chairman of Spartak once again, always demanding that his team defeat Dynamo at all cost, thus getting at least a bit of payback for the atrocities he suffered.

Starostin’s demands were met (so far): Out of the 204 meetings of the two clubs, Spartak has won more – 72.

The Derby of Budapest (Ferencvárosi TC and Újpest FC)

The Derby of Budapest was once one of the most violent derbies in Hungarian football. The first match between Ferencvárosi TC and Újpest FC was played in 1905 – this makes it one of the longest-running ones in the country – when Újpest was not yet part of the Hungarian capital, making this one a rural-urban rivalry. Later, Újpest became the team of Hungary’s Ministry of Interior – this happened in the 1950s when Hungary was overrun by the Soviet military – so it became a symbol of the oppressors, while Ferencváros, the symbol of the opposition. Both teams have their share of ultras, and their matches are often preceded by fights – in the 2013-2014 season, the police had to use tear gas to break them up.

Out of the 279 matches played by the two teams (223 league games), 101 were won by the Green Eagles (the nickname of the FTC).

Derby of the Eternal Enemies (Olympiacos and Panathinaikos)

Olympiacos and Panathinaikos are the most successful football clubs in Athens, Greece – this alone would be enough for them to be involved in a long-running rivalry. As you might expect, though, there’s more to the Derby of the Eternal Enemies than just football. Panathinaikos was founded in 1908 in the central part of Athens, representative of the highest class at the time. Olympiacos, in turn, was founded in 1925 in Piraeus, the port city just outside Athens, representing the working class. Later, Athens engulfed Piraeus, making it a part of its metropolitan area. In time, Olympiacos became a symbol for the victims of political and social unfairness, while Panathinaikos remained a memento of the higher-class citizens of Greece. While the social differences between the two fan bases have since disappeared completely, the derby remains known as the one of “Eternal Enemies” to this day.

Out of the 200 matches played by the two teams, Olympiacos won more – 81 – and scored the more goals – 264. Panathinaikos has the more resounding victory under its belt: in 1930, it beat Olympiacos 8-2.

More Stories Dynamo Moscow Ferencvaros TC Olympiacos Panathinaikos Spartak Moscow Ujpest FC

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