Sure, you know all about El Clásico, the famous rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. You get the social and religious affiliations that make the Old Firm games between Rangers and Celtic so compelling. And you regularly tune in to see Lazio and Roma go at each other in the Derby della Capitale. But there are plenty of other derbies in world soccer that deserve your attention—games with decades, sometimes more than a century, of history.
Below are 10 such rivalries, each accompanied by an image capturing the passion of derby day and a little history lesson—from occupying armies to dictators to a disagreement about an aquatic sports club—explaining where all the intensity comes from.
1. Olympiakos v. Panathinaikos
This Greek sporting rivalry isn’t confined to soccer, it extends to basketball, volleyball, water polo … and most other sports in which the two sporting clubs have teams. In the past, Olympiakos Piraeus used to represent the working class while Panathinaikos represented the Athenian upper class and was the favorite club of “Junta,” aka the Greek military dictatorship. These days, however, things have changed dramatically and Olympiakos is the rich club with a billionaire president and an incredibly high budget by Greek standards while Panathinaikos is a shadow of its former self.
2. Cracovia v. Wisla Krakow
To get an idea how dead serious the fans are about the matches between these two teams, they refer to this derby as “?wi?ta Wojna,” which translates to something like “the Holy War.” Arguably one of the most violent (on and off the field) sporting events worldwide, Wisla’s and Cracovia’s fans appear to be the only fans who haven’t signed the infamous “Poznan Agreement,” which is an unofficial agreement between Polish fans to refrain from using weapons during fights.
On the soccer field, Wisla and Cracovia both have supporters among all socioeconomic classes. However, Wisla is still viewed in the eyes of many as the privileged club of the wealthy since it always had richer presidents and bigger budgets than Cracovia, especially during the days of communism.
3. Flamengo v. Fluminense
The most popular Brazilian soccer derby has quite a bizarre history behind it, which might help you to understand why there’s so much bitterness and negativity when the two clubs collide on or off the field. The “FLA-FLU” rivalry, as most diehard fans know it, began just over a century ago when Flamengo was founded in 1895 as an aquatic sports club, while Fluminense was founded in 1902 as strictly a soccer club.
The different natures of the clubs didn’t cause any competiveness and for that reason Flamengo athletes were also members of Fluminense. This all changed in 1911, when before the final match of the Rio de Janeiro Championship, some Fluminense players couldn’t agree on the kind of money they would receive if they won the title, which made several of Flamengo’s members leave Fluminense and create their own soccer team. Since then it has been unforgivable for any player to follow in those early players footsteps and leave Fluminense for the now-hated rival.
4. Universidad de Chile v. Colo-Colo
Colo-Colo is the most popular team in Chile and borrows its name from a legendary aboriginal leader who fought against the Spanish conquistadores. On the other hand, Universidad de Chile is the team that attracts most of its fans from the more educated, politically active middle class. The most intense, violent period of the Superclásico was during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet who, in an attempt to gain the sympathy of the lower and poorer classes was named honorary president of Colo-Colo. This was the era when the club won several controversial championships, which helped Universidad de Chile gain support from the left for strictly political reasons.
5. Al Ahly v. Zamalek
Thanks to a clash between social classes and escapism going back nearly 110 years, the games between Al Ahly and Zamalek are so much more than just simple derbies. The roots of the rivalry can be traced back to when the British Army walked the streets of Cairo, a time when both teams came into existence.
Zamalek had the British Army’s support while Al Ahly represented the local patriots who fought against foreign occupation. The rivalry between the clubs is so fierce that foreign referees are always brought in for the games. Both clubs have won multiple continental titles and Al Ahly was named Africa’s club of the century in 2000.
6. Levski Sofia v. CSKA Sofia
The Sofia derby is not just the biggest soccer game in Bulgaria, it’s also one of the most volatile in the Balkans. The club names give you a taste of the different political, social and economic background of the teams: CSKA fans historically represent the educated elite of the country, whereas Levski has always had the support of Sofia’s poorer and lower suburbs. Additionally, Levski was named after Bulgarian national hero and revolutionary Vasil Levski, while CSKA was founded as the Central Sport Klub of the Bulgarian Army. Though many claim that most of these perceptions about the teams’ history and fans are outdated, the hostility and tension when the two teams play each other suggests otherwise.
7. Sparta Prague v. Slavia Prague
This is one of the oldest rivalries in world soccer. The two teams, both founded in Prague, playing for the first time against each other on March 29, 1896, in a game that finished without a score or winner. As of September 2014, they have played 284 times, with Sparta winning 128 games to Slavia’s 86, while 65 games ended in a draw. The most interesting part of this rivalry, however, includes the fans, who have often been in the news for their exceptional fighting and “boxing” skills in some unofficial meetings of the two sides off the soccer field.
8. Dinamo Bucharest vs. Steaua Bucharest
Bucharest’s two teams have been rivals from the day they were formed. Steaua was founded in 1947 and a year later Dinamo was born. Aside from all the millions of fans the two teams have and the multiple titles they have won, there are political aspects in this rivalry that turn things quite serious off the field.
During the communist regime that lasted there until 1989, Steaua had the support of the Ministry of Defense while Dinamo was the Ministry of Police’s favorite, and when Steaua shocked the world by winning the European Cup in 1986 (beating Barcelona in the final) the envy grew. So in many ways, even to this day, in the minds of the fans this rivalry symbolizes the battle between the army and the police.
9. Nacional v Peñarol
The Uruguayan Clásico is doubtless the most important game for the country which won the first World Cup in history, and one of the oldest derbies in the world since the first match between the two teams takes us back to 1900. Since then the two teams, both based in the capital, Montevideo, have played against each other over 500 times, have won a combined total of 91 of the 110 Uruguayan Primera División titles, and eight Copa Libertadores (the South American Champions League). As you probably understand by now, this match is a matter of history and pride for the fans of both teams and in many cases the local police force has lots of work to do on the day of the Clásico.
10. Raja Club Athletic vs. Wydad Casablanca
The Casablanca Derby, as it’s widely known, is the traditional derby not only of Casablanca but all Morocco and is considered one of the most heated derbies in all Africa. However, it’s more than just a sports event since Wydad Casablanca’s fanatics represent the country’s richer middle class, while those from Raja mainly come from the poorer working class. What makes things even more interesting is that the teams share the same home and thus all the derbies between them take place in the Stade Mohamed V, where the fans often collide.