Soccer is a game that exerts some of the biggest highs and lows of emotion, a passion that is incomprehensible unless one truly loves the sport.
While that may stimulate an avid following for a specific soccer team – following them through thick and thin, loving them unconditionally – it can also create the adverse effect. For decades, supporters of certain opposing sides have felt a strong rivalry towards each other and, while the game has evolved to modern times, these sentiments still remain.
These are, of course, healthy and actually desired in a game that requires such passion, but they are a fascinating reminder that soccer is never too far from its roots.
With that in mind, here are the five biggest rivalries in the history of soccer.
De Klassieker (Ajax vs Feyenoord)
Perhaps one of the lesser-known clashes on this list is the rivalry between the Netherlands’ biggest football clubs, which represent two of the country’s most developed cities. Ajax, of Amsterdam, face up against Feyenoord, of Rotterdam, each year in a derby known as De Klassieker. The two cities have been at loggerheads since the 13th century, with Amsterdam traditionally representing artistic attitudes and Rotterdam the nation’s workhorses.
On the pitch, though, 1917 is the first recorded match date between Ajax and Feyenoord, although the footballing rivalry actually started four years later, when a Feyenoord protest managed to alter a 3-2 score line to read 2-2. There was uproar from the Amsterdam faithful and it is thought that from that point onwards, the rivalry blossomed. Over the years, though, Ajax has had bragging rights, with their 75 titles putting them 39 ahead of Feyenoord and making them the Netherlands’ most decorated club side. Indeed, they also boast the largest derby win, an 8-2 victory back in the 1983-84 season.
Feyenoord and Ajax fans during the TRAINING session ahead of De Klassieker on Sunday. 😳 pic.twitter.com/Y0cji4frfL
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) January 21, 2023
Kitalararsi Derbi (Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray)
Not only is this one of soccer’s fiercest rivalries, but it is the only one to span two continents. The Kitalararasi Derbi, known as the Intercontinental Derby in English, has existed for over a century and features Turkey’s two most established clubs, Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray. The name ‘Intercontinental’ stems from the fact that both represent two of the major teams from the Asian and European parts of Istanbul, Turkey’s capital.
The first match between the two dates back to 1909 – which was won 2-0 by Galatasaray – but the rivalry developed as a result of the opposing cultures present in both sets of fans. Traditionally, Galatasaray represented the higher-class, French society of Istanbul, having been founded by students in 1905. Fenerbahce, meanwhile, was founded by middle-class Muslim and Greek men two years later and soon became known as the people’s club. Nowadays, such fanbases have become intertwined but the sentiment remains. Galatasaray has narrow bragging rights in the league – boasting 22 Super Lig titles to Fenerbahce’s 19 – but their haul of 58 non-defunct domestic trophies far exceeds their rivals’ 34.
El Clásico (Barcelona vs Real Madrid)
Arguably one of the most iconic rivalries in soccer, Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of Europe’s most successful sides. They met in their first Clasico back in 1902, which Barca won 3-1. Spain is a country of regions, some of which feel a stronger sentiment toward their own people than the nation as a whole, with Catalonia one of the biggest examples. Barcelona soon became synonymous with a passionate expression of Catalan pride, particularly throughout the era of Francisco Franco. As Spain’s capital club, Madrid has naturally represented nationalistic expression.
Thus, the rivalry was born, producing some of soccer’s most memorable matches ever since. In this campaign, though, it is the Catalans who appear to have the upper hand. After 27 games, Xavi’s side was 12 points clear of their Madrid counterparts. As a result, they boast favorable odds of -20000 to win the league on bet365, which features among Ireland’s best online betting sites for 2023 due to the range of payment methods available and the welcome offer for new customers where they can receive 30 Euros in free bets if they place a 10 Euro free bet. The markets that the bet can be used on cover a range of countries and include in-play and pre-match options, although there are terms and conditions to consider.
In a year in which Barca already has a Supercopa de España derby victory to their name, it remains to be seen whether they can follow that cup glory with league success.
‼️ If Barça win on Wednesday, they would equal the 101 wins set by Real Madrid in #ElClasico, as per @diarioas ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/NY0AKeSIPn
— Madrid Zone (@theMadridZone) April 3, 2023
The Old Firm Derby (Celtic vs Rangers)
Soccer matches between two of Scotland’s biggest teams have been taking place as far back as the 19th century. Back in 1888, when the Glaswegian duo of Celtic and Rangers first locked horns, it is said that the relations between the pair were amicable. Since then, though, stark division lines have been drawn. The differences between the two sides can be seen in their flags, emblems and even the kits of both clubs.
In short, Celtic tended to represent the poorer Roman Catholic population in East Glasgow, traditionally of Irish origin. Rangers, meanwhile, were a staunchly Protestant club – until Graeme Souness’ stint as manager in the 1980s – and represented the wealthier native Scots and Ulster Scots from the West. Compared to the other rivalries on this list, the Old Firm Derby developed into a sporting feud much quicker, with Celtic’s domination of the late 1900s soon paving the way for a period of Rangers strength. To date, their records are neck-and-neck, with Celtic just behind on 113 domestic trophies compared to Rangers’ 116, even despite the Gers’ financial woes of the 21st century.
El Superclásico (Boca Juniors vs River Plate)
The only rivalry on this list from South America, Boca Juniors and River Plate have been vying for bragging rights in Argentina’s capital since 1913. Despite both originally being based in Buenos Aires’ working-class area of La Boca, River’s re-location to the more affluent district of Núñez in 1925 means they have since tended to represent the upper-class, thus earning a nickname of Los Millonarios (‘The Millionaires’). Boca, meanwhile, were said to be made up of Argentina’s working class, many of them Italian immigrants, thus dubbing them Xeneizes (‘Genoese’ – i.e. from Genoa).
Of course, as has been a common theme throughout, the demographics have since shifted and fan groups are now much more mixed. But the sentiment not only remains but is still incredibly strong between Argentina’s top two teams. As a result, the Superclásico remains arguably the biggest show of passion across the world of soccer. Domestic honors are almost exactly shared, with Boca just ahead with 52 trophies to River’s 51. The Xeneizes also hold the advantage in head-to-head matches, with 91 wins compared to Los Millonarios’ 84. River did, however, celebrate a memorable 5-3 aggregate win in the 2018 Copa Libertadores final, which will also last long in the memory of the Boca faithful.
Of course, there are countless other rivalries across the globe that haven’t been mentioned, such as between French giants Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille and Greek duo Olympiacos and Panathinaikos.
Soccer has gone through a multitude of changes since its introduction and subsequent globalization and development in the 19th and 20th centuries. But the fact that such passions have remained is certainly something to celebrate and proves just why the game is one of the most popular around the world.