Guest Post: Just Another Game…..Right?


Yanks vs. Sox may pale in comparison...

With the first pitch being thrown tonight in the beginning of a new season of America’s pastime and the game marking it between the fiercest rivalry in the sport, TSG thought we’d love back and some of the rivalries–the biggest, the up-and-comers–in the global pastime: soccer.

We’ve got a guest columnist for this one. Matt Biggerstaff, who has participated already in one of TSG’s Jumbles. Thanks Matt for the work and good read here.


The blood pumps through your body. Your heart pounds as you size up your foe and know that this is no ordinary game.

Certainly you say it’s just another game in the press, but deep inside you know it means so much more. This is that match that you circle when the schedule comes out, the game that you dig deep for during the off season, the one you fall asleep dreaming about.

It is the rivalry match.

The passion, the agony, and the glory that always runs through every game is intensified to a whole new level when you face your rival. And you are only a fan! You can only imagine the intensity that the players feel. Rivalry games can define a season, where all was lost, one win can change everything and losing that derby can destroy an otherwise great season. Worldwide, there are stellar rivalries everywhere and to save you from boredom I can only highlight some of the best around, what might be, what isn’t anymore and a couple outside thoughts that will leave you questioning my credentials.


The Legends

Rangers – Celtic

A little taste of the pain in this one...

A rivalry that defines a league, Celtic and Rangers are the SPL.

Straight up. So when they clash, it is legendary. The combination of the religious ties that pit Catholics against Protestants fueled with the violence that surrounds that relationship, political affiliations that divide the two sides into very clear groups, and a soccer rivalry that stretches back to the late 1800s makes this rivalry one of the finest in the world.

Recently American Maurice Edu bagged a winner that will likely propel Rangers to the league title and add him to the lore of Old Firm history. The first I ever knew of this match was a Sports Illustrated photo where Rangers and Celtic supporters were in sections next to each other with two full lines of police lining the aisles between them.

That photograph captured the intensity and the raw power of the Old Firm. The passion of the fans and the incredible history make the Old Firm what it is today.

River Plate – Boca Juniors

Rangers Celtic may define a league, but River – Boca defines a continent.

When you think think South American soccer, you think Brazil and Argentina on the world stage, and River – Boca on the club stage. Any time an English newspaper says that this rivalry makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick around, you know you have run into a serious derby.

Both teams originated in the working class areas of Buenos Aires, and these fans are a majority of what makes this rivalry so special. The banners, streamers, fireworks and chants just help showcase the insane passion of the fans. The fact that these two teams often find themselves at the top of the table battling for the Argentinean title just adds to the fervor of this rivalry.

Victor Valdez celebrates his shutout against Real Madrid this year...

Barcelona – Real Madrid

The defining rivalry in Spain, Barcelona – Real is breathtaking.

Battles in the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu, which are two of the most spectacular stadiums in the world, often decide the champion of La Liga so there is all to play for. A deeper vein runs through the rivalry beyond just the game, as Barcelona represents Catalonia and the progressive independent thinking Catalans and Real Madrid representing Spanish nationalism and the desire for Spain to operate as one.

This clash is so much more than soccer, it is a clash of culture, of the ideologies of the two biggest cities in Spain, so to say that the fans and players on each side have a lot invested doesn’t even begin to touch the surface. In the 21st century, we have seen some of the best players in the world playing for each of these teams, and continuing this trend Messi and Ronaldo currently line up on opposite sides of the pitch. El Clasico is the finest rivalry on the European continent and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Argentina – Brazil

There are so many incredible international rivalries that I really couldn’t select more than one for this part. I think the definitive international rivalry is Brazil Argentina, because both sides are so talented and they square off more than any of the other major international rivalries of note. Argentina and Brazil always play during qualification and often you see them in finals of tournaments like the 2007 Copa America final. The beauty of this rivalry is the incredible talent on both sides of the ball. Each team is supremely talented and every time they square off it promises incredible fireworks. Both teams have established claims as a top five team in the world and their up and coming talent shows nothing to think that they won’t stay there long term. Throw in two of the most passionate fan bases around and mix in a combination of national pride and being neighbors and you have an incredible rivalry that exceeds any other at the international level.

Manchester United – Chelsea

The EPL’s finest sides in the past five years have a special relationship that can only be described as riveting.

It is the reason that I am still awake at 3am, awaiting kickoff two hours from now. As Chelsea turned the corner in the Prem when Abramovich purchased them in 2003 and infused cash into the club, the rivalry was renewed at a level that had never been seen before. Having won the last five championships between the two of them, they have established themselves as the new class of the EPL, and their games have elevated to the intensity of this renewed rivalry.

The most riveting game of recent memory was the Champions League final two years ago, where United defeat Chelsea in PKs in an incredible game. The fact that each game is played for so much has increased the intensity of the rivalry. Each side has some of the greatest fan support across the globe and playing their matches at the Bridge and Old Trafford makes every meeting even more majestic. Everyone circles this game on their calendar worldwide.

The Up and Comers

The infamous Tevez billboard...

Manchester City – Manchester United

Funny to call this an up and comer as this rivalry has been around for decades, however the Manchester Derby has become so much more the last three years.

With Carlos Tevez switching allegiances and a greatly changed City side improving to the point where the Manchester derby is no longer a given win for United, this rivalry has blossomed recently.

With the insults flying back and forth of late, the intercity dynamic, and the commitment from City’s ownership to continue pursuing United at the top of the table, this rivalry could eclipse all others in the EPL in the next three years as each team drives for titles. The intensity currently is incredible, and it is very clear that the fans of each side are not fond of each other.

If more clever advertising like the “Welcome to Manchester” Tevez sign continues to stoke the flames, the sky is the limit for the heights this derby rivalry can reach.

United States – Mexico

This rivalry is so much more than the beautiful game, but encompasses national pride and socioeconomic status coupled with an emerging world super power to make the best new international rivalry in the world.

US – Mexico has the atmosphere of a World Cup final regardless if it is a World Cup qualifier, a friendly, or a bunch of dudes wearing shirts from each team. The recent supremacy of the US has shocked the Mexican faithful and players, who have failed to recognize the blinding speed of US improvement and still think they are a leg up against their northern rivals. This fervor that is seen through the players like Donovan saying that games against Mexico are something completely different and the fans putting so much of their country’s value into this game, as a majority of Mexicans said that if they lost at Azteca this past qualifying round that it would reflect negatively on their nation makes this more than just a regional rivalry, but the best new rivalry in the world. With each country producing stellar young generations, the race to becoming a world power will be driven by beating their neighbor to the top.

LA Galaxy – Chivas USA

We turn to MLS where this past Thursday we saw everything that makes the LA derby so good. The fact they share a stadium. A locker room. Training pitches. The incredible passion and intensity.

The handbags on the field, the cheekiness, every single loose ball being contested at a cup final level. The LA fans are some of the most passionate in MLS, but the level of play and the intensity really makes this rivalry stand out, with its unique setup as the only derby match in the MLS. After last year’s incredible playoff battle, Galaxy Chivas was solidified as the best MLS rivalry.

If you don’t know about this one, you might want to check out this clip here:

Riding The Pine

England – Germany

This rivalry has lost some luster based on two primary factors: The inconsistency of each of these squads and the fact they rarely face each other. With England missing Euro 2008 and Germany looking consistently mediocre of late, at no point recently have both teams had that luster that makes fans drool about an impending tie.

The other factor is that there are no impending ties, past or present. In fact their last game was a 2007 friendly. No matches of importance for years, and with European qualification for the World Cup being so scattered it is likely we might not see another stellar game any time in the near future. However 2010 does hold some interesting possibilities in the knockout round where this rivalry could be renewed…

Some thoughts: First, the number of incredible rivalries in the soccer world go above and beyond anything I could ever write. Each country has a number of rivalries domestically, and with the Champions League/Europa League/Copa Libertadores/World Club Cup/CONCACAF Champions League among others we are seeing more rivalries emerge across leagues like Chelsea – Barcelona among many others. That is what makes this game so beautiful and interesting, the constantly evolving relationships between different teams.

International rivalries are a whole new ballgame, as I look at just one team like the US and the rivalries they have developed in the past four years: Italy, Spain, Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico all come to mind immediately. That is just an incredible number of teams where suddenly each game is more than just another international match when the two sides square off.

This year’s World Cup will certainly birth new rivalries that the world hasn’t even considered yet and reinvigorate old ones as well. I wish I could have touched on all of them, but there are so many good ones that you could spend your entire life just watching them all. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…mind you I’m sitting here waiting for a game to kick off at 4:45 am SF time after not going out tonight so I would be sharp for it this morning, so I might not be the best source for rational thoughts on this topic currently. I will leave you with the three that are at the top of my list to see sooner rather than later: US vs Mexico at Azteca, Real Madrid at Barcelona and River Plate at Boca Juniors. Regardless of the rivalry, I don’t think you can go wrong making it out to any rivalry game, because small or large, if the passion is there, you should be as well.
Matt “Biggy” Biggerstaff generally pretends to write for when TSG doesn’t call him up to the first team.



26 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by patrickhattrick on 2010/04/04 at 5:55 PM

    *AHEM* Man United Liverpool anyone? I always think of this as the English rivalry and Rangers Celtic as the Scottish rivalry. US Mexico has been great. I don’t really think of the Chelsea Man United one that much. Can’t wait for the next Ireland France one. That should be good!


    • I would rate Everton-Liverpool ahead of Man United-Liverpool, personally. There’s so much bad blood there. Fans and history are so closely intertwined for that one, too, and considering that these are two of the most successful teams in England’s history, it deserves some love. In fact, I’d probably rate it ahead of the Manchester Derby.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/04 at 7:07 PM

      I love this idea Matthew, nice one!

      I have to agree with Patrick – if you’re talking about historical rivals, then Man. Utd vs. Liverpool goes way back to the old shipping industy (have you ever wondered why United have a small boat on the badge?), even the Merseyside derby and North London derby are ‘historically’ bigger than United vs. Chelsea. There are too many rivalries that trump Chelsea vs United, but I guess for fans abroad, a lot of the newer ‘derbies’ are more relevant than say Millwall vs Wet Ham or Ipswich vs Norwich.

      And not to be pedantic, but a lot of the Boca and River Plate rivalry stems from the fact that Boca are the working class urchins and River are the ‘upper class’ fans. But I think this is probably the ultimate derby in world football.

      I know that you said that you could not include all derbies but I feel the following deserve a special mention: my bias would have to include the oldest international – England vs Scotland and there is Germany vs Netherlands (remember Rikjard spiiting at Voller in 1990?) and Honduras vs El Salvador… at club level Zagreb vs Split, Besiktas vs Fenerbahce and Lazio vs Rome.

      The England vs Germany or Argentina is up there, but it has more to do with WW2 and The Falklands.

      For new footballing rivalries, I’d include South Korea vs Japan, and within MLS, how about Dallas vs Houston or Seattle vs Vancouver next season (for all you Liverpool fans out there, remember Bruce Grobbelaar?)?


      • It won’t be just Seattle vs. Vancouver next year, but throw Portland, OR in there as well and the Northwest corridor will quickly jump to the top of the MLS rivalries.


      • Posted by Kevin on 2010/04/05 at 9:17 AM

        Dallas-Houston has been great on MLS standards. Remember 07 where alvarez kneed Davis in the… Great stuff over there and from a biased point of view also being at those games trumps all other Houston games.


        • Or what about when Rico kicked Carlos Ruiz in the face, he was on FC Dallas then wasn’t he???


          • Posted by cosmosredux on 2010/04/05 at 11:56 AM

            We’re going to need to a do a follow-up here with:

            – Most violent rivalries – Most bitter rivalries – Rivalries that you’re likely to get injured at. – Most gentleman-like rivalries



  2. enjoyed reading this article (as I do all of yours) but I don’t like that United-Chelsea is listed and United-Liverpool is not. There is NOT a single bigger rivalry historically than Utd-Liverpool. These teams reside very close to each other in the North of England and despise one another. Sir Alex’s main goal as a manager has been to overcome Liverpool’s 18 league titles and he had done that last year. The 19th one is very important to him and this rivalry is by far the biggest one for United fans. It is true that City and Leeds are also rivalries while Chelsea has become an up-and-coming one but there is no doubt that United-Liverpool should be listed here. That being said, I love what you are doing here on your coverage of football and the USMNT and great article! Thanks


  3. Posted by Jon C on 2010/04/04 at 7:00 PM

    No love for Italy? The Milan derby is pretty intense. Only certain referees can work it because it’s considered to pressure-packed for your run-of-the-mill ref. I’ve always wanted to check out this match at the San Siro; look at the atmosphere:


  4. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/04 at 7:20 PM

    Megan, you are right – *historically*, Everton vs Liverpool Arsenal vs Tottenham and Man Utd vs Man City are big derbies. But, what you have to also take into account is the changing demographics of Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd fans – before they were all from the local area, so local bragging rights were at stake, and when you went to school / work on the Monday morning, it would be a nightmare if your team lost! But now, with many fans (and players) not local, and the fact that over the last 20 years, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd have become much better than their city rivals, it’s not as big as once was, so it means much more to Spurs, Everton and City to beat them and put a dent into their title hopes…


  5. Posted by itally on 2010/04/04 at 7:37 PM

    You can’t forget: El Súper Clásico — I’m watching right now! Club América v Chivas de Guadalajara. I pretty much never watch the Mexican league, but this game is always fantastic.


  6. Haha, I guest wrote this, so I better defend myself! yes, all of you have very good points. Utd-Pool is certainly an epic rivalry as are the Italian ones. However, I picked the biggest rivalries that are most appropriate now, in my eyes. I wouldn’t wake up for a Pool United game at 5am this season because of the fact that there isn’t as much on the lines. I did for United Chelsea. I think that will continue to flourish as the best in Englad. America-Chivas and Inter-AC are both huge derbys, but I went with the biggest five in my mind. Realistically, you could compile a top twenty and leave a ton of great rivalries out.

    George Cross, since the Prem has only been really on TV here in the past five years? that I have been exposed to in the states, I don’t have a handle on all the great english rivalries. I do know that the CL final between United and Chels was one of the greatest games of my lifetime and really a defining moment there. Again with the new rivalries, there are many options to choose from. I think Seattle Portland is the only rivalry close to Chivas Galaxy, and will likely overtake the LA derby when Portland enters the MLS. In terms of international rivalries, there are incredible numbers, like I said about the US and how many were ignited or reignited this summer. Plus, what fun is it if everyone agrees that I am right about everything??


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 10:34 AM

      I also think the former Yugoslav counties, especially Croatia v Serbia has a lot of potential…


  7. Posted by patrickhattrick on 2010/04/04 at 9:17 PM

    I always brag to United fans that I meet when they say “you’re not as good this year” I say that we beat you 2-0 and Fwenando Torres is awesome. I would definitely get up or stay up to watch the reds and the red devils. IDK if I weren’t a liverpool fan, though.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 9:47 AM

      If I was a United fan, I would say “you’re not as good as you were in 1990!”


  8. Posted by Tim on 2010/04/04 at 9:22 PM

    This lacks Algeria-Egypt


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/04 at 9:27 PM

      That needs to be in there for sure Tim — anytime you’re bus gets shelled with rocks and that’s actually one of the lighter things in this rivalry…


  9. Posted by Mike on 2010/04/04 at 9:45 PM

    Being from Philly, I would love to see a Union-Red Bulls rivalry develop. The New York-Philadelphia rivalry has been brewing for the past few years, first with the Phillies-Mets rivaly and now coming into a Phillies-Yankees era. The two stadiums are only a couple hours apart and visiting side fans are sure to be in high attendance every matchup. I know the Union are young, but a good rivalry would be great for a new team.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 10:36 AM

      Good call – I am actually going to this game (and NYRB v Sounders) and am excited.


  10. Posted by Jason Jordan on 2010/04/05 at 7:57 AM

    With the intense rivalry between the United States and Mexico do you see more players like Edgar Castillo wanting to gain citizenship or do the Mexicans look @ him as a traitor to their country?!


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/05 at 8:16 AM

      You know Jason….I don’t know…it’s a valid question…let me think about it and look into it.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 9:53 AM

      He was born and raised in the USA right? And lived here all his life, no?


      • Posted by Bob on 2010/04/05 at 10:25 AM

        Well they call JFT “Gringo” Torres down there so there is obviously some animosity for Mexican-Americans choosing the USA over Mexico (although it may all be tongue-in-cheek as JFT supposedly likes the nickname). It would have been interesting to see how the crowd at Azteca would have reacted had JFT played last August.


  11. Posted by kaya on 2010/04/05 at 7:53 PM

    I’ve always sensed the Man U/Liverpool rivalry was the biggest in england, but I guess that’s just easy for the foreigner to pick out since they’ve always been big teams.
    And you def gotta give the Milan derby a shoutout. There’s a better version of this out there that I didn’t find with a quick search, but Crudelli announcing the derby is one of the reasons I’ll always love the Italians, no matter how much they dive.


  12. Great article!

    In fact we are excited by the US v Mexico rivalry we are making a documentary about it.

    ‘Gringo at the Gate”


  13. Posted by Kai on 2010/04/06 at 1:44 PM

    Liverpool-United must be on here, whether considering history or current times. Sure, Liverpool has had a down season, but what about last year?? Down to the wire between those two historical teams.


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