Ranking the top five English rivalries

Published on 12 July 2023 at 23:37

English football and tribalist rivalries have gone hand in hand for as long as many can remember. So today, we will be looking through the greatest derbies which these shores have to offer, from Premier League heritage to Championship mainstays.


These derbies will be ranked based off various criteria such as competitiveness, historic moments, level of vitriol and proximity. 


Before we get into this, it is important to note that this is English rivalries only, so there will be no inclusion of the well-known 'Old Firm' or the 'Dublin Derby'. So, let's get started.


5 - Aston Villa vs Birmingham City - The 'Second City' Derby


Taking the number five spot on our list is the 'second city' derby played between Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Both hailing from, you guessed it, Birmingham, this intense rivalry dates back to late 19th century and has had its fair share of iconic moments.


Whether it be Dion Dublin head-butting Robbie Savage in the infamous 2002 encounter, or Jack Grealish being assaulted by a 'Blues' fan in 2019, the clash between Birmingham's two footballing protagonists has always been fiery.


So why then does it rank at just fifth? Well, whilst the two grounds are separated by just over two miles of industrial city, the two clubs have resided in completely different stratosphere's for the majority of their history.


This is no more evident than in this season when, Villa (winners of the 1982 European cup), now head back into Europe whilst their cross city rivals head into a 13th straight season in the second tier following a 17th place finish last season.


The disparity has seldom been clearer and so, despite the fiery hatred, the 'second city' derby sits fifth.


4 - Newcastle United vs Sunderland - The 'Tees/Wear' Derby


Next up on the list is the north-east's Premier derby contested between Newcastle United and Sunderland. Located just 12 miles apart, the two stadiums have played host to many an iconic fixture, from Sunderland's infamous 3-0 win in 2013, or Alan Shearer's final match in 2006 (fittingly a 4-1 thrashing in which Shearer of course scored).


The fixture has often been marred by aggression from both sets of fans with the hatred plain to see from either side.


However, with Newcastle recently becoming the richest football club in the world and Sunderland still unable to return to the Premier League following their relegation in the 2016/17 season, these two may diverge more than ever as Newcastle continue their ascent into the stratosphere.


3 - Sheffield United vs Sheffield Wednesday - The 'Steel City' Derby


In third spot is the 'steel city' derby which sees Sheffield's two major football clubs battle it out with no quarter given. These fixtures seldom see one-way traffic with the most recent encounter ending in a 0-0 draw in 2019.


Since them the clubs have gone in opposing directions with the 'Blades' securing Premier League promotion again this season whilst the 'Owls' found themselves languishing in League One last year. The two grounds are separated by just 3 miles making it one of the shortest distances on this list.


The vitriol between the two sets of fans is clear too, with 12 men being sentenced following a bar brawl after a 2019 clash. 

The 'Steel City' derby may sit above our previous entries but, due to one key factor it doesn't crack the top two.



2 - Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur - The North London Derby


Narrowly missing out on top spot is the North London derby, contested between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. 

This fiercely contested fixture has become even more so in the last decade as both clubs challenge consistently for the top four and even, on a few occasions, the title. 

Take the encounter from the 2021/22 season in which a defeat for Arsenal lead to them squandering their place in the top four, a place which had seemed all but guaranteed.

There is just four miles of London's sprawling mass city that separates the Emirates from the Tottenham Hotspur stadium so fan clashes are common.


Ultimately though, it is the continued competitiveness between the two clubs, alongside the passionate rivalry, that have the north-London Derby in second on our list.



1 - Manchester United vs Liverpool


But top of the billing for us has to be the North West derby, Manchester United vs Liverpool.

Yes, this rivalry may have the largest distance between stadiums with Liverpool's 'Anfield' and Manchester United's 'Old Trafford' residing 31 miles apart from each other. But, it is not the proximity of the two clubs that created this ferocious rivalry.


In fact, what sets this derby apart from all others is the sheer number of trophies the two can boast.


At the time of writing, Liverpool can show off an impressive trophy cabinet featuring 46 major honours, one more than their bitter rivals.


Over the past 50 years the dominance in this battle has swung from side to side like a pendulum. But one thing that has remained is the quality of fixtures (such as Liverpool's 7-0 demolition job this season).


It is these trophy hauls, as well as the longevity and consistent quality, that make the North West derby the greatest rivalry in English football.



So, do you agree with our top spot? Are there any obvious misses? 

Let us know.





Ben Watts

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