Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There’s nothing quite like a ‘derby’ game. Whether it’s the Old Firm game in Glasgow, Spurs-Arsenal in London, the Milan derby (although I’ve always found the Rome derby a lot more interesting and exciting), they’re renowned around the world, the fans just love them and the atmosphere’s are usually electric.

As the years have moved on it’s been interesting to see how derbies and local rivalries have developed across the world and how different fans view different games.

Looking at Fife, for example, East Fife’s traditional local rivals, and main derby game, have always been Raith Rovers. With the 20 odd year gap when we didn’t face each other, East Fife fans have had to make do with the “pretend” derby against Cowdenbeath. We’ve got that back again this year, whilst Raith have moved on to their other Fife derby against Dunfermline Athletic. Both match ups were played out on Saturday to very different crowd numbers and atmospheres.

Opinion is split amongst the Raith support. Some, especially the younger ones who haven’t been used to anything else and still foolishly think of Raith Rovers as a “big” club, consider Rovers-Pars to be the main Fife derby. Others still know that it’s East Fife-Raith.

Dunfermline supporters don’t really care about Raith. They view their main local rivals to be outside of the Kingdom, in the shape of Falkirk. There’s real hatred there, again based on more recent games and exploits. When East Stirling still played in Falkirk, a Shire-Bairns match wouldn’t have got the juices running in any way, shape or form for the vast majority.

Such anomalies are found all across Scotland and England and it’s not inter town/city/county rivalries that matter as much any more. Liverpool-Man United generates more hatred and fervour than either Liverpool-Everton or United-City, although the latter will have added spice from this season once again. It’s always the “smaller” of the two Clubs that love the same hometown derby games it always appears.

Nottingham is a great example. Forest-County matters to the County fans, whereas Forest are more concerned with Derby County (although the Rams fans obviously have a Derby game every week!)

Saturday’s match up between the Rams and Forest was an absolute cracker. If anyone hasn’t seen it, try and get hold of highlights from somewhere. The passion on display on and off the pitch was electric. The fans cared. The management cared. The players cared - as was demonstrated by the stramash at the end of the game when Derby players took offence to Forest’s Nathan Tyson waving a celebratory corner flag past the Derby support. Five goals, hard tackling, total commitment. It’s what fans want and need from their players in such matches and something that was sadly missing from East Fife’s game against Cowdenbeath on Saturday.

On a worldwide stage, the biggest game for me is the Barcelona – Real Madrid game. It’s another example of regional rivalry taking over from inter city rivalry, but it doesn’t lose anything in the process. I don’t take too much interest in La Liga, but always make a point of watching these two combatants fight it out.

North America is so far behind this culture but it is certainly changing.

When Vancouver and Portland join the MLS in 2011, there’s some mouthwatering derby games in prospect. Portland and Seattle in particular is shaping up to be a tasty encounter for years to come. There’s real hatred between these two Pacific northwest cities on many levels. Portland fans have already set up ACES - Any Club Except Seattle. It’s a brilliant concept and I love it. It’s creating real football rivalry and as long as things don’t boil over into West Ham-Millwall type scenes (although I do have a feeling that it might!), then it’s all good, clean fun.

The media in North America are the ones that have a key part to play in developing these rivalries. As long as they let them grow and not expect Vancouver fans to cheer on Toronto, as they expected earlier this season, then the game will grow with it. It just needs journalists who “get it”.

In the meantime, I can only wait now for Hallowe’en and our next third rate derby encounter. Still, it’s better than nothing!

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