In the same way that unusual rivalries like the one between Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion can develop over time, so too can friendly relationships between football clubs and their supporters. I’m not talking about the relationship between a club like Chelsea in England and Vitesse in the Netherlands, where their relationship is seemingly more one of a mutually beneficial business interest, but more like the relationship between Chelsea and Rangers.
For those of you who don’t know, there is an affinity between many Rangers and Chelsea supporters, believed to stem all the way back to the so-called ‘Blues Brothers’ foundations. Chelsea’s first manager John Tait Robertson was a former Rangers player, and was said to have got Rangers old shirts as Chelsea’s first kits. In the 1960’s, chants of Rangers and Celtic could be heard on the terraces at Stamford Bridge, but as the IRA stepped up their bombing campaign in London in the 1970’s, the feeling at the Bridge switched ever-further towards the blue side of Glasgow.
That is the type of relationship I’m looking for in this seven, quirky historical links that are probably well-known at the clubs themselves today, but perhaps not so much from the outside.
Here are 7 football clubs with interesting links & friendships:
7. Fiorentina and Torino
The enemy of my enemy is my friend is an ancient proverb which dates back to at least the fourth century BC, and it is the root of a powerful friendship between Italian clubs Fiorentina and Torino. It used to be claimed that Florence and Turin were the only two cities in Italy where Juventus weren’t the best supported club, and whilst I find that hard to believe, they are certainly the two cities in which Juve are the most reviled. Fiorentina and Torino are united by a deep hatred of Juventus so severe that the two have formed an ever-lasting bond.
Whilst Torino’s dislike of Juve is a very natural one, stemming from the close proximity of the two sides and the idea that Juventus represented Turin’s elite whilst Torino were the club of the city’s working class, around 400km separate Florence and Turin. The rivalry between Fiorentina and Juve really intensified on the last day of the 1981-82 season with both clubs fighting for the Serie A title. Decisions went against Fiorentina in their game and in favour of Juve in theirs, giving birth to the phrase ‘meglio secondo che ladri’, meaning, ‘better to be second than thieves’. Fiorentina have suffered what they have considered to be further injustices since then, as well as the heartbreaking sale of Roberto Baggio to their bitter rivals.
The friendship between Torino and Fiorentina does actually run a little deeper than a mutual hatred of Juventus though, and back to the greatest tragedy in Italian football history. The Superga air disaster in 1949 claimed the lives of all 31 passengers and crew, decimating a Torino side that dominated the Italian game at the time. Fiorentina offered their own youth team players to help Torino in their hour of need, and that gesture has never been forgotten.
6. Schalke and Nuremberg
By far the closest relationship between two German football clubs, the bond between Schalke and Nuremberg is a particularly friendly one despite the origins of it being largely unknown. Many stories exist, from the idea that the friendship stems from a meeting on a train, to the idea that a group of Schalke fans once confronted a section of their own supporters when they tried to cause trouble against Nuremberg fans. Either way, this ‘fan-freundschaft’ – as it is known in Germany – is believed to have begun in the 1970’s.
The relationship appears to be as fervent and friendly as ever in the present day, with joint tifo displays of the Schalke and Nuremberg logos being displayed at games between the two sides in 2018 and 2019. Around 1,000 Nuremberg fans are believed to have attended Schalke’s 1997 UEFA Cup final win over Inter Milan, with the two clubs typically supporting each other outside of their own games against one another.
Schalke are the joint third most successful club in German football having won 15 major trophies, whilst Nuremberg are the joint fifth most successful, having won 13. The two clubs aren’t in the same league this season following Nuremberg’s last placed finish last season, but a single division won’t separate the bond between these two.
5. Atletico Nacional and Chapecoense
The most recent relationship in this seven, the circumstances of Atletico Nacional and Chapecoense’s brotherhood makes it one of the strongest in world football. When LaMia Flight 2933 crashed near Medellin, Colombia in November 2016, killing 71 of the 77 people on board – including all but three Chapecoense players, the whole world of football was sent into a state of shock and mourning. The tragedy was particularly harrowing for those players and supporters of Atletico Nacional, with the crash taking place in their home city just before they were set to face Chapecoense in the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Finals.
The tragedy meant the finals had to be cancelled, but CONMEBOL awarded the title to Chapecoense at the request of Atletico Nacional. Despite being the most successful club in Colombian football, Nacional and the city of Medellin has often struggled to escape its association with narco football and the name of Pablo Escobar, who supposedly used the club to launder his drug money.
Their reaction to this tragedy showed a different side of Nacional and Medellin to the world though. On the date the game should have been played, 130,000 Nacional gathered at their stadium and on the streets to honour the dead. Just four months later, Nacional faced Chapecoense in the Recopa Sudamericana, where further respects were paid, with Nacional going on to win 5-3 on aggregate. A friendship born out of tragedy, but a worthy inclusion in this seven nonetheless.
4. Athletic Club & Southampton
Now this is one that I wouldn’t expect too many people to know about. The link between Bilbao and Southampton actually predates the birth of the two football clubs, both of whom are more than 120 years old. In the 19th century, Bilbao was Spain’s gateway to the rest of the world in many respects, with its port being the engine room of the Spanish economy. Migrant workers most notably from Southampton, Portsmouth and Sunderland flocked to the city, bringing a love of football with them.
Together they formed Bilbao FC, sowing the seeds for Athletic Club who were formed in 1898. For a long time, there were debates about whether it had been the migrant workers from Sunderland or Southampton who had inspired and brought over Bilbao’s famous red and white striped shirts. It would now appear that it was most likely Southampton, with certain sources suggesting that 50 Saints shirts were taken from England to Spain, half going to Athletic Club and the other half to Atletico Madrid, both of whom still play in red and white stripes now.
The two clubs met in competitive fixtures for the only time in the First Round of the 1971-72 UEFA Cup, where Bilbao won 3-2 on aggregate. The friendship was re-ignited in 2011, when Southampton hosted the Basque outfit in the Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup, losing 2-0 at St Mary’s. Bilbao returned to the south coast in 2016, with Shane Long scoring the only goal of the game this time as Southampton won 1-0. In 2015, Bilbao evidenced the friendship by honouring Matt Le Tissier with a half-time award during their La Liga tie with Real Sociedad.
3. Napoli and Genoa
The second entry from Italy in this seven, Napoli and Genoa’s friendship was actually dealt a bit of a blow a few months ago, but we’ll come to that a little later on. The friendship between the two clubs began in 1982, when a draw between the two sides meant Genoa would survive relegation. It was during the mid-2000’s that the relationship really intensified, however, with both teams having dropped out of Serie A – Napoli having gone bankrupt and Genoa having been accused of match fixing.
Together, both teams won promotion from Serie C in 2005-06, and the following year they would be joined by Juventus in an incredibly competitive Serie B. Juve would win the league, and going into the final day it was between Genoa and Napoli for that second promotion place and dropping into the play-offs. However, if the third placed side finished 10 points or more above fourth place, there would be no play-offs and third place would be automatically promoted as well.
In a tale only football could write, Napoli faced Genoa in the final game of the season. Fourth placed Piacenza could only draw, meaning a point apiece for Genoa and Napoli would see both teams return to Serie A. The game finished 0-0 and raucous scenes ensued before the full time whistle had even been blown. More recently, Napoli’s ultras officially declared that they were severing all ties with Genoa after almost four decades of friendship due to a banner Genoa fans unveiled in support of what Napoli’s ultras described as “deceased enemies” from Inter Milan. All good relationships have the odd quarrel at the end of the day….
2. Juventus and Notts County
One of the best known obscure footballing relationships, I suspect there are still a fair few people watching this video who don’t know about the historical link between Italian giants Juventus and the now non-league English club Notts County. Notts County are the oldest professional football club on Earth, and were until their relegation from League Two, the oldest club in the Football League.
In 1903, having previously played in pink shirts, Juventus were looking for a new kit. The pink on their shirts had begun to fade following multiple washes, and they wanted something that could withstand the elements. John Savage, an Englishman who was at Juve at the time, was asked if he knew anyone in England who could supply new kits, and Savage just so happened to have a friend who lived in Nottingham. Savage received shipment of the shirts, and Italy’s most successful club have played in black and white striped shirts ever since.
In 2011, to celebrate the opening of their new stadium, Juventus invited Notts County to play them in what was both an unusual but very fitting exhibition match. The game finished in a 1-1 draw, with World Cup winner Luca Toni scoring for Juve, whilst Lee Hughes – who had been convicted of death by dangerous driving in 2004 – scored for County.
1. Partizan and PAOK
I looked all over when researching for this video, and I will come to some honourable mentions at the end, but I don’t think there is a more burning affection between the supporters of two different clubs in world football than the relationship between Partizan and PAOK. Now, having said that, I have absolutely no idea where this relationship originally stems from. If you do, which I’m sure some of you will, please let us know in the comments.
Located in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Partizan are one of the biggest clubs in Serbia, having won 45 trophies including 27 league titles, and they reached a European Cup final in 1966. Meanwhile, PAOK are based in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, are considered to be one of the leading clubs in Greece. They have only actually won three Greek Super League titles, although one of those was last seasons championship.
Partizan hosted PAOK for a friendly game back in 2016, in honour of Sasa Ilic who played over 600 games for Partizan, and it was a bit of a surreal atmosphere. Partizan fans joined in with PAOK fans chants, as the bond between the two clubs grew. There is a Facebook page dedicated to the friendship between the two clubs which has more than 60,000 likes! Partizan and PAOK’s unusual love-affair has to take top spot.
That’s it for the top seven but I should mention the likes of Sparta Prague and Arsenal, Sparta Prague and Nottingham Forest, Rangers and Chelsea, Grasshopper and Blackburn Rovers, Rayo Vallecano and River Plate, Fleetwood Town and Lokomotiv Tashkent, Liverpool and Borussia Monchengladbach, and Colo Colo and Alianza Lima.