About a week ago I did a video on seven interesting and unusual friendships and relationships between football clubs across the globe. It was one of those videos that I find interesting but normally crash and burn when I upload them, but happily it seems other people actually found it quite interesting too.
The top comment on that video, from subscriber Stavros P, was the suggestion of doing a similar video on seven strange or unusual football rivalries.
Bizarrely, this was actually harder to research than the other one, and I’ve no doubt that there are loads of peculiar rivalries from around the globe that I still don’t know about, and I thoroughly expect particularly some of our foreign or overseas subscribers to let us know about some really interesting ones in the comments.
To be clear, a rivalry between say AC Milan and Inter Milan or Liverpool and Everton is pretty easy to understand. The two clubs are basically next door to each other, thus creating a derby. Similarly, rivalries such as the one between Real Madrid and Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are easy to understand, as hugely successful clubs who develop competitive rivalries due to regularly facing each other and battling for trophies – albeit there’s obviously a lot more than just footballing reasons behind that Barca / Real rivalry. Anyhow, those are essentially the two typical types of rivalries, and this video is interested in examples that on the face of it makes no sense whatsoever.
Here are my 7 bizarre / strange / unusual football rivalries:
7. Uruguay vs Australia
Real Madrid and Barcelona have faced each other 242 times in all competitions over the years, whilst Liverpool and Manchester United’s meeting this afternoon will be the 203rd time the two clubs have met in competitive fixtures. That’s sort of what we expect of rivalries. It makes sense that you can only really maintain a mutual dislike and competitiveness if you face one another on a regular basis, and yet the international rivalry of Uruguay and Australia is the one that gets us started in this seven.
Uruguay is a tiny football-adoring South American nation that, against all the odds, won the first two World Cup’s the country entered and have won the Copa America more times than either Argentina or Brazil. Australia is a vast nation, historically uninterested in football, preferring sports like cricket, Aussie rules and rugby. Nevertheless, the record between these two who have faced off a mere nine times reads four wins for Uruguay, four wins for Australia and one draw.
The first competitive meeting of the two came in the semi-finals of the 1997 Confederations Cup, which Australia won, although Uruguay exacted some revenge four years later when they knocked Australia out of 2002 World Cup qualifying. The rivalry really stems from the exact same set of fixtures four years later in the 2006 World Cup inter-confederation play-offs. Uruguay beat Australia 1-0 in the first leg in Montevideo, before both teams headed to Australia for the second leg in Sydney four days later. Australia won 1-0, meaning the game went to penalties, where Australia’s golden generation pulled off the greatest achievement in the history of Australian football – or soccer. The two teams have met just once since in 2007, which Uruguay won, but this rivalry lives on despite 12 years without the two teams meeting.
6. North Carolina vs LA GalaxyLos Angeles Galaxy
Football rivalries in the US may not be quite as old or routed in tradition as some of those in Europe or South America, but there are still some passionate ones. The likes of the Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls vs New York City FC both have a little bit of a fire in them, but there’s one rivalry that requires a bit of a backstory to get your head around.
The lack of promotion and relegation in US soccer means rivalries seemingly ought to only be divisional, but there are still cup competitions. That’s exactly how LA Galaxy and North Carolina FC, some 2,500 miles apart, developed a rivalry over the last decade. To put that in perspective, a round trip from the Galaxy’s home in LA to the soccer park in North Carolina would take you 74 hours – or a little over three days – of non-stop travel by road. The distance between the two is the same as the drive from Madrid to Moscow, so it would be fair to say this one isn’t really a local derby.
North Carolina FC, formerly Carolina RailHawks, play in the USL Championship, the second tier of US soccer. On paper, they should be no match for the second most successful side in the MLS, with LA Galaxy having won a record five MLS Cups. Nevertheless, for three seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014, North Carolina were drawn against LA Galaxy in the US Open Cup every season. What’s more, North Carolina beat their much esteemed opponents every time. This rivalry is a funny one, inasmuch as the two sides could never face off again, but North Carolina can take pride in being one of the US’ biggest clubs bogey sides.
5. Norwich vs Wolves
You have to feel for Norwich who are a little cut off from much of England, and don’t have a great deal in the way of local rivals. The East Anglian Derby is obviously Norwich’s fiercest rivalry, and even that’s a fair old trek. The rivalry between Norwich and Wolves is a lot less intense, but does still exist, and is a fairly bizarre one given the three and a half hours separating the two teams by car.
The dislike is a fairly recent one, beginning in 1998 when Wolves defender Kevin Muscat left sprightly young Canaries striker Craig Bellamy with a puncture to his knee cap with a horror tackle. A well-known thug on the pitch, Muscat caused a string of long-term injuries through his cowardice tackles, and threatened many more. Norwich weren’t willing to forgive Muscat for the challenge on Bellamy, and Iwan Roberts exacted some revenge on Bellamy’s behalf two years later.
And thus, a little rivalry was born, albeit a slightly one-sided one, and Norwich fans took great pleasure in their side beating Wolves in the 2001-02 Championship play-off semi-finals. The rivalry has largely died down since then, with Norwich fans slightly split on whether Wolves are genuine rivals of theirs. They did sing a chant involving the line ‘we only hate Ipswich and Wolves’ for a while though, so I think this one is a worthy entrant.
4. Iran vs South Korea
A case could be made for the footballing rivalry between Iran and South Korea not being that unusual, but I suspect it’s one few of our subscribers know about. Outside of football, one might expect a fractured relationship between the two nations. Iran has long had close ties to North Korea, South Korea’s neighbours who routinely threaten to wipe them off the face of the Earth and a nation they are technically still at war with, whilst South Korea has a strong relationship with the United States, a superpower that has long been at loggerheads with Iran. Nevertheless, Iran and South Korea have somehow managed to have pretty good relations in diplomatic, political and economic terms, just not so much on a football pitch.
The rivalry really began in the 1970’s, when Iran and South Korea were regarded as the two strongest national teams in Asia. Iran went undefeated in six meetings with South Korea between 1971 and 1988, winning three consecutive Asian Cup titles during that time. They have met even more frequently since the turn of the millennium, playing out really closely fought contests which Iran have tended to edge.
Key games between the two in terms of developing the rivalry include the 1972 Asian Cup final, which Iran won 2-1 after extra-time, a 4-3 win for Iran at the 2004 Asian Cup in China, and a couple of draws in 2010 World Cup qualifying which saw South Korea qualify for the finals in South Africa whilst Iran missed out. The most recent meeting between the two countries, who are separated by over 4,000 miles, was a 1-1 draw in a friendly in Seoul in June of this year. In total, they have met 31 times, with Iran having won 13 and South Korea having won 9.
3. Gillingham vs Swindon Town
Around two-and-a-half hours separates English lower league duo Gillingham FC and Swindon Town, and despite playing each other regularly for around 80 years, there was no ill-will between the two. Up until 1979 that was, a season in which both teams were fighting for promotion from the Third Division. Both games between the two that season would be fiery affairs, and I mean really fiery affairs.
In the first leg at Priestfield, a 2-2 draw was overshadowed by a red card shown to Danny Westwood. Incensed by the decision, one supporter ran onto the pitch and punched the referee, knocking him out. The return fixture would be no friendlier. Gillingham had a player sent off once again as Swindon won 3-1, but a fight in the tunnel after the game meant Swindon coach Wilf Tranter had to go to hospital with injuries to his face. Two Gillingham players ended up in court due to the incident, and a rivalry had been born.
The hatred is generally regarded to be stronger from Gillingham towards Swindon than from Swindon towards Gillingham, with the Robins having a much fiercer rivalry with Oxford United. Gillingham have a rivalry with MIllwall, but some supporters consider Swindon to be their fiercest rivals. The rivalry was intensified as the two teams met in the first Third Division play-offs in 1987, with Swindon winning in a replay. Both teams have tended to fair well in their home games against the other, and Gillingham are now in League One whilst Swindon are in League Two.
2. Hansa Rostock vs St Pauli
There are some pretty heated rivalries in German football, such as Dortmund vs Schalke and Hamburg vs Werder Bremen, but the rivalry between lower league duo Hansa Rostock and St Pauli has been described by some as the most hate-filled and vitriolic in the country. What’s stranger is the fact that these two aren’t near neighbours, at all in fact, with 250km of German roads separating the two sides.
Many of you will be well-aware of Hamburg-based St Pauli and their strong stance on progressive issues and fan culture. Just this week the club parted company with Turkish midfielder Cenk Sahin after he uploaded a social media post supporting Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria. St Pauli supporters generally identify as being left leaning politically, taking strong anti-racism, fascism and homophobic stances.
Fewer of you, I suspect, will be aware of the politics of Rostock, which is a pretty city in the north of Germany. Rostock has a large number of far-right and neo-nazi residents, stemming from an anti-immigrant mentality that arose after the fall of the Berlin wall. Rostock struggled following German unification, erupting in two days of xenophobic riots against migrants in 1992, which was the biggest in post-war German history. Hundreds took part as thousands looked on and cheered.
Around this time, St Pauli travelled to Rostock for the first time, and it won’t surprise you to hear that it wasn’t a peaceful clash. There was fighting in the stands and riots after the game, and a bitter rivalry has ensued ever since. On occasion, Hansa fans have thrown bananas at St Pauli’s black players, shirts have been set alight and flares fired into away ends. This is sometimes described as the most heavily policed game in the world, with one officer for every twenty fans, and it has to make this seven.
1. Brighton vs Crystal Palace
Current Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson says he doesn’t remember there being a rivalry between Brighton and Palace when he first started supporting the club in the 1950’s and 60’s, and that makes a lot of sense since an hour of English motorway separates the two teams. Having said that, up until Crawley Town getting into the Football League in 2011, Palace were actually the closest Football League side to Brighton, slightly nearer than fellow south coast outfit Portsmouth.
Roy Hodgson is quite right that there was no rivalry back in the 50’s and 60’s, however, since the feud between these two kicked off in the 1970’s. The rivalry began with a heated clash during the 1974-75 season, when crowd trouble blighted a 1-0 Brighton won at the Goldstone Ground. Things intensified later in the decade as both aimed for promotion from the Third Division under rivals and former teammates Alan Mullery and Terry Venables, and things really turned sour during an FA Cup tie in 1977.
Brighton’s nickname of the ‘Seagulls’ even stems from this rivalry, previously nicknamed the ‘Dolphins’, after they sang Seagulls back to Palace fans to mock the opposition fans whilst they sang ‘Eagles’. In 1985, Palace defender Henry Houghton broke Brighton favourite Gerry Ryan’s leg in three places, an injury from which the Irishman would never recover. Several instances have exacerbated the rivalry since then, and both teams are now experiencing a rare spell together in the top flight. The record between the two sides is incredibly tight, with Brighton having won 40 games, Palace having won 38, and 25 ending in draws.