From Spain to Hungary to the United States, Eli Mengem has been all around the world to cover the best, most intense, most passionate derbies in club football. And out of every trip he's taken, these are his top 5.
The Galician Derby: Celta Vigo x Deportivo La Coruna | Spain
Galicia is a place unlike anywhere else in the world let alone Spain, and whilst we visited to experience about the region’s very unique derby, it was the Celtic-like way of the people that left the biggest mark on us. A people and a place far more resembling of Scotland than anything Iberian, their pride in being Galician and ‘people of the sea’ comes before any kind of national sentiment. And don’t even get me started on their fascination with death and the supernatural! The football clubs of the two biggest cities help celebrate this, and so it is the derby between Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna that inevitably becomes the biannual fight to show which city is more ‘Galician.’ Pirate themed tifos, constant insults and chants in their local dialect, and a stadium literally by the sea, makes for a football experience that is as unique as they come.
The Roman Derby: Roma x Lazio | Italy
This one isn’t for the faint of heart. From the morning of the match, the entire city seems to shift into a tense mood, where the tourist-friendly atmosphere turns into something a little more sinister as police line streets and blocks miles ahead of the stadium. Hours before kickoff, tens of thousands of fans gather, and whilst at first glance it seems a merry affair sipping Peronis and munching cured ham paninis in the Tuscan sun, once the faux bombs start going off and the flares start being thrown things get a little more intense. Inside the stadium, it’s more of the same as the definitive split between the fans is plain for all to see. But all of this is forgotten if the side you’re sitting with scores, as the tension disappears into a sea of hugs and kisses shared amongst the fans.
The Andalusian Derby: Sevilla x Real Betis | Spain
They say the city of Seville lives their derby 24/7 — there’s a never ending cycle of pranks and competitiveness between both sets of fans going down on any given day, at any given time. And whilst the people of Seville are known for their party-loving, jovial ways, they really don’t like each other; in fact, the first-ever derby in 1914 was postponed when an all-out riot ensued in the second half. Regardless of which ground you attend, you’re bound to be part of a sell-out crowd full of the people that many in Spain consider the country’s most passionate football fans. To be released on March 25…
The Sarajevo Derby: Željezničar x FK Sarajevo | Bosnia
My idea of Sarajevo distorted by imagery from terror the city went through in the mid-90s, I wasn’t the most optimistic or enthusiastic about the experience I was going to have in comparison to other trips I had been on with COPA90. But I couldn’t have been more wrong; from the people to the landscape to — of course — the football, the city affected me in a way unlike any other. The peopl, despite having very little, are desperate to give you all they can; we barely paid for a single drink, thanks to a series of football fans who were so appreciative of us visiting their city and covering their derby. As for the football: whilst perhaps lacking in on-pitch quality, the derby more than made up for in passion and character. Played at the home ground of FK Zeljeznikar’s (Bosnian nickname for ‘Train workers’, the founders of the club over ninety years ago), we were privy to an incredible fixture where the goals and on-pitch drama were side notes to the off-pitch drama…the way football should always be. From pre-game to post-, we were privy to FK Sarajevo’s 3,000-man march through the city to the match, which took place at a packed ground with a never-ending roar and a theatre of flares at half time from the home side. All of this was experienced in probably the most unique stadiums I’ve been to. Grbavica — named after the neighbourhood its located in, which was the centre of the battle between Serbian and Bosnians forces — is riddled with bullet holes and other physical memories of the war, just like the neighbourhood. And if all of this doesn’t leave you feeling culturally enriched, then the novelty full-sized train (in honour of the clubs founders) that stands in the terraces of Grbavica, or the bridge you readily walk over where Franz Ferdinand was shot, or the array of Churches that sit peacefully amongst mosques and Synagogues (Sarajevo is noted by some as ‘Little Jerusalem’) bloody well should.
The Ruhr Valley Derby: Dortmund x Schalke | Germany
This is a derby between two small, working-class mining cities who don’t have much else going on other than their beloved football clubs. And perhaps that’s because both Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund have both consistently punched above their weight domestically and internationally, bringing consistent Champions League, Europa League and Bundesliga titles to the region over the past few decades. But despite their similarities — or perhaps because of it — there is no love lost between the two sets of fans. In fac, the two hate each other so much you’ll rarely find a fan of either club who call their rival city by it’s name; they’ll instead refer to it as ‘the other guys’ or ‘up the highway.’ What all this manifests into is a week where all anyone is talking is the derby and which city will claim the bragging rights of the Ruhr valley. I recommend attending the Dortmund home leg as pre-game; the atmosphere is electric, with the arrival of the away fans down a long winding road always offering some kind of drama. And inside offers arguably the impressive sight in world football: BVB’s famous Yellow Wall, one entire grandstand holding 30,000 delirious fans jumping up and down for the entire 90 minutes.