Your Own Worst Enemy – Why Intense Rivalries Are Essential To Football

One of the beauties of football is that all you need have a kickabout is a few mates, an obstacle-free area (although these can provide extra entertainment), and something that acts as a ball. Three simple ingredients and you’re suddenly in a world where ‘Richards’ become ‘Ronaldos’, and ‘Zacks’ can be ‘Zidanes.’ Needless to say, as you add strips, referees, goal nets etc the game down the park becomes closer to the actual sport.

What the casual recreational game lacks, and what elevates football from a great game to a great spectacle, is the addition of an enemy. Like I said in my previous blogpost , we enjoy sport because it offers a break from ‘real life’; its boringness and worries. Football can provide the relief; but it requires the primitive ruthlessness which comes from competition between natural enemies to really make it significant.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Not quite the cuddles and kisses as it might appear

Every club has a rival that the fans love to boast about defeating whenever they do. However most teams don’t have an enemy. It’s hard to define exactly what intensifies a rival into an enemy, but what is obvious is the change of dynamic from a significant weekend of the year to no-holds-barred tribal warfare.

The hatred and animosity shared between the true enemies, like the biggest wars, normally have an almost old and classical basis, although there are notable exceptions. Arsenal and Tottenham are historical enemies and that’ll never change, but during the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Arsenal developed a new enemy in the form of Manchester United. Being the only two teams realistically vying for the league title, circumstance bound them together, but the hostilities were no less bitter despite its briefness.

 as the game ends 0-0
Jumping for joy- Keown screams at Van Nistelrooy

It’s seems logical to assume that clubs situated close to each other will become rivals and potentially enemies, but again it’s not always as simple as that. The hatred between the enemies of Liverpool and Manchester United is incredibly intense and deep-rooted, yet the same can not be said with their respective city rivals, namely Everton and Manchester City. Real Madrid and Barcelona share the passion and ferocity of natural enemies despite having no geographical link, and the same is true of Juventus and Internazionale in Italy.

As football developed into the globalised commercial game it is today, the lines between opposition, rival, and enemy have become blurred. Abramovich’s billions at Chelsea, the even richer Sheikhs of Manchester City, and the ongoing resurgence of Atletico Madrid are disrupting the status quo and angering the supporters of historically ‘bigger’ teams. These new superiority tug-of-war battles have not become historical power struggles just yet but they may well do.

What intensifies the animosity between genuine enemies is that (despite their fans thinking differently) clubs are broadly defined by those they dislike the greatest. Both the fans and clubs in general of Manchester United and Liverpool characterise each other, as do Celtic and Rangers, and Real Madrid and Barcelona. United surpassed Liverpool’s record to win 20 British titles, Rangers were denied 10 titles in a row by Celtic, and Real Madrid won an unprecedented 10th European cup in 2014. Each event remarkable in itself, but made considerably sweeter by the weight it holds with their enemies.

The Old Firm Derby

Winning should always be celebrated and trophy success should never be forgotten, but those that come against a sworn enemy are the best of all. With such passionate and fiery emotions comes the inevitable downside of derby matches; that they result in usually respectable individuals doing disrespectful things. One can’t help but wonder just how healthy and rewarding the dedication to the worlds most arresting drama really is. Football is watched and debated by so many because the intensity of feeling is so great that it can be both the best and worst of sports at the same time. This is especially true of enemy rivalries.

Unfortunately I see a time in the near future when football will become so protected that enemies will become no more than common competition. Some will view the day when this sanitisation occurs as a positive step forward. For me it’ll be a sad day, one where football gets reduced to just any other sport.

Superclásico - The most dangerous football match in the world
Superclásico – The most dangerous football match in the world