It’s called "the beautiful game", but sometimes it's not so pretty: long-running feuds featuring everything from broken bones to snorkels have run rampant from the stands to the pitch, ever since the English Football League (now the Premier League) was founded in 1888.
Even in the competition’s so-called post-WWII "golden age", when Stanley Matthews wore ridiculously long shorts and less-than-fashion-conscious players of the 1970s sported terrifying mutton chops, local pride was everything.
The Premier League is now a multi-million-dollar concern that thrills millions worldwide, but the historic grudges persist – and make for great viewing. Here are some of the longest-running feuds to watch for in English (and sometimes Welsh) football...
Manchester United vs Manchester City
City has led the Premier League for most of this season, but with United now snapping at its heels, this northern rivalry has never been stronger. Following the famous Manchester United's decades of glory, City’s rise began in 2011 with the arrival of Italian manager Roberto Mancini, who helped the club win its first trophy since the 1976 League Cup.
Past Manchester derbys have been bad-tempered and violent affairs. In the 1970s, a tackle from United’s legendary George Best broke Glyn Pardoe’s leg. And in 2001, an infamous foul from Roy Keane controversially ended the career of City defender Alf-Inge Haaland.
In the 2007-08 season, City claimed victories in both head-to-head ("derby") Manchester matches for the first time since 1974. And much to the annoyance of United fans around the globe, lately it has been City’s decade.
Liverpool vs Everton
The “Merseyside derby” between The Reds (Liverpool) and The Blues (from just north of Liverpool's city centre) is now the longest-running local derby in English football. There has been no love lost since 1962, when Liverpool was first promoted.
It doesn’t help that the clubs’ grounds are just a kick of a football apart from each other, but the family atmosphere at Liverpool’s Anfield and at Everton’s Goodison Park over the years has thankfully ensured the matches became known as the “friendly derby”.
Not that anyone told the players. These matches have generated more red cards than any game in the Premier League. And the two teams have played out some epics, including Ian Rush’s 1982 quartet of goals in Liverpool’s 5-0 triumph over the so-called Toffees (named for an Everton sweet shop), a 1984 final in the Football League Cup, and Everton personally seeing that Liverpool’s massive 29-game unbeaten run in 1988 came to an end.
Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur
There’s been no love lost between North London’s footballing giants Arsenal (“The Gunners”) and Tottenham Hotspur (“Spurs”). They’ve been playing each other since 1887, but the rivalry began in earnest in 1913 when Arsenal moved its home to Highbury, just four miles from Spurs’ White Hart Lane.
Former Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista – who has now fled to Spain’s Valencia – reminisces that playing Spurs felt like going to war. Controversy was amplified in 1988 when Arsenal legend George Graham took the Tottenham manager's job, having been in charge of Arsenal for nine years.
Graham’s return to Highbury for his first game against Arsenal as Spurs manager was greeted with loud jeering and shouts of “Judas”. Tottenham fan favourite Sol Campbell was called the same when he made the move to Arsenal on a free transfer in 2001. Things haven't settled down.
Liverpool vs Manchester United
When the two giants of English football clash, it is not a pretty sight. This fixture often brings out the best – and worst – in those participating. During what was arguably its most successful era, United’s manager Alex Ferguson said his greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool off its perch.
So heated are the passions on and off the pitch that Liverpool’s favourite son Steven Gerrard was once sent off after being on the pitch for just one minute.
Following the 1958 Munich air disaster, which killed eight United players and three members of staff, ex-Liverpool player Sir Matt Busby took United to European Championship glory. The 1970s saw United’s successes decline, while Liverpool was in the ascendant, winning 11 league titles and four European Cups before United won the Premier League again under Ferguson. Now United is the dominant force, while Liverpool struggles to get its hands on any silverware, but the weight of history hangs over the matches.
Fans just don’t want to see the other club do well.
Cardiff City vs Swansea City
Prior to the 1960s, the rivalry between the two South Wales clubs was friendly. But amid unrest over unemployment and economic conditions in the 1980s, hatred grew between the two sets of fans.
Most infamously, a group of Cardiff fans was allegedly chased into the sea off Swansea by rival supporters in 1987. Mocking Swansea fans then wore snorkels and chanted “swim away”.
In 1993, a match became known as “The Battle Of Ninian Park” when the Swansea fans ripped up seats in the stadium to hurl at the Cardiff fans following a goal, before the Cardiff contingent invaded the pitch. Projectiles have regularly been thrown onto the pitch, in 2009 injuring a referee. One goalkeeper claimed he collected £65 in coins that arrived on the pitch as missiles.
Unsurprisingly, each side’s fans were once banned from attending matches at the other’s home ground. These days they're no longer together in the Premier League, but with this level of ferocity, it could happen...
Chelsea vs... Everyone
There’s something about Chelsea Football Club that causes opposing teams and fans to have a problem. Is it the cash they splash? Maybe it was the moment that former Real Madrid manager José Mourinho arrived on the scene as Chelsea’s manager and announced himself to the press as the “Special One”.
Or maybe it’s just because Chelsea then began to win everything. Whatever the reason, this is the team that people love to hate. Unless you are a Chelsea supporter, obviously.
Watch the Premier League on SBS this weekend:
Sunday February 25 from 1:30am (AEDT): Liverpool v West Ham United
Sunday March 4 from 1:30am (AEDT): Tottenham Hotspur v Huddersfield Town
Saturday March 10 from 11pm (AEDT): Manchester United v Liverpool
Sunday March 18 from 1:30am (AEDT): Stoke City v Everton
Saturday March 31 from 10pm (AEDT): Crystal Palace v Liverpool
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