A burning hatred
Robin Hackett
October 13, 2011
t Facebook t Twitter

This weekend sees Lazio take on Roma and Liverpool host Manchester United (as discussed in Best of Enemies and A Rivalry in Deepest Red). Here, we look at some of the most hate-filled rivalries in world football.

Bulgaria's Eternal Derby (CSKA Sofia vs Levski Sofia)

With its roots in the 1940s, many see Bulgaria's Eternal Derby as the biggest rivalry in the Balkan region: CSKA, founded as the Communist army team and associated with the rich, against Levski, seen as the team of the people.

On the field, the fiercest battle came in the 1985 Bulgarian Cup final, which saw two red cards, numerous fights and the referee struck twice by goalkeeper Bobby Mihailov. Tempers were sparked when CSKA's Georgi Slavkov opened the scoring in the 26th minute via a handball, and that goal proved decisive in a 2-1 victory. At the end of the game, a huge brawl took place in the tunnel that was severe enough to see the Bulgarian Communist Party order that both teams were dissolved while five players, Hristo Stoichkov among them, were handed life bans. A few months later, the sanctions began to be reduced, allowing the players to play on and the clubs to live on.

The off-field violence has only increased, though, particularly after Communist rule was overthrown in 1989. "It's like a war now," one Levski fan told Reuters in 2008. "I'm a lifelong Levski supporter and I've been at the stadium for more than three decades but it seems ridiculous to go there with my kids nowadays. It's so dangerous there."

Cairo Derby (Al Ahly vs Zamalek)

Not only the most successful teams in Egypt but the most successful in Africa, the Cairo Derby sees a vicious division between the red of Al Ahly - the team of the nationalistic proletariat - and the white of Zamalek - the team of the colonial bourgeoisie.

The derbies, which have crammed in 120,000 fans, have long been some of the most violent in the game despite the armed forces' efforts to police them. In 1966, a controversial penalty saw riots at Zamalek and the burning of a local factory while, in 2007, with the violence shifting to the basketball games, a Zamalek fan was set on fire after Ahly fans hurled Molotov cocktails. Foreign referees were brought in and the games were moved to the neutral Cairo International Stadium to help ease the tensions, but the problems have not abated.

In a 1999 derby, French referee Mark Batta sent off Zamalek's Ayman Abdel Aziz after just two minutes for a tackle from behind, prompting his team-mates to walk off in protest. Zamalek were fined by the Egyptian FA and saw their coach and two players suspended, before being sued by three Zamalek fans for £180,000 in 'moral damages'. A lawyer then chipped in attempting to sue the club and federation for £18,000, plus his £180 travel costs and £2.75 match ticket. Such is the passion of the Cairo Derby.

The two clubs' ultras actually united as they fought in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, but only briefly. "For a few hours," one Ahly fan told CNN, "but I couldn't do it for long."

De Klassieker (Ajax vs Feyenoord)

The clubs are separated by 43 miles, but they have long been arch-rivals. Ajax are the Total Footballers, the club of cultured and liberal Amsterdam, while Feyenoord are the Rotterdam club, associated with the right-wing working-class.

Feyenoord fans direct anti-Semitic chants at their rivals, while Ajax describe themselves as the 'Super Jews' and decorate the ground with the Israeli flag and Star of David, but as one Ajax season-ticket holder and son of a Holocaust survivor told The Times in 2007: "We're not a Jewish club at all. It's just these bloody kids. They just want some sort of identity, but it's insulting."

Both sides have a serious history of violence. In 1996, Feyenoord fans firebombed police and threw stones and bottles at the Ajax team bus; the following March, in a pre-arranged battle that became known as the Battle of Beverwijk, an Ajax fan was beaten to death as fights involving knives, baseball bats and hammers caused havoc.

The 1997 incident prompted politicians to speak out about the "madness" and to seek solutions, but they have been unable to stop the violence. In 2004, Ajax fans flooded the field at the end of a reserve match, leaving Feyenoord midfielder Jorge Acuna with head, neck and rib injuries as Robin van Persie made a narrow escape; in April 2005, there was a notable riot in which seven police were wounded.

Derby de Casablanca (Raja vs Wydad)

The Casablanca derby sees two of Morocco's big three battle it out in front of crowds of up to 80,000 in a rivalry with a long history that has grown ever stronger down the years.

Wydad's early years are tied to former journalist Affani Mohamed Ben Lahcen, or 'Pere Jego', who helped found the club in 1937 and became its first coach. Such was his success - he won four domestic league titles, three North African titles and one North African Cup - that he apparently faced two assassination attempts. He fell out with the Wydad directors and left the club in 1952; three years later, he turned up at Raja, who had been formed six years earlier.

Pere Jego was a well-travelled coach and the timing of his trips around the globe lay the foundations for each club's characteristic approach. Wydad, the middle-class club, had been schooled in the English style of play; Raja, the working-class side, were educated in the Brazilian style.

The rivalry has led to regular rioting in the stands and Moroccan magazine TelQuel recently wrote of a "veritable field of battle" that "does not have very much to do with sport" after a match-day in which one fan was killed, 150 buses were vandalised, police vehicles were damaged and the Mohammed V stadium was severely damaged. "These hooligans are just extremists," Raja president Abdellah Ghallam said. "The thugs here don't even look at what's happening in the game."

Derby della Capitale (Lazio vs Roma)

Though the Milan derby may attract more global attention, Italy's fiercest contest concerns its capital clubs. Roma were traditionally the people's club, founded in a 1927 merger between three Rome-based sides; Lazio, associated with the well-heeled, remained independent thanks to the efforts of Giorgio Vaccaro, a general in the Fascist regime. "Lazio is different," Vaccaro explained. "Lazio came first, then its fans. As for the others, the fans were already there and they were handed a team to support."

Benito Mussolini was to become heavily associated with Lazio, but the regime was keen to see both Rome clubs prosper - in fact, Roma's title triumph in 1942 was attributed to the dictator and Helenio Herrera, who took charge of Roma from 1968, later gave that theory credence when he said they "won their lone Scudetto thanks to Mussolini". Even so, the battle to become the capital's...
Next >

t Facebook t Twitter
Back to Top
ESPN Mobile Web Home
En Español
Change Timezone
Help & Feedback
Terms of Use