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Football derbies

Elsewhere, the rivalries stay alive, kicking. . .


MUCH-STORIED : Inter and Milan players watch as flares rain down on the pitch during the 2005 Champions League quarterfinal clash at the San Siro Stadium in Milan

Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.

- Bill Shankly, former Liverpool coach

Through the ages, football derbies - matches between local teams with strong identities and ideologies - have resembled re-enactments of civil wars. They are seen as forums where wounds usually caused by religious, economic, social, political, ethnic and geographical factors are routinely reopened. 

Constantly developing over time, changing as identities and economic status of clubs change, the concept of the derby has been kept alive in global football. In Italy, AC Milan and Internazionale have contested the Derby della Madonnina to honour the statue of the Virgin Mary atop the Milan Cathedral since 1908. The rivalry is believed to have begun after the Milan Football and Cricket Club was split over the issue of signing foreign players. While Inter, owned by Massimo Moratti, have historically been the richer club backed by the elite Milanese and intellectuals, it is AC Milan which has enjoyed more success after moving on from working-class roots to become a cash-fuelled powerhouse under Silvio Berlusconi.

In Scotland, the bitter rivalry between the Old Firm clubs of Glasgow - Celtic and Rangers - finds its roots in a history of sectarian issues between Roman Catholics and Protestants, ethnic groups as well as political and ideological leanings which has resulted in assaults and deaths. As with such rivalries, there are very few players who have represented both teams.

The Superclasico between Buenos Aires' most successful clubs is a long rivalry with its foundation based firmly on social differences. Contested between the affluent River Plate and the working class Boca Juniors, derby matches are enlivened by passionate supporters and the knowledge of their social and economic differences. Despite similar humble beginnings, River Plate acquired an aristocratic hue and its fanbase has contrasted with Boca's fortunes as a common man's club.

Turkey's Kitalar Arasi Derbi is perhaps the most unique contest geographically, with Galatasaray on the European side and Fenerbahce on the Asian side separated by the Bosphorus straits. What started off as a friendly rivalry has turned into a bitter clash of intercontinental proportions, with an effort to merge the two teams proving futile. So divided are the fans that hooliganism arising out of club fixtures has not been restricted to Istanbul but other parts of Turkey as well.

The Manchester derby has historically been viewed by United supporters as a clash between rich global giants and their poor crosstown cousins. However, City have transformed into an economic powerhouse thanks to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

El Clasico, perhaps the most watched rivalry in the world, is essentially a war zone where the unifying forces of Spain as represented by Real fighting the 'rogue' Catalan nationalists. Identity politics plays a huge part in this national rivalry between Spain's biggest cities, as does economic and social issues. Not much is civil on the pitch, with Barca's home-grown heroes and Madrid's millionaire stars always ready for a spat.

Coined by journalist Mário Filho, the Fla-Flu derby is played out between Brazilian rivals Flamengo and Fluminese. Their rivalry began in 1911, when a few disgruntled Fluminese players joined Flamengo.

Derbies have mainly been about bragging rights. The Manchester derby has hardly been more competitive and in a sense, the downfall of Liverpool - United's greatest rivals from the north of England - and the rise of City have almost helped keep the derby tradition alive and well. While derby fanaticism has been limited to a few football mad centres across India - Kolkata, Kerala and Goa - access to live coverage of international leagues have made the Indian football fans more aware of these historic rivalries, making them aware enough to enjoy the high of that inclusive feeling.

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