Football Rivals You Love To Hate

I hate Liverpool and I hate Liverpool fans. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a mate or two who is afflicted with Liverpool support and this isn’t to say that as a rule I believe all individual Liverpool fans are scum of the earth, but I can guarantee the image of thousands of scousers bellowing out ‘You’ll never walk alone’ is always enough to turn my stomach.

Whatever the press say about ‘the top 4’, I don’t regard Liverpool as our title rivals and haven’t done for some time. It has been eighteen years since their last league-winning season and in that time they have finished above us twice (1991, 2002). Arsenal and Chelsea have been our title rivals over the past 10 years or so, yet my feelings of dislike for them are incomparable to what I feel for Liverpool. That is proper rivalry.

“I can’t stand Liverpool, I can’t stand Liverpool people, I can’t stand anything to do with them,” said Manchester United captain, Gary Neville, which lead to his chant, whilst Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, wrote he wanted ‘Manchester United to die’ in his autobiography.

After Neville’s infamous goal celebration following Rio Ferdinand’s last minute winner against Liverpool, our captain said, “I nail my colours to the mast and I expect and accept it is not going to be accepted by the Liverpool fans.” However, the FA didn’t accept it either and slapped him with a £5,000 fine.

“It was a new one for me to hear people saying that I had celebrated too vigorously,” Neville said in response. “The stick is part of the game. One week, you take it on the chin, the next you give it out. That is how local rivals have always been, and always should be.” Hear hear!

The rivalry in football is one of my favourite parts of the game. The feeling of losing to a rival is absolutely gutting, but it makes getting one over on them even sweeter next time. These are the games you look out for on the fixture lists and the ones that bring about more celebration than any other. They create heroes and villains and bring about bragging rights for years to come.

Football Fans Census did a poll of close to 3,000 fans in this country on the topic of rivalry, looking at which teams regard each other as their main rival, the derogatory names for their most hated rivals and the reasons behind the rivalries forming, with rather interesting findings.

Main Rivals

The fans were questioned on who they regarded to be their main rivals and their second main rivals, with Manchester United, Burnley, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Chelsea ranking highest, with more clubs regarding them as their rivals.

Manchester United have more rivals than any other team, with fans from five clubs all claiming United are their main rivals. Arsenal, Bolton, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City think of United as their top rival, with Arsenal dumping their traditional rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Everton and Newcastle consider United as their 2nd mind rival.

Burnley (Blackburn, Halifax and Stockport regard them as their main rival; Preston, Rochdale and Blackpool see them as their second main rival), Leeds (Bradford and Hull; Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United), Sheffield Wednesday (Barnsley, Rotherham and Sheffield United; Hartlepool and Chesterfield), Chelsea (QPR and Fulham; Spurs and Leeds), Bolton (Bury, Tranmere and Wigan; Blackburn) are the other teams, alongside Manchester United, in the top 5.

Of the 92 league clubs, less than half (44) shared a two-way rivalry, with both teams considering each other their main rival, with the remaining 48 clubs have a mutual rivalry, including: Birmingham and Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Swansea, Manchester United and Liverpool, Cambridge United and Peterborough, and Millwall and West Ham.

45% of fans see history/tradition as the reason why their main rivals are so, whilst for 35% the closest club geographically takes the title of rival. 7% of rivalries formed because of competition or closeness for their place in the league table.

22% of fans say their current main rival is not the same as their ‘traditional’ rival, which has changed due to their traditional rival no longer being in the same league or they are no longer completing for the similar goals in the same league. This group of teams include: Chelsea changing their traditional rivals of Tottenham/Fulham for Arsenal as their main rivals, Arsenal changing from Spurs to Manchester United, West Brom changing from Aston Villa to Wolves, Peterborough changing Northampton for Cambridge, and Rochdale changing Burnley for Bury.

Strength of Feeling

The Celtic-Rangers was voted the fiercest rivalry in the UK, whilst the Liverpool-Everton was deemed the most amicable. Of all those asked, 83% felt intensely or very intensely about their main rivals, with 37% believing these strong feelings over rivals lead to football violence.

Over three-quarters of fans would rather thrash their rivals than beat them with a last minute winner, and three-quarters of fans would support the opposition if their main rivals were playing in Europe. Following a supposed need to ‘support English teams in Europe’, I’m glad so many people can be honest and confess. A sad 9% have said they would support their main rival.


Here’s a selection of some of the names fans call their rivals: Birmingham refer to Aston Villa as ‘The Vile’, Wigan call Bolton ‘Nob lot’ – a not very nice anagram of the club name, Crystal Palace call Brighton ‘Tesco’s’ in reference to their blue and white striped kits like Tesco plastic bags, Manchester United fans call Liverpool the ‘bindippers’ in reference to their supposed slum-like, rat-eating lifestyle (!!), whilst City call United ‘rags’ because of 1930 folklore suggesting we didn’t have the money for decent kits so had to play in rags, Sheffield Wednesday call Sheffield United ‘the blunts’ as a play on their nickname the blades, and Newcastle call Sunderland ‘mackems’ as a play on words of folklore that Sunderland workers would traditionally make the (make ’em) goods for Newcastle people who would ‘take ’em’.

Love to Hate

As much as we all may claim to hate our rivals, it’s clear that the World is a better place for having them in it. Can you imagine if week in week out you were playing the sides that meant nothing to you, who you were just playing against for points rather than pride? The football league would be a much duller place.

Here comes the ‘aww’ moment though, with 59% admitting they’d miss their rival if they weren’t there. All together now…

Also Read:

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