Watched by a global TV audience of around 650 million, it’s been described as ‘the mother of all derbies’ and the second most important game in the world (after El Clasico) – but is the Manchester derby the biggest derby in Europe?
This all depends on two things: (a) how do we define a derby? (b) how do we compare all the derbies objectively?
The first question is arguably the more difficult one. Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, Inter Milan vs. Juventus, and Liverpool vs. Manchester United are all examples of intense rivalries rather than derbies. We could define a derby as the match between two clubs from the same city, but this would exclude Newcastle United vs. Sunderland, Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04, Ajax vs. Feyenoord and Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Sociedad to give just a few examples.
Even within the same city, Fulham’s main local derby is with Chelsea, whereas Chelsea’s is with Spurs, whose derby is with Arsenal. So even if we were able to compare all European derbies objectively, the very idea of a derby would always be problematic.
Of course, in terms of European footballing success, all one-city derbies pale in comparison to Milan, a city whose two teams have amassed a grand total of ten European Cups/Champions League titles between them (Real Madrid alone are not far behind with nine, whilst Manchester/Liverpool have eight). In fact Milan is the only city in Europe with more than one winner of the competition, making any objective success-based comparisons of European footballing derbies difficult.
An easier and in many ways more appropriate method for comparison would be to combine the average attendances of each derby team throughout the 2010-11 season and list them accordingly. Bear in mind that this is not a list of the fiercest rivalries (which would always be subjective) and that the attendance figure is for all games throughout the season (not just the derby games themselves).
The top 20 derbies in Europe based on combined average attendance
All figures are based on Wikipedia’s top 70 clubs by average attendance. I haven’t included any clubs that are outside the top 70, e.g. 1860 Munchen (whose average attendance of 20,000 would put the Munich derby in the top ten). This is because I’d like to source all the figures from the same place. However I don’t think the list would change dramatically if this was the case. Fenerbahce (39,542) vs. Besiktas (26,249) would have made the list but the figures given are not for the 2010-11 season (and the Besiktas figures is unsourced).
The top ten teams without representation in the list are Marseilles (51,081),Eintracht Frankfurt (47,335),Napoli (47,210),FC Kaiserslautern (46,378),Hertha Berlin (45,761),Hannover 96 (43,948),Valencia (41,599),VfB Stuttgart (38,847),Porto (36,404) and Shakhtar Donetsk (33,897). I considered classifying Eintracht Frankfurt vs. FC Kaiserslautern as a derby (which with a combined total of 93,713 would’ve made the top ten) but decided not to (see below).
Any list of teams based on average attendance will always be dominated by Germany, where competetive one-city derbies are uncommon. I’ve chosen to include the four biggest regional ‘derbies’ and exclude all the others – although I think the Ruhrgebiet still has to be classed as a single agglomeration (as of course does Greater Manchester).
No team has been included twice. This means that Arsenal vs. Spurs is classed as the biggest London derby, with Chelsea vs. Fulham second. It should be stressed that there is a lot of overlap when it comes to the London derbies. These four teams have been chosen purely because they have the highest average attendances, not (at least in the case of the West London derby) because they have the fiercest rivalry.
The closest distance between two stadiums is of course Milan vs. Inter, where the two teams share the San Siro. The distance between Anfield and Goodison Park is 0.6 miles; between Estadio Da Luz and Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon it is 1.4 miles. The longest distance between two clubs in the list is between Munich and Nuremburg (the two largest cities in Bavaria),which are around 100 miles apart, raising inevitable questions about how we define a derby. The distance between Hamburg and Bremen is around 60 miles, between Bilbao and San Sebastian around 50 miles, between Amsterdam and Rotterdam around 35 miles, between Lyon and Saint-Etienne around 30 miles. The distance between the Westfalenstadion and the Veltins Arena is exactly 17 miles, whilst there are exactly ten miles between St. James’ Park and the Stadium of Light.
The smallest difference in ratio between the two average attendances are those between Milan vs. Inter, Köln vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach and Celtic vs. Rangers. The largest by a long way is Barcelona vs. Espanyol (although the difference between Bayern Munich vs. 1860 Munchen would have been bigger still).
Whilst it isn’t perfect for all the reasons mentioned, the list above arguably gives us a better insight into European football than the list of average attendances itself or the infamous Deloitte Football League, in showing where the real football powerhouses of Europe lie. It’s no surprise to see the Revierderby topping the list with Manchester, Madrid, Munich (Bavaria),Barcelona and Milan all close behind. Manchester’s success on-the-field this season is clearly a reflection of the city’s status as one of the six football capitals of European club football.
More Football Derbies
- The World’s Most Violent Football Derbies.
- Major Football Derbies (with sub-articles for each continent).
The author, Tom Riley, writes about football, music and the history of Manchester at http://ascentofmanchester.