Follow me:

Learning English through Football – 5 questions about football derbies

5 questions about football derbiesThere are a host of derbies being played around the world this weekend so we thought we’d take a look at some of these football rivalries in this week’s main report: 5 questions about football derbies. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the file below – you can also subscribe and listen to all our football-language podcasts – there are hundreds! There is a vocabulary list, also a transcript to the show (below) and with this transcript you can improve your English by reading as you listen, or if you are a teacher of English you can use the transcript to make several listening and/or reading activities for your learners. If you have questions or comments, email us at:

Embed from Getty Images

What is a derby?

A derby is a game played between rival teams – usually from the same city or region though not always, think Barcelona against Real Madrid or Liverpool vs Manchester United, for instance. Generally the games are played at a frenetic pace as the teams are roared on by the fans who want to have bragging rights over their rivals. This of course means that form often goes out the window making these games very difficult to predict.

Where did the term originate from?

Embed from Getty Images

Well, though there is some confusion over its origin, it is now generally accepted that the term derby comes from a folk football match between two local sides from the village of Ashburton in Derbyshire in the Midlands area of England, hence the word ‘derby‘.

What is the oldest derby in world football?

Again, there is some dispute about this but it seems that the Sheffield derby between Wednesday and United is now regarded as one of the oldest local rivalries in world football.

So derbies are always about geographical rivalry then?

Usually but not always. Sometimes there are other factors involved such as history (for example, West Ham and Millwall’s London rivalry dates back to an industrial dispute), animosity between a country’s different regions, religion, politics (for example the ‘eternal enemies’ Olympiacos and Panathanaikos in Greece) and footballing honours. For instance, there is rivalry between the two cities of Manchester and Liverpool yet when Liverpool take on Manchester City or Manchester United play Everton there is no real animosity. But when Liverpool and Manchester United play each other then a different form of rivalry kicks in: which of the two sides is the most successful in English football?

The clásico in Spain between Barcelona and Real Madrid is an example of a derby involving two teams from different regions but as many people know, this game is all about history and identity. Rangers and Celtic in Scotland not only share the same city, Glasgow, are the two most successful sides in Scottish football history but they are also divided on religious lines: Celtic, traditionally is a Catholic club while Rangers is a Protestant one. But then there is the example of Galatasaray and Fenerbahce from Turkey – two teams that are also divided on religious lines but they also come from from a city, Istanbul, that spans two different continents.

What are the biggest derbies in the world?

Celtic-Rangers, Galatasaray-Fenerbahce and Barcelona-Real Madrid are three of the most passionate, some would say hate-filled, games in the world but there are many others like them. In England there is the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton, the North London derby between Spurs and Arsenal, the Manchester derby between City and United. In Italy, Milan versus Inter is a big game, as is the Genovese derby between Genoa and Sampdoria but the biggest game in that country for my money is Lazio and Roma when almost anything can happen on or off the pitch. Then there is the Ruhr derby in Germany between Schalke and Dortmund, the big game in France is Lyon against St. Etienne while in Portugal the Lisbon derby between Sporting and Benfica is always a tasty affair.

Embed from Getty Images

Of course, these matches are not restricted to Europe, in Brazil, the games involving the big Rio de Janeiro sides attract huge amounts of global interest, in particular when Vasco da Gama play rivals Flamengo. But for my money, one of the biggest rivalries in world football has to be the Buenos Aires derby, the superclásico between River Plate and Boca Juniors when no matter how badly either side is playing the whole city stops to watch their team hopefully win them bragging rights.


  • a frenetic pace: The game is played at high speed
  • to have bragging rights over their rivals: Fans can boast about their team
  • form often goes out the window: It doesn’t in which position teams are in, the derby game is a great leveller.
  • animosity: Very bad feeling, hatred
  • clásico: The name for the big derby game between Barcelona and Real Madrid
  • spans: To cross (here a bridge but can also refer to time)
  • for my money: In my opinion
  • a tasty affair: A match that may often be violent or tempestuous
  • for my money: In my strong opinion
Check out our glossary of footballing phrases here If you have any suggestions, contact us at
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football
Learn English Through Football

Welcome to the website that helps students interested in football improve their English language skills. Soccer fans can enhance these skills with lots of free language resources: a weekly podcast, football phrases, explanations of football vocabulary, football cliches, worksheets, quizzes and much more at

Google | Facebook | Twitter | Mail | Website

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


More from this show