Competition is at the very heart of sport. Every fan, every team needs someone to beat and in some cases hate. There are many things in the world of football that can cause this – a long-standing animosity, a local rivalry, past insults, even war.
For the fans of both teams, these ‘grudge matches’ are more than a game, they are about personal honour, conflicting beliefs, and revenge. Yes, there are some opponents you enjoy beating even more than others. We’ve taken a look at ten of the most grudge-ridden matches in football, past and present.
Boca Juniors vs River Plate
This is one of the most famous rivalries in the world. The Superclásico, as it’s called, stems from the fact that Boca Juniors are traditionally working class and River Plate traditionally wealthy. Fans line the streets before these games with big flags and banners and the atmosphere is unreal.
In 2015 the two sides met in the 2015 Copa Libertadores. A Boca fan, at half time, attacked the River Plate players with pepper spray. As a result, the game was suspended and River Plate was awarded the win.
They met again in the 2018 Copa Libertadores and the River Plate fans attacked the bus with Boca’s players on board. The game was postponed and Boca tried to have River disqualified. River wasn’t disqualified but the game had to be moved 10,000 km away to the Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid.
Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray
Known as The Intercontinental Derby, this game is huge. Turkeys two most successful clubs have been playing each other for well over 100 years and its still never a dull game. The rivalry truly began in 1934. Both sides were desperate to win the ‘friendly’ which resulted in big tackles. Tension grew throughout the game and the referee had to abandon the match due to players fighting.
In the 95/95 season, the two sides met in the cup final where Fenerbahce were the heavy favourites. Dean Saunders scored in the first leg to give Galatasaray a 1-0 lead. Fenerbahce won the second leg 1-0 at home but Saunders scored again in extra time to give Galatasaray the suprise win. At full-time Graeme Souness, the manager at the time walked out to the middle of the pitch and put a Galatasaray flag in the centre circle!
Honduras vs El Salvador
Let’s start with a football match that turned into a small war. Back in 1969 Latin American neighbours, Honduras and El Salvador, fell out when a World Cup qualification clash sparked a four-day conflict.
Already in dispute over migration issues and land reform, the two World Cup legs prompted angry clashes between fans and led to skirmishes on the border. El Salvador launched bombing raids and it wasn’t until four days later that a ceasefire agreement was reached.
FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid
A lot of the rivalry is down to the country itself. Barcelona doesn’t see themselves as part of Spain but Catalonia. They have their own language in this region and have tried to become independent several times. Madrid, on the other hand, is the capital of Spain and has a great relationship with the Spanish Royal Family. This game is seen as the two regions playing each other.
Both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid were amongst the ten founding teams of the first Primera División in 1929. From the very start the clubs were at each other’s throats. The match between them, El Clásico, is the most watched club football match in the world and always a bit of a vendetta.
The two clubs met back in 2002 Luis Figo, who had joined Real Madrid from rival Barcelona, was continually bombarded with coins, bottles, and even mobile phones as he attempted to take corners. When one fan threw an entire pig’s head at the Portuguese winger, it unsurprisingly caused a delay to play and players were withdrawn from the pitch to allow the fans to calm down. When play resumed – and much to everyone’s relief – the match finished with a 0-0 draw.
North Korea vs South Korea
The World Cup has always been a hotbed of political unrest. In 2008 a clash between North and South Korea ensued when the North refused to play its neighbour’s anthem or fly its flag before a World Cup qualifier.
After the return game in Seoul in 2009, where the South was victorious, the North accused the South of tactical food poisoning and threatened its rivals with military action including rockets.
Spurs vs Arsenal
Closer to home, the rivalry between Spurs and Arsenal reached new heights when, in 2001, Sol Campbell didn’t sign his new contract. Having come up through the Tottenham youth system before progressing to captain, Sol was a club legend. When he decided to join arch rivals Arsenal, there could only be one outcome.
In their first match following the transfer, Campbell was subjected to jeers and bitter abuse by the fans at White Hart Lane. This culminated when 4000 balloons bearing the word ‘Judas’ were released into the north London sky.
This season Arsenal won one game with joint top scorer Aubameyang scoring twice. In the other fixture in the league the sides drew 1-1.
U.S.A vs Iran
Another World Cup, another dispute. Billed as the most politically-charged match in history, 1998 saw the United States meet Iran in a match that did more for relations between the two countries than 20 frustrating years of stunted political dialogue.
Whilst a friendly joint photo and flowers were exchanged between the team’s captains, it was a different story in the stands. A terrorist organisation had got hold of 7,000 tickets for the game, and extra riot police were brought in to avoid a mass pitch invasion.
Iran’s 2-1 victory was celebrated back in Tehran, with Ayatollah Khamenei telling the team: “Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands.”
Celtic vs Rangers
Even though it feels like Celtic and Rangers play each other every week in the Scottish Prem it is still a big game. Tempers always flare between the two sides who definitely don’t hold back on any tackles. In the last game, there was four yellow cards and two red cards.
The rivalry between the two sides isn’t just based on football, but religion also. Even though the two teams play in Scotland a lot of the hate stems from Ireland. Celtic are linked with the Catholic Church and Rangers with the Protestant Church.
In terms of a political divide as well, Celtic are associated with the Irish Nationalists whilst Rangers are Unionists. In 1980 tempers got so high between the two teams that the fans started a brawl on the pitch. Around 9000 fans were involved in the fight.
England Vs Argentina
Twelve years later, and another war was the backdrop for England’s meeting with Argentina in the World Cup. Coming only four years after the fighting in the Falklands, the match was immortalized forever by Diego Maradona’s handball goal – the “Hand of God.”
Maradona claimed in his autobiography that the goal was revenge for the Falklands conflict in 1982 and for the Argentinean deaths caused by the British.
The last time these two played each other in a competitive match was in the 2002 World Cup. England won the game 1-0 thanks to a David Beckham penalty in the 44th minute. Beckham was sent off in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina. He was given a straight red card for kicking the current Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone.
Barcelona Vs Bilbao
When Athletic Bilbao met Barcelona in 1984 it was billed as a re-match between Diego Maradona, and Athletic’s Butcher of Bilbao, Andoni Goikoetxea. The two players has crossed paths before and shared bad blood.
Goikoetxea had tried to remove Maradona’s Achilles tendon in a league encounter months earlier, resulting in a broken ankle. So when the two met again in the Copa del Rey final, the game was a bloodbath.
Athletic won 1-0 and a full-time mass brawl followed – with Maradona, the main perpetrator, kung-fu kicking his way around the pitch.
Wars, inter-club rivalries, personal vendettas, even the odd severed head – it seems that football, ‘The Beautiful Game’, can turn quite ugly at times.