Chim chiminy chim chiminy, chim chim cheroo, Bentley from fifty and Lennon from two!
In the wake of a Wednesday occupied by two of Europe’s most exciting derby matches, it seems appropriate to reopen the discussion about the World’s greatest rivalry.
Many will argue that passion fueled matches like Olympiakos vs Panathanaikos, Fenerbache vs Gaalataasaray and Boca vs River deserve mention in this discussion but I disagree. How many of you even know the scores of the last two fixtures involving one or both of those teams? Exactly, outside of the countries that house them, the participants in the above matches are not followed with any great detail, the reason being that the quality of football in Greece, Turkey and Argentina pales in comparison with that in places like Spain, Germany, England and Italy.
Last night, Premier League fans had the pleasure of witnessing one of the finest derby matches in the history of English football, a sumptuous 3-3 draw between North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. The match had everything, great saves, penalties, goals and even a come back. Both teams approached the fixture with attacking intentions, reflective of the ideals of their respective managers, and after fifteen minutes the score was already 2-1.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the game itself is that a match of the quality witnessed on Wednesday night is no rarity when it come to North London derbies. Earlier this season, Tottenham won a thrilling match 3-2 at the Emirates, coming from 2-0 down to snatch a precious win. Last year, Spurs all but ended Arsenal’s title hopes with a fantastic 2-1 win at the Lane, marked by a screamer from Danny Rose. However, the best derby in recent memory was played out in the Fall of 2008, when a David Bentley stunner and an Aaron Lennon tap in helped Tottenham and new boss Harry Redknapp to a 4-4 draw at the Emirates Stadium.
So, is the rivalry between Tottenham and Arsenal the greatest in World football? There is no doubt that the fixture which routinely shows off the World’s greatest personnel is the Madrid-Barcelona match, but as proved on Saturday, that match can often disappoint. It has been more than 20 years since a stoppage time goal settled a Madrid-Barca game, whereas Tottenham-Arsenal clashes seem to produce late drama on each and every occasion.
In Italy there are also a series of quite competitive derby matches, most notably the Milan derby, but Sampdoria and Genoa matches are often fiery. In Rome, the Roma-Lazio match has been one tarnished with violence over the years, but it still remains one of the finest occasions in Italian football.
Within England itself there are a host of other derby fixtures that challenge North London’s claim to the title, the passion of Liverpool-Everton, and the now more crucial than ever battles between City and United help to provide story lines in the English Premier League season. Some of the smaller teams in England also boast incredible derbies, Newcastle-Sunderland is always nasty and there is certainly no love lost between either Birmingham and Aston Villa or Millwall and West Ham.
Across the border, Scotland sports one of the game’s oldest and most famous matches, the Old Firm Derby, contested several times a year between Celtic and Rangers. Unlike the North London derby, that match contains a host of social and religious connotations, ones that only serve to make the rivalry more fierce.
However, in one way or another Spurs-Arsenal trumps the lot. While lacking the high profile names of Madrid-Barca, Spurs-Arsenal remains a much more local affair, a true derby, not just a rivalry between cities. While the occasional classic is produced in Italian derbies, the lack of high attendances and bubbling atmosphere takes away from the edge produced on derby day, and fan violence unfortunately continues to mar such occasions as well.
In the past, Liverpool-Everton was always an important match, but nowadays it remains crucial merely in the context of Europa League qualification. While goals are always promised when Tottenham and Arsenal kick off, the same cannot be said for United and City. Especially since the arrival of Roberto Mancini, the goals have really dried up, seriously inhibiting the quality of the spectacle.
Ask any Scot, and they’d think you were barmy to claim that Spurs-Arsenal trumped the Old Firm, but in all honesty the quality of play in Scotland is at the level of the English Championship, so it’s difficult to get too excited about the Tartans’ figure head match.
Spurs vs Arsenal is the only match in European and World football which has consistently produced exciting games, made all the more intriguing by the presence of high quality footballers. It pits together two local teams that absolutely loath each other, in a fixture that boasts a rich past, and an even greater present.