The Best Unofficial Derby Games In Football

30.3.2022.   20:34

Every football fan knows rivalries are considered the best when it comes to Derby games. There’s plenty of drama to be had - from those who share the same city like Arsenal vs Spurs or Celtic vs Rangers, to neighbouring enemies such as Manchester United vs Liverpool or Newcastle vs Sunderland.

In most cases, each team has a main derby rival and another few games against sides located in the same region, which aren’t quite as intense but still create a buzz beyond that of a normal game. These games are easy to pick out; every time London clubs play each other, it's a London derby or if it’s a showdown between two teams from the North West, it’s dubbed as a North-West derby - and so on.

With these games being well known and regularly covered by listicle articles, we decided to take a look at some of the more peculiar rivalries and how they became ‘unofficial’ derby games. Read on to see our list of football rivalries you might not have known existed…

Crystal Palace vs Brighton


Let’s kick off with a game everyone has probably heard of as the ‘M23 derby’, but may not know the history behind it. On paper, this should just be another average game of football between a London club and a South Coast team. But since 1976, it’s been so much more than that.

That year the two sides were managed by Terry Venables and Alan Mullery respectively, with the pair previously having spent time together at Tottenham where they reportedly had a fractious relationship. This included both exchanging verbal insults via press interviews.

Both managers were tasked with getting the clubs promoted from the third division, which intensified the rivalry. They then faced each other in the first round of the FA Cup, which is often cited as the game that spawned the unofficial derby game. After two draws (2-2 and 1-1) the game went to a second replay (as was the process back in those days) hosted on neutral ground at Stamford Bridge. It ended with Palace winning 1-0 and Mullery causing a stir by swearing at the Palace fans.

He then allegedly went to the Palace dressing room, threw five pounds on the floor and told Venables: "Your team's not worth that." He was fined ?100 by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute. Since then, there’s been no love lost between the two sides with both sets of fans showing the same level of contempt towards each other as seen in the most intense derby games.

Sheffield United vs West Ham


This rivalry stems from much more recent history and rather bizarrely, comes from the Hammer’s signing of legendary Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez. In the Summer of 2006, West Ham pulled off what many perceived to be a coup signing Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez, both arriving from Brazilian giants Corinthians. While the duo were up-and-coming stars at the time, everyone in world football recognised the potential, which both players went on to fulfil in extremely successful careers.

However, it came to light that the club had broken third party ownership rules with both transfers, which was highlighted when Mascherano moved to Liverpool in the January of that season. Tevez stayed in East London after failing to impress in the first half of the season with the club embroiled in a relegation battle.

He would then show his amazing potential in the final few months of the season, scoring 7 goals in the last 10 games and keeping West Ham in the Premier League, effectively relegating the Blades. However, rival clubs were demanding that the Hammers be deducted points for breaking the transfer rules, which would mean they go down to the Championship in place of Sheffield United.

In the end, the Premier League decided against that course of action and fined West Ham ?5.5 million instead - a small price to pay for staying in England’s top flight. The South Yorkshire club did take the issues to tribunal though, eventually settling for a ?20 million out of court payment.

Fans have not forgotten this though - particularly as the club floundered in the Championship and endured a League One relegation in the years that followed, where they stayed for SIX painful seasons! They would not return to the Premier League until 2019/20. It’s safe to say that while the two sides have not faced each other much since the Tevez incident, both sets of fans still hold a grudge.

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Sunderland vs Portsmouth


The most recently formed rivalry on our list, this one is a battle between two of England’s fallen giants. Sunderland were relegated to the third division for only the second time in their history back in 2018/19, while Portsmouth had climbed back into the same division a couple of seasons earlier - rebuilding the club after financial catastrophe sent the 2008 FA cup winners tumbling down the divisions.

Both were still seen as the biggest clubs in the league and were expected to be fighting it out for the title. The Black Cats were very much enjoying life in the third tier, losing just once prior to their first game against Pompey on 22nd December. However, that game ended in a 3-1 win for the South Coast club and prompted the clubs' social media team to poke fun at the Sunderland ‘Til I Die Netflix series (which was filming its second season at the time) saying ‘Dear Netflix, we are sorry’.

Safe to say this wasn’t well-received on Wearside, and the hostility between the two became evident during the next few meetings. The pair faced off again in the EFL cup final, with Pompey winning on penalties after a thrilling game that ended 2-2. This angered Black Cats fans further, and the two played out a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light a month later in a crucial League match with a backdrop of a hostile atmosphere.

Both clubs finished in the playoff places and played each other again over a two-legged semi-final. The first ended in Sunderland winning 1-0 in an extremely tense match. The second leg at Fratton Park was a 0-0 draw which meant the away side had done enough to reach the final.

However, the rivalry flared up again during the match when a Sunderland player stumbled into the home end after a collision. A Portsmouth fan then kicked the player in the ribs, prompting his teammates to get involved in one of the most bizarre on-pitch altercations you’ll see.

Thankfully, the fan was given a hefty ban from attending games, but the incident only fuelled an already intense hatred between the two clubs. Unfortunately for the pair, they are still trying to claw their way out of League One and continue to face off on a regular basis, with a palpable atmosphere each time.

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Bournemouth vs Watford


In another recently conceived grudge match, Bournemouth and Watford are separated by 110 miles. It was a match in 2014 that sparked a fierce rivalry between the two which has continued ever since. Bournemouth player at the time, Marc Pugh, won a penalty for what was widely perceived to be simulation. It was saved, but controversy struck again when Watford’s Gabriele Angella was shown red in what can only be described as mistaken identity.

That season, Bournemouth beat the Hornets to the Championship title by a single point in a race that went to the wire. The following season, Angella was again shown red and while this time he was correctly identified as the offender, it was an extremely harsh sending off. In another heated Premier League clash, the Cherries were awarded a ‘soft’ penalty, prompting the Watford Twitter admin to tweet ‘They seem to get penalties as frequently as Arsenal finishing fourth’ in a jibe at the South Coast club.

These incidents have not been forgotten - particularly by Hornets fans who regularly poke fun at Bournemouth on social media if they lose. Some even took offence when Eddie Howe pointed out Bournemouth were getting much more coverage than the Herefordshire side when it came to their ‘rags to riches’ storyline, which both clubs have arguably been through in the last decade or so.

Currently, the two clubs are yo-yoing between Championship and Premier League, with the Cherries vying for playoffs this year while Watford battle to stay in the top flight. Whenever they do meet again though, you can bet there will be a hostile atmosphere and a game packed with controversial incidents.

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