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The top 15 biggest derbies in British football ranked

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Highlights

  • The Manchester City vs Manchester United derby is one of the most highly anticipated and thrilling matches in British football, with goals, drama, and tension guaranteed.
  • The ranking of the top 15 British football derbies takes into account fan atmosphere, historical significance, the games themselves, and the intensity of the rivalry.
  • Some of the biggest derbies in British football include the Old Firm derby, the North London derby, and the Merseyside derby.

So, in celebration of a derby that always leaps off the yearly fixture list as one of the most exciting and thrilling ties of the season, we wanted to take a closer look at the other local match-ups that get our blood pumping. In fact, we’re swinging for the fences and nailing our colours to the mast by bravely – or foolishly, depending on your stance – ranking what we consider to be the top 15 British football derbies in the men’s game.

Now, we know, that’s a pretty precious subject, and it goes without saying that every fan’s own derby is always the one that’s the most important, passionate and meaningful to them – and power to you if that’s the case. Nevertheless, the simple fact of the matter is that some derbies are better than others, and we’ve tried our utmost to leave personal biases at the door; zooming out to give a bird’s eye view on the match-ups to rule them all.



Ultimately, the decisions come down to the opinion of us here at GIVEMESPORT, but rest assured that the order will be informed by criteria such as fan atmosphere, historical significance, the games themselves and the gravity of the rivalry.

Oh, and clubs can only feature once with their primary geographical derby taking precedence, so don’t reach for your pitchfork and picket signs when Manchester United vs Liverpool and Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur don’t feature. But enough with the disclaimers and housekeeping because we’ve got British football’s 15 finest derbies to rank – buckle up as we’re about to ruffle some feathers.

15 Blackburn Rovers vs Burnley

This just screams of a vintage English derby, doesn’t it? The flame of the amusingly nicknamed ‘El Lanclasico’ has been burning bright since their first meeting in 1888. Interestingly, Accrington Stanley – which is situated smack bang in the middle of the two – is typically overlooked as a rival as Burnley and Blackburn Rovers considered each other to be their foe in the English pyramid. The northwest of England is littered with many football rivalries but not many come close to the magnitude between these two. Burnley now have the upper hand given they have regained the credibility in the top division and so the East Lancashire derby has yet to be pencilled into the diaries.

14 Bristol City vs Bristol Rovers

A bit like a volcano, there are often long periods of dormancy where the sleeping giant stays silent, but there’s always fireworks when things kick off – and there’s no denying the fierceness between Bristol’s footballing factions. And while you may think Bristolians love for anything but their vibrant urban farming scene would bare thin, that is far from the truth. It has been some time since the last Bristol Derby, however, with the last game between the two sides taking place in September 2013 in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. City won that match 2-1, and they are, statistically, the stronger asset in the rivalry with 45 triumphs superior to Rovers’ win tally of 29 [11v11].

13 Exeter City vs Plymouth Argyle

An underrated gem, this, that always punches above its weight in studies of English football’s best rivalries with Devon’s premier sides bringing their county to its feet even if the rest of the nation doesn’t necessarily give it due praise. It’s more than just the three points on offer when the two meet. Dating back to 1908, the Pilgrims and the Grecians first clashed in a Southern League fixture as the latter ran out 2–1 victors. That being said, the former currently hold the rights to brag as they have won nine more fixtures in the pair’s long and storied history.

12 Portsmouth vs Southampton

Forget history, statistics and recent records, the South Coast derby is one that you feel, and sometimes there’s just no better barometer of a rivalry’s needle, jeopardy and significance than that. Nevertheless, the competition for a top-ten finish is such that we can’t quite elevate it amongst British football’s derby royalty, even if the lung-busting chants of Pompey and Saints fans almost push it there alone. The two cities – embroiled in war, tragedy, violence and football – is a derby worth watching given their intertwining history of their league positions and off-field struggles, too difficult to comprehend as the rivalry’s embryonic chapters are wildly different to the current picture. While Portsmouth currently lead League One, Southampton are pushing for promotion back to the top flight, with journalist Dean Jones telling GIVEMESPORT that Ryan Fraser could play a key role in their ambitions. Should they fail to achieve their goal, though, we could get a first match between the two teams since 2019.

11 Derby County vs Nottingham Forest

While, yes, Forest might just be a hop across the Trent away from their Nottingham neighbours of Notts County, let’s be honest here and say that their rivalry with Derby has far more box-office appeal. Not only have the two Midlands institutes found themselves slugging it out in the Championship in recent years, but you know the derby’s huge when silverware – the Brian Clough Trophy – is literally dished out after every meeting. Now that Forest are plying their trade in a division two above their rivals, has the superior team been settled once and for all? With the Reds just five wins ahead in their head-to-head ratio, though, there are certainly Rams fans who would disagree with that notion.

10 Sheffield United vs Sheffield Wednesday

One of England’s great, historic cities also happens to play host to two of the nation’s most iconic football clubs, so it’s only natural that battles between the Blades and the Owls are just as steely as their hometown’s famous industry. Coined the ‘Steel City Derby’, it is current Premier League outfit United that come out on top in the head-to-head record of their 131-game history. Unlike many rivalries, you can always count on the sets of fans being amicable towards each other for the greater good, but all smiles and collaborations are shifted aside when the match comes round once in a blue moon.

9 Hearts vs Hibernian

Two proud clubs founded in the 1870s sharing the capital city of a nation that puts blood, sweat and tears into its football not only makes for one of the sport’s longest-running derbies, but also one of the most passionate. The football-mad city of Edinburgh have homed both clubs for some while now, with the first match-up between the duo coming on Christmas Day in 1875. Another 660 games have followed with just over half of those (336) coming competitively. Whether it’s a friendly or a match with some substance, however, you best believe it’ll be played like the final of the World Cup.

8 Millwall vs West Ham United

You know it’s one of British football’s biggest derbies, we know it’s one of British football’s biggest derbies and your nan probably knows it’s one of British football’s biggest derbies. It’s Millwall vs West Ham, after all. Although there have only been three clashes between the sides since 2005 and no doubt plenty of people will be happy about that, we couldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t at least give the Dockers derby a place in our top 10. Despite their lack of fixtures in recent times, how can you not sit in awe at how perfect a rivalry this one is? There’s no doubt that it would certainly jump up the list if they faced each other on a more regular basis. Come on Millwall, get promoted, will ya?

7 Manchester City vs Manchester United

Has the life and soul of the Manchester derby waned in recent years? Maybe, maybe, but City’s return to prominence since their 2008 takeover has made it one of the most high-profile and closely-matched rivalries of them all. While the in-stadium atmospheres hold City and United back from a top-five finish, we’d be out of our minds not to admit that Manchester’s intercity clashes are up to their ears in quality, history and blockbuster entertainment. There’s been no shortage of animosity between players over the years, with Mario Balotelli finding out that you do not mess with Nemanja Vidic the hard way. While many fans of a United persuasion believe that Liverpool are their fiercest rivals, there’s so little that can come between wanting to be the biggest and the best in a football-crazed city such as Manchester – and that’s exactly what this derby brings to the table.

6 Cardiff City vs Swansea City

For what the game lacks in immediate geographical proximity – the stadiums are a 40-mile drive apart – the all-Wales clash for dominance in the Land of Dragons makes up for it on sheer passion, determination and competitiveness alone. When the two south Wales giants slugged it out in the Premier League for the very first time in 2012/13, it really felt as though England’s top-flight had grown a chest-pumping new derby of the likes it hasn’t seen since. The rift between the two clubs is stark, though the Swans can currently hold their heads high, coming out superior in their head-to-head record.

5 Everton vs Liverpool

Few cities in the world live and breathe their football clubs more than Liverpool, so it’s no surprise that the Merseyside derby is always a fast-track ticket to cauldron-like atmospheres that get the eyes of the world watching. Having played continuously since the 1962/63 campaign, the only shame is that Liverpool have dominated the fixture ad nauseam in the 21st century despite the sheer needle of the fixture, which can see families split between the home and away ends. Goodison Park and Anfield are scarily a stone’s throw away and have the green of Stanley Park to separate them, so it comes as little surprise that the fans’ affinity to their respective club is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

4 Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur

An absolute banker for entertainment, the north London derby is on a roll when it comes to two top-four-contending sides with stellar fan bases slugging it out until one side has scored more goals than the other. Not only does it mean absolutely everything to Spurs and Arsenal fans when it pops up twice a year, but the rivalry is so palpable and entertaining that it draws in neutrals from around the world wanting to get in on the action. An eye-watering 194 games have been played out between the north London pair, many of which have been enthralling and this season’s was no different. An own goal, penalty, a brace for Heung-min Son, and James Maddison bantering Bukayo Saka? Yes please!

3 Aston Villa vs Birmingham City

However, for what Arsenal vs Tottenham and Everton vs Liverpool might have in the glamour department, the Second City derby knocks them out of the park with the hostility and suspense that makes a vintage rivalry. There are few adrenaline-pumping derbies available in British football that make you want to just soak in the atmosphere and watch two historic sides do battle than the fixture upon which Brummie sport is built. A worthy medallist. For a while, the two were level pegging in terms of status, whether that be in the Championship or the Premier League, though Villa are heads and shoulders above their counterparts with European football added to their forte now, too.

2 Newcastle United vs Sunderland

Two footballing cathedrals? Check. Two massive clubs with rich histories? Check. Two fan bases who live for their clubs? Check. Two sides with a great tradition of entertaining football? Check. And one part of the world that adores the sport? Check. While it’s sad to see two immortal institutions of English football separated by multiple leagues right now, it does little to diminish the Tyne–Wear derby’s well-earned status as the ultimate rivalry south of the border. Neck and neck in derby wins, their last all-intense meeting ended 1-1 back in 2016, though the fans long for another chance to square up on the turf like it’s their dose of serotonin. It’s brought great moments off the pitch too. Anyone remember Magpies legend Alan Shearer being asked to wear a Sunderland shirt?

1 Celtic vs Rangers

Like, duh. Forget British football or even European football, there’s a very good case for the Old Firm standing head and shoulders above the rest as the ultimate derby in the beautiful game. Two giants of the sport sharing a city that has football pumping through its veins, the collisions between Celtic and Rangers are a meeting of arguably the most passionate, hearts-on-their sleeves supporters that you’re ever likely to see. It’s less about the football and more about the ever-growing distaste towards each other – but somehow it’s beautiful viewing. If watching an Old Firm game isn’t on your bucket list, then you can’t call yourself a football fan.

What is the ultimate derby for you?

With the majority of life’s pleasures, we were never going to please everybody, were we? The simple fact of the matter is that every local rivalry up and down the country is packed with so much passion that picking the 15 best British footballing derby from the 14th, 13th and even 10th can feel like splitting hairs to a certain degree.

And that’s the joy of our national game, really, because there’s an extra level of significance, tribalism and togetherness that comes with the advent of whichever derby that gets your blood pumping the most. So, if the Merseyside derby is more your cup of tea than the Old Firm and the north London derby doesn’t tickle your fancy as much as Millwall vs West Ham, then be sure to let us know why across our various social channels.

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