What’s your favourite or highest ranked sporting rivalry?
The interest and banter regarding soccer’s place in the sporting stratosphere – undeniable bore or the greatest show on earth, has stimulated some great, good-hearted banter among the faithful. Tuesday’s Part 1 got the ball rolling, but 3 crucial aspects just couldn’t fit in an already over-sized post –
- The teams,
- The rivalries, and
- The players
The epic rivalries
You can be forgiven for thinking that the sport you follow has to have the greatest rivalry, but I would suggest that that is because you know the back-story, and the history, controversies, monu-mental games, personal hatreds, coaching and management back-biting, and you know and probably ‘hate’ most of their fans.
And if it’s important to you, who are we to say that it’s not a significant rivalry??
You could name Lakers – Celtics, Carlton – Collingwood (or Port – Adelaide), Yankees – Red Sox, Patriots – Giants, Duke – everyone in American college basketball, and that’s not even including the inter-country rifts such as Indian – Pakistan in cricket, Australia – New Zealand in rugby, Canada – USA in the ice hockey, which is almost unparalleled in terms of the genuine fear the Canucks have of losing to the US! The list could go on, but it won’t because I’m afraid I’m going to get onto Google and never be heard from again as I become fascinatedly lost in the plethora of genuine sporting conflicts across the globe.
Soccer, on the other hand, presents long-standing, bitter resentment built up over decades, even centuries. We could give you AC Milan – Inter Milan, Manchester United – Liverpool, even Barcelona – Real Madrid…
The big one
But above them all is the unique, vicious Celtic – Rangers rivalry, where the bile sectarianism that underpins it is vile.
In this particular scenario, you’re not just bringing in two successful clubs who have a history of ongoing competition and big matches against one another in and around Glasgow, Scotland. You’re incorporating religious and political elements unfathomable to the general sporting fan. Catholic, Protestant, Loyalist, Republican; the divide is incredible.
Players who play for one team never play for the other later in their careers. It just doesn’t happen. One of the worst pitch invasions ever occurred after a match between these two. It resulted in alcohol being banned from football grounds in Scotland. That’s a heck of a consequence!
There’s also a ‘lunatic fringe’ on both sides that is genuinely scary, erratic and dangerous. Think flares, fights and objects being set alight regularly. It’s unimaginable for an Australian football game but par for the course at these events.
A local flavour
We’ve also decided to give you a local take on a new rivalry here in Melbourne, Australia, with the newly formed Melbourne Heart, against their established counterparts and superiors (sorry, couldn’t help myself!), the Melbourne Victory.
Here’s a take from a friend of mine; a diehard Victory fan –
‘Football rivalry, it’s what makes the game tick, makes the game great. All over the globe fans look at the fixture at the start of the season to see when they play their hated rival. Melbourne now has its own derby, Victory v Heart.
It doesn’t have the history of Celtic/Rangers, Liverpool/Man U, Boca/River Plate but in 2 short years, it has built up a passion the A-League desperately needs. The atmosphere is different to any other A-League game, a European feel. The fans set up at opposite ends & AAMI Park is at capacity.
The rivalry is friendly but fierce; there is no hatred based on political, racial or religious divides which dominate other Derbies around the globe, which actually makes them great spectacles of passion.
This is Australia’s or more importantly Melbourne’s own Derby that will grow into a must attend event for all sports fans not just football fans.’
I’m often questioned how I can follow a team – Man United – whose home is in a different continent and I have never seen them play in person. On the upside, they add, at least they’re competitive.
‘I just don’t get it. How can you care?’
With this in mind, I have asked a friend who passionately follows a team I doubt any of you have heard of … Preston North End. Here’s his take on the team he loves –
The North End!
‘Back in 1986 I started taking interest in English soccer. Who should I support? I lived in the Melbourne suburb of Preston and had a vague idea there was a Preston club in England.
Lancashire’s Preston North End was lost in the old Fourth Division. I adopted them.
I learnt that the once great club had fallen on hard times. Yet in 2001 and 2005 PNE almost made it back to the Premier League. They are a proud club. At present they are struggling in League One, but I’m staying for the ride.’
And … the stars of the show!
I’d be hypocritical not to focus on this next element; it’s what bugs me most about the Melbourne Cup – focus on the horses, they’re the ones actually racing, not the jockeys or the trainers!
When it came to who to talk about with the players, there was really only one option. I mean, I could be biased and justify the inclusion of Rooney or Ronaldo, or even go with the controversial slant and spruik hyperbole about Mario Balotelli! I’ll let someone else do the work on Balotelli and simply encourage you to click here if you want to read about this malignant presence at Manchester City who (hopefully) is bringing their team apart.
Yet one man stands above the rest right now as the undisputed premiere player in the game.
In how many other sports can we say that right now? Lebron in the NBA? That’s about it.
But Lionel Messi has for the moment ended all debate. He is in a zone right now that is Jordanesque. He isn’t just dominating, but his team is winning – relentlessly.
I’ve never seen him in person and haven’t followed him much over the last 12 months … obviously! So I’ve given the job to someone who has done both –
I never could understand why soccer enthusiasts would passionately refer to their sport as ‘the beautiful game’. Growing up, I considered myself a huge sports fan so whether it was tennis, cricket, motor racing, AFL or even the Jack High lawn bowls challenge on Channel 10 – I would completely immerse myself.
But soccer was the oddity. It felt like that new indie band that everyone loved and respected, but I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to their albums. Was it just ME? What was I missing here? (I have a number of pop culture phenomenons to add to the ‘what am I missing here?’ list – including Kings of Leon, Jon Stewart and Harry Potter).
Fast-forward to 2009 and I found myself at Camp Nou watching probably the greatest club team of all time take to the stage. I fell in love with a man that night. He’s small, agile and more magical than H. Potter could ever profess to be.
That summer’s night in Barcelona, Lionel Messi gave me a lesson on why soccer IS the beautiful game. His poise, ball movement, short passes, chips and finishing was the golden cog in an 11-man machine. The most astonishing thing is that in 2012, he’s still improving exponentially. Every time he takes the pitch, he doesn’t just play the game – he evolves it.
I have said many times that whenever I watch Barcelona play on television with Messi in charge, I feel like I should be paying for the experience. He is light years ahead of the next tier of best players in the world right now. It’s hard to believe that one man can win games off his own boot so frequently – let alone the fact that he’s selfless on all occasions.
He is currently embarrassing some of Europe’s greatest clubs. In the last three months, he broke the single game goal-scoring record in the Champions League (5 goals against Bayer Leverkusen), became Barcelona’s greatest ever goal scorer in the club’s rich history and has scored more goals than any other individual in a European season over the past 30 years (60 and counting).
Is he the greatest of all time? I can’t answer that. After all, I am still only in the early romantic period of my relationship with the beautiful game. Thanks Messi.
It’d be a shame not to actually answer the question we posed at the beginning. Soooo, is soccer a terrible bore, or in fact the most underrated pastime in the southern hemisphere?! Well, it’s not the greatest but it certainly is the most underrated. I was lucky enough to live in Shanghai for 2 years and move away from an AFL-dominated culture into an English Premier League focused one.
It’s amazing – once you can appreciate some of the history between teams, how players have conducted themselves on and off the pitch over the years, the finer nuances of the game and understand what’s really at stake, you rarely think, ‘Geez, how boring is this?’!
So MUPITS it is. Thanks to all who shared their time and their thoughts. Until next week…
What’s your favourite sporting rivalry, either to watch or that involves a team you’re passionate about??