There is nothing more intense in football than playing your local rivals in a high stakes derby match. The players know what’s at stake, local bragging rights for the fans who might be neighbours, colleagues or friends before the kickoff, but for that ninety minutes when the two teams face each other on the pitch, friendships are put on hold, nothing else matters, only which team will come out on top and paint the city in their colours.
No other city can lay claim to having as many derby games as London, the football capital of England with seventeen clubs playing professional football in English football leagues, seven of those teams playing in the English Premier League. But what are the fiercest rivalries, which are the biggest London football derbies, which clubs supporters abhor their neighbouring teams the most?
The North London Derby: Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur
Without a doubt, this match is the most famous of all the London derbies. These two teams, whose home stadiums are only four miles apart have both had successful periods in their club’s history, with both clubs commanding a massive fanbase. The hatred for one another is legendary which began way back in 1913 when Arsenal moved to Highbury, an area the Tottenham fans saw as their territory. After a total of 203 times facing each other, Arsenal has won 83 games, Spurs 66 and 54 times the game ended as a draw.
The North West London Derby: Chelsea vs Arsenal and Tottenham
Chelsea has been Londons most successful team in recent years, crowned champions of Europe for the second time last season. With no disrespect to West Ham United, these three teams are the biggest clubs in London, not only financially but also based in terms of success.
This is the reason that whenever Chelsea host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge or take a short trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the match is viewed as a massive, high profile London derby. But we need to mention that Arsenal vs Chelsea is traditionally the bigger match.
The aptly named ‘Battle of the Bridge’ between Chelsea and Tottenham in 2020 where Chelsea prevented Spurs a chance of the title was one of the fiercest and ugliest London derbies seen for some time, but somewhat epitomised what it means to have the chance to take part in such a game.
The Dockers Derby: Millwall vs West Ham United
The most ruthless and intense of all of London derby games. The rivalry between these historically working-class East End clubs is one of the most bitter of all in English football. Known as the Dockers Derby as both sets of fans were originally dockers working on either side of the River Thames for rival firms.
Unfortunately, football violence plagued the names of the two clubs in the ’80s and ’90s with the cult movie “Football Factory” based on the rivalry between the two sets of supporters. Every Eastender would tell you that this is the biggest derby in London but with West Ham well established in Premier League nowadays and Millwall playing their football in the EFL, this real London derby does not take place as often as the fans would like it to.
West London and South of the River
As well as their noisy neighbours Chelsea, London clubs based in West London include newly promoted to the Premier League side Brentford and EFL teams QPR and Fulham. Although these derby games may not be as high profile as their northern counterparts, it is not to say that they mean any less to the dedicated support of the teams. Any derby game between these long-established teams is a hot-blooded affair embellished in a deep history of the rivalry.
Fulham and QPR alike both have traditional authentic English football stadiums where the fans are literally breathing down the player’s necks creating that unique atmosphere of hostility that derby games are renowned for.
South of the Thames, Premier League side Crystal Palace welcome teams to Selhurst Park, ground with an intimidating atmosphere for both opposing players and fans alike. Regarded as the biggest club south of the Thames, fans of Palace would relish the chance to face rivals Charlton Athletic and Millwall in the Premier League and reignite the battle for football supremacy in South London
Be in no doubt that no matter the size or territory of the club in London, as far as the fans are concerned, all London derbies are big, all London derbies are significant and all London derbies are played with passion.