Why We Still Care About Local Derbies (The Hate Is Real)

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

In the midst of a pretty dull international break (I’ll say this up front, I’m not going to write about England, it’s too boring) attention has turned back to the Premier League and the first Manchester derby of the season. The rivalry has already hit the headlines for all sorts of reasons; whether it be division within the Spain camp or the hilarious claim from Yaya Toure's agent that the whole of Africa will be switching from City to United because of his player's treatment. Rivalry games get fans going like nothing else, a genuine hatred that suddenly comes over fans when facing their rivals. But actually when you think of it, it's quite surprising.

The Manchester derby is a prime example. Since the last time the teams met, there's two new managers, a swathe of new players and even a new logo for City. Modern football teams turn over so often that fans are left shouting abuse or adulation at players that have only been at their respective teams for a matter of weeks. The logos change and so do the shirts. With so much turnover, that raw emotion that fans feel can be reduced in essence to rooting for one colour over another. 

Yes, big time story lines like the first Guardiola/Mourinho clash of the season add some spice, but up and down the country and across the divisions these rivalries are evergreen. They are the moments when our most primal feelings as football fans come to the fore. We know nothing about these players or managers as people, and we know they are just as much highly paid mercenaries as those on our team, but as soon as they step on the pitch suddenly our local rivals become the people we hate most in the world.

It’s a basic bit of human behaviour that makes local derbies so important for football fans. We define ourselves in relation to others. Wealth, beauty, intelligence, all the things that society holds up as desirable are essentially relative, it’s a quest to be smarter, richer and better looking than everyone else. The same is true with our football teams. We never feel stronger about our team than when presented with an opposition on a Saturday afternoon. Six days a week we’ll confess pretty rationally to liking our team, but faced with another team standing in our way, we become rabid in our support.  It’s through opposition that a football fans true fire gets going, and never more than with a local rival.

Football gets more and more commercial, but the emotion of a local derby is the one thing that never seems to fade. As long as there are local rivals to compete against, and other teams to attract our hate, we’ll continue to get really angry about rooting for colours.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search