6 Intense Sporting Rivalries You've Probably Never Heard Of

6 Intense Sporting Rivalries You've Probably Never Heard Of
By Paul O'Hara
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Today, as part of our little series on sporting rivalries, we're taking a look at some of those match-ups that don't make headlines in this part of the world, but stir up serious emotion in their own parts.

Pretty much everyone knows about El Clásico, El Superclásico and the Moyvane - Castleisland kick-fest. The great team rivalries in sport are so well known that there can't be too many others off the European sports fan's radar, right?

Wrong. There's much more to visceral sporting enmity than the Derby della Madonnina, the Old Firm or even the Old Farm - there's plenty more needle fixtures around the world that deserve our attention - and they're not all football-related, either. Let's start in India.

1. Mohun Bagan AC v. East Bengal  - The Kolkata Derby

Football is well down the list of sports we'd usually associate with India. The national obsession of cricket dominates utterly, followed probably by hockey and then stuff like kabbadi and other pursuits. Hell, I can think of more Indian golfers and tennis players (two each) than footballers. Having said all that, football is wildly popular on the subcontinent: the Premier League and La Liga are followed with an intensity familiar to any European, but the domestic game has never really taken off and the national team are abysmal.

Despite the difficulties encountered by Indian football, it has a billion potential fans and domestic games draw decent crowds, but none as much as the Kolkata Derby between Mohun Bagan Athletic Club and East Bengal FC. The fixture takes place at their shared Salt Lake Stadium, and drew a crowd of 131,000 in 1997 - the largest crowd ever at a sporting event in India.


131,000 people. At a football match. In India. Baichung Bhutia, the one Indian footballer I can think of - he played for Bury FC - had numerous spells at both clubs can be seen scoring in the clip of that record game (above). The rivalry between the fans can be compared to that of Glasgow's Old Firm: Mohun Bagan fans have traditionally been from the native Kolkata population, while East Bengal have their roots in the Bengali immigrant community - a bit like the formation of Celtic FC as an outlet for Irish immigrant boys in Glasgow. Things, of course, can get fairly hairy.





2. England v. Wales... in baseball

No, seriously. British, or Welsh baseball is most definitely a thing, and is much more closely related to GAA rounders than the shiny MLB product we see from March to October. This traditional version might look fairly naff, but it's been going on for well over a century and is taken very seriously indeed in its two remaining hotbeds.


The only international fixture is the annual  match between England and Wales. England's side is drawn from players in the game's heartland of Merseyside, while the Welsh mainly come from Cardiff and Newport in the south.

Only four clubs remain on Merseyside, but the game is in a slightly stronger state in South Wales. Footballers Terry Yorath, John Toshack and Dixie Dean are known to have played the game. While crowds are somewhat smaller these days - 1-2,000 - internationals were once held at Goodison Park and the Arms Park in Cardiff, drawing crowds of 10,000 or so.


Here's an absolutely hilarious clip of the 1982 match, which perfectly illustrates the gameplay and its very retro feel.





3. Galicia v. Brittany... in Gaelic Football

We've covered this one before, actually. The two regions have a shared Celtic heritage, so while it's surprising, it's not entirely unthinkable that Celtic culture enthusiasts there should embrace the 15-man game. Two clubs have been set up in Galicia in northwestern Spain since 2010, and their national side is drawn from these teams.


At the other end of the Bay of Biscay, the Bretons have a more established GAA tradition. The first club there was set up in Brest in 1998 and there are 11 clubs in the region.  Gaelic games are modestly thriving in Brittany, with plenty of schoolkids having the opportunity to sample the sport.



Brittany beat Galicia 3-12 to 1-8 in front of a crowd of over 400 last August. While the rivalry may be more friendly than others on out list, the singing of the anthems at the most recent fixture shows that the lads on both sides care deeply about representing their regions on the international stage.



4. Panathinaikos v. Olympiacos... in basketball

Even the most fair-weather football fan has an idea that the two Greek giants aren't exactly best friends, and are roared on by huge numbers of passionate, choreographed fans, especially on derby day. But this rivalry isn't just confined to the football pitch. - the basketball version is just as mental. Whenever the clubs meet in either code, the game goes by the best name of any rivalry on the list:

The Derby of the Eternal Enemies.



Like many rivalries, this one sprung up along class and regional lines, though both sides draw fans from across the spectrum today. Panathinaikos, as their name suggests, represented Athenian high society, while Olympiacos hail from the port city of Piraeus and were seen as the team of the middle-class merchants as well as the hard-nosed dockers. Either way, the Shamrock of Panathinaikos has dominated on the court, with 55 wins to 23 over the years.




5. Balkan fans knock lumps out of each other at tennis matches too.

The rivarly between the Balkan states is extremely long-standing, complicated and well-documented elsewhere. Football fans in particular are well aware of the enmity - the national teams aren't barred from playing one another, but the occasions are always extremely fraught with  tension.

Ball-grabbingly fraught with tension, in the case of Yugoslavia v. Croatia playing in the same group as Ireland in 1999.


This particular tale comes from the Australian Open of 2009, when Serbia's Novak Djokovic faced Bosnian-born American Amer Delic, and second-generation Balkan-Aussie fans allowed the heat and the booze to flare up hatreds from the old country. Chairs and bottles flew, a passer-by was injured and a generally ugly and frightening scene pervaded. There's no point trying to explain or justify the seeds of this incident, but it's noteworthy that these ancient tensions spilled over at the most refined of spectator sports. Both players were quick to condemn the fights.


The Australian Open has previous when it comes to hosting Balkan feuds in the sun. Two years earlier, 150 fans were thrown out when ethnic Croats and Serbs kicked off in the fan park. Clashes have been seen at soccer matches in Australia, but that was a first for tennis.


6. The Isles of Scilly Football League

A bit of a speculative one, this, but there's sound enough reasoning behind its inclusion - the island group off the Cornish coast has just two teams in its league - Woolpack Wanderers and Garrison Gunners. The league involves the two sides playing each other over seventeen Sundays from mid-November until the end of March. There are also two, one-round cup competitions and a Charity Shield.

It could be extremely tedious playing the same group of lads week after soul-crushing week, but there's another way of looking at it, an approach probably taken by the Scilly Islanders: If familiarity breeds as much contempt as we say it does, then surely knocking lumps out of each other week after week and always having an immediate chance to avenge the most recent defeat must be perversely fun and satisfying.

It's a bit like two retired lads playing golf or bowls against each other every day without getting bored by the challenge and craic on offer. Until one of them dies - the league is under serious threat from youth migration away from the islands.


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