In the past few days, one of my fellow writers here published a fascinating blog about the top five greatest derbies in English football. I wanted to add to this topic by discussing some lesser known derbies that often get overlooked because they are between teams in lower divisions. Despite this, the rivalries can be as passionate and meaningful between these smaller clubs and their fans as those in the Manchester Derby or in games between Tottenham and Arsenal.
The Devon Derby: Plymouth Argyle vs Exeter City
The two most southern clubs in England’s football league have played each other 83 times since their first meeting in February 1909. In that time, Argyle have won 34 games, City have 28, and they have shared the spoils on 25 occasions. Currently, Exeter are on a two-game winning run, having defeated the Pilgrims in their two league meetings this season.
Whilst neither club has a particularly bad reputation when it comes to violence, this fixture has been marred with occasional violence and arrests. Indeed, eleven fans were arrested in Exeter city centre after their most recent meeting, where an injury-time winner for Exeter saw emotions spill over and violence to occur in the stands.
It may not be the biggest game in the football league, but to the fans of each club the 50 miles that separate them might as well be 50 yards, such is the levels of passion and support involved in this fixture.
The M23 Derby: Crystal Palace vs Brighton and Hove Albion
The romantically named M23 derby pits Crystal Palace and Brighton together. Despite it seeming odd that a team from London and a team from the south coast should have a rivalry at all, this particular derby is a feisty and angry affair that gets emotions running high despite the lack of geographical closeness.
These two clubs have met 96 times, with Brighton just edging out Palace with 37 wins (Palace have 35). In recent times, this fixture has even been a promotion play-off semi-final, with Palace beating Brighton on the way to their eventual promotion to the Premier League.
With Brighton very much in the thick of the chase for promotion this year, there is the very real probability that we will be able to watch a top flight M23 Derby for the first time since 1981. With fans of Palace already lauded as some of the best in the division, expect to see some excellent atmospheres if the Seagulls can gain promotion.
The Old Farm Derby: Ipswich Town vs Norwich City
Ipswich and Norwich have played each other 142 times since their first meeting back in 1939. Being the two most successful clubs from East Anglia, and having both been in the same league for a large proportion of the past 70 years, this has given fans of both clubs the chance to get very familiar with each other. In fact, the derby has in the past been named the second fiercest derby in English football history.
During this time, Ipswich have won the English League title and European trophies to boot, whilst Norwich have twice been crowned FA Cup winners. Almost as important, Ipswich have won 60 games against their Yellow and Green rivals, with Norwich winning 57.
The most recent matches between these two clubs was also a Championship play-off semi-final. After a 1-1 draw at Portman Road, Norwich ran out 3-1 winners in the second leg at Carrow Road. However, with Norwich looking increasingly likely to be again slipping back through the Premier League trapdoor, more Old Farm derbies are on the horizon.
The Bristol Derby (AKA one of the West Country Derbies): Bristol Rovers vs Bristol City
Bristol is the UK’s eighth largest city but has never experienced a top-flight derby between its two most successful teams. Whilst Bristol City has spent some time in the old First Division, Bristol Rovers has spent the majority of its history in the lower divisions. Because of this lack of exposure, this derby is often overlooked, but it is a feisty affair, and for fans of both clubs is the biggest game of any season it is played in.
However, in recent years, the fortunes of the two clubs have varied, with City having stints in the Championship whilst Rovers even contrived to drop out of the Football League entirely. That said, next season could, for the first time since 2000-01 season, see both Bristol clubs playing in the same division; League One.
Whilst Rovers did beat City 1-0 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in 2007, they have only won five of the last 22 West Country Derbies against the Robins. Indeed, City have by far the better record against their city rivals, winning 44 out of the 106 games that these two clubs have competed in. Maybe 2016-17 will be the year Rovers can win back some pride.
The A420 Derby: Swindon Town vs Oxford United
Despite being possibly the fiercest derby on this list, Swindon Town vs Oxford United has the shortest history. Having only been first played (competitively) in 1965, there have since been 57 A420 Derbies. Swindon hold by far the better record in this fixture, boasting 23 wins to Oxford’s 14.
Nevertheless, Oxford have recently been doing their best to set the record straight. After Oxford had spent some time outside of the Football League, the two clubs were finally reunited in League Two for the 2011-12 season. That year, Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon strolled to the league title but lost out both times in the league to Oxford – the first ever time that Oxford completed a league double over Swindon. The first of these results has sent Swindon into a four-game losing run against the Us, something that the club’s fans are desperate to correct.
With Oxford looking like potential promotion material this season, the 2016-17 season could see the fixture return, and offer the Robins the chance to get their own back.