Which are the all time biggest football rivalries in the UK?

Which are the all time biggest football rivalries in the UK?

Kenneth Mwenda
updated at April 22, 2024 at 9:20 AM

The biggest football rivalries in the UK include the Merseyside derby, which also has the highest number of red cards. But which are the most prominent football rivalries in the UK? Do you know why a boat is on the Manchester United and Manchester City logos? What happened between Arsenal and Tottenham in 1919? In this article, you'll get to know England's biggest rivals and oldest football rivalry in UK.

biggest football rivalries in the UK
Photo: canva.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC

The rivalry is mostly between the most successful clubs in the football arena, dating back 100 seasons back. Who are England's biggest rivals? More importantly, who has the biggest competition ever?

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If you’re going to talk derbies, there’s no better or bigger place to start than right here. Apart from the UK, Argentina is home to soccer rivalries which produces some of the most exciting games to watch worldwide. Who else has some intense competition?

6. The Merseyside derby

Liverpool v Everton is still one of the biggest football rivalries in the UK. The game used to be one of the few in which all of the fans sat together. However, because the teams are separated only by Stanley Park, the teams are quite close, with the rivalry dividing many families and houses in the city, earning the nickname "The Friendly Derby."

According to sources, Everton played their home games at Anfield before a number of board members left to form another club, Liverpool FC. The teams first met in 1894 and have played 233 times since then. The clubs have been meeting season after season since 1962, making it the UK's longest-running top-flight derby.

Which are the All-time biggest football rivalries in the UK?
27 Sep 1999: Sander Westerveld of Liverpool wrestles with Francis Jeffers of Everton during the FA match at Anfiled. Both were sent off and Everton won 1-0. Photo: Michael Steele
Source: Getty Images

Both were vying for league titles and cups during their heydays in the 1980s, which sparked a lot of rivalries because matches against each other were so important to their success. The animosity has also pushed the derby to the top of the list for most red cards.

The clubs have had their fair share of success, but when it comes down to it, Liverpool has always been a step ahead of its rivals. Liverpool is continuing to pull away from their Merseyside rivals, holding the bragging rights affair more than before, following the recent victories in both England and Europe.

5. Arsenal v Manchester United

Which are the All-time biggest football rivalries in the UK?
Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson shout orders during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Arsenal and United at Highbury on March 28, 2004 Photo by Clive Mason
Source: Getty Images

Two of the English heavyweights in football from different parts turned to become one of the biggest soccer rivalries in England. Both clubs have been in the same division since 1919 when they first met in 1894.

The rivalry reached its pinnacle in the 1990s and 2000s when Arsenal was led by Arsène Wenger, called "the professor," and United was led by Alex Ferguson. The 'battlefield' was unique, only comparable to the then-El Classico (Real Madrid vs. Barcelona), other biggest rivalries in European football.

After Arsenal's Invincibles season, the Red Devils interrupted their unbeaten record, adding spice to an already acrimonious rivalry. The teams underwent a transition in 2005, as Chelsea began to dominate the division before Manchester City arrived in 2012.

4. The Manchester Derby

Which are the All-time biggest football rivalries in the UK?
Referee Kevin Friend shows a red card to Nemanja Matic after receiving a second yellow card during the Carabao Cup Semi Final, second leg match at the Etihad Stadium. Photo by Martin Rickett
Source: Getty Images

The battle for supremacy in Manchester has always been between the two, resulting in the lingo "which colour is Manchester?" Being one of the biggest rivalries in soccer, the match has recently risen to become one of football's most prestigious derbies. In 1881, the two clubs first met.

The Red Devils were known as Newtown Heath, while the Blues were known as St. Mark's (West Gorton), and their fields were 4 miles apart, another example of family members splitting in support of their favourite.

The rivalry was not as acrimonious until Sergio Kun Aguero grabbed the Premier League title from Manchester United on goal difference in 2011/12, putting an end to Alex Ferguson's moniker of "noisy neighbors." His last-minute goal ended the Cityzens' 44-year championship drought. This was to be the turning point for Manchester's blue side, and they've only gotten stronger since then.

The rivalry coin has now been tossed on the other side since its United's turn to watch Cityzens clinch the titles. United are now fighting for the top four positions while the city is enjoying at the top, Liverpool being the only threat.

3. The North London derby

Which are the All-time biggest football rivalries in the UK?
Tottenham players surround referee Mike Dean after Vertonghen is shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham on December 2, 2018 Photo: James Williamson
Source: Getty Images

This has always been one of the fiercest football rivalries in the UK, with both teams being from North London. Their first match took place in 1887. The rivalry began in 1913, when Arsenal relocated to Highbury in North London, only four miles away, a decision that Tottenham strongly opposed.

Furthermore, the rivalry was sparked by a contentious promotion more than a century ago, in 1919, when the league was to be extended by two clubs through voting. According to sources the favourites of the promotion were Chelsea and Tottenham. Chelsea's nomination would be a foregone conclusion because their relegation had been contentious in the first place.

Arsenal received 18 votes, while Tottenham received eight, despite Arsenal finishing sixth in the Second Division the previous season. All of the Tottenham authorities were enraged by the behavior, and the rivalry was born.

Between the two clubs, over 200 games have been played, with the Gunners coming out on top. It was only in 2017 when Spurs finally broke a 22-year spell of finishing below Arsenal in the premier league. In 1976–77, Tottenham was demoted for the first time since the 1950s, and its the only season they did not meet.

2. Manchester United v Liverpool

Which are the All-time biggest football rivalries in the UK?
Jonjo Shelvey of Liverpool reacts to being sent off during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on September 23, 2012. Photo by Matthew Peters
Source: Getty Images

The clubs were some of the biggest soccer rivalries in England, with the rivalry traced back to the 19th century, later spanning across decades. Economic and industrial disparities sparked the rivalry between the two cities. The principal port in England at the time was Liverpool, and the city of Manchester was paid exorbitant fees for sea access.

Manchester built its canal through Liverpool later, giving them a sense of supremacy, which is why a boat appears on the Manchester United and Manchester City emblems. Although their football rivalry did not begin until the 1960s, the canal construction reignited the rivalry between the two communities.

With the arrival of Bill Shankly in the 1960s, Liverpool controlled the league for over two decades. It was about this time when Matt Busby left Manchester United, leading the club to suffer until Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed in 1986.

The appointment ushered in a sea change that no one could have predicted, with Liverpool's success waning and the United dominating for the next three decades. The desire to become the most successful club in the United Kingdom sparked the most intense rivalry in soccer history. Even today, Liverpool are United's biggest rivals.

1. The Old Firm Derby

Which are the all time biggest football rivalries in the UK?
Rangers' Alfredo Morelos is sent off by referee Bobby Madden during Celtic vs Rangers match on 31/03/19. Photo by Alan Harvey
Source: Getty Images

The derby is termed as the biggest rivalry in British football. The Old Firm is the collective name for the two Scottish clubs, Celtic and Rangers, both located in Glasgow. According to sources, their rivalry has become deeply embedded past the limits of football and into deeper national, religious and political identities.

Most of the biggest football rivalries in the UK are also part of the biggest soccer rivalries in the world due to the club's success and the intense competition in the leagues. The premier league rivalries constitute the English league side having the highest number in comparison to the Scottish league.

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Kenneth Mwenda photo
Kenneth Mwenda
Kenneth Mwenda is a business and sports writer with over five years of experience. At Sportsbrief, he contributes to writing biographies and listicles.