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Three of the Most Underrated Derbies in English Football

An AI Map of the UK made of footballs

A part of what makes football the most loved, and tribalistic, of all sports is the embrace of a good old-fashioned derby. These intense sporting rivalries are often based upon a near geographical connection breeding fierce competition between teams that inhabit the same city or county, but sometimes these feuds are born out of more obscure scenarios. 

 

Either way, the vast majority of fans understand that however heated these football clashes get, we all love the same game and there’s no excuse for taking things too far. Which is why the violence between West Bromwich Albion and Wolves supporters, when The Baggies recently hosted the latest Black Country derby in the FA Cup 4th round, were roundly condemned.  

 

Thankfully, this mindless idiocy is a rare occurrence, and football derbies usually concentrate on spirited, good-natured verbal abuse instead! With that in mind, this article looks at three examples of the most underrated derbies in English football...

 

 

The M1 Derby

Understandably, there’s been a lot of praise for Luton Town getting promoted back to the top flight after thirty-two years, plus a focus on how unusual the Kenilworth Road ground is amongst the typical Premier League stadiums. However, The Hatters fans are having to do without their biggest rivalry for at least this season.

 

Of course, whilst the The Hornets have enjoyed some success as a Premier League club in the past twenty years, Luton fell all the way down the divisions to the National League before their swift return all the way back up to the top. As a result there were almost fifteen long years when this derby was put on ice. 

 

Luton versus Watford FC is the clash that’s connected by the first ever full-length motorway to be constructed in Britain, although the first meeting between the clubs came in 1885, a good seventy-four years before the M1 opened.

 

The rivalry intensified throughout the 1970s and particularly in the 1980s, when they both graced the highest level of English football. Even when the clubs had dropped down a division, they then managed to get relegated together to the third tier in 1995-96!

 

The East Anglian Derby

If you think about Ipswich Town and Norwich City, they are two clubs that more often than not have been viewed as well-run, likeable teams that have both achieved some reasonable success in their history. When it comes to each other though, the East Anglian Derby has been noted to hold more animosity than most.

 

To date they’ve had 115 competitive meetings, starting in 1902, and despite all of the ebbs and flows between them the overall record is on a knife edge. The Canaries lead the Tractor Boys by forty-seven wins to forty-five, and last December their first meeting in over four years resulted in a 2-2 draw at Portman Road.

 

Norwich have also won some of the greatest tussles, namely the 1985 League Cup semi-final (that they went on to win against Sunderland) and the 2014-15 Championship play-off semi-final. Ipswich are also on a sorry run of having not won an East Anglian derby game since 2009, which they’ll hope to end as soon as possible, although they can at least taunt their foes with their historic league title and UEFA Cup triumphs.

 

The A23 Derby

One of those aforementioned obscure derbies, nearly fifty miles separate the Amex Stadium and Selhurst Park, so there’s nothing local about this mutual dislike between the Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace fan bases. However, the A23 does connect the East Sussex town and Croydon, where Selhurst Park lies.

 

Another unusual aspect of this derby is that it got going in more recent times, sparking up in the mid-1970s when both teams were stuck in the old Third Division and promotion rivals. They have often crossed paths as they’ve moved up and down the top three steps of the football pyramid, but only met four times in the league between 1990 and 2011 as The Seagulls went through financial turmoil and near extinction. 

 

For now the two clubs enjoy the shared status of being Premier League mainstays, The Eagles celebrating ten years at this level in 2023 and their adversaries six. In addition, this derby is in the history books for being the first fixture to use VAR in England, during a third round FA Cup tie in January 2018.



The examples on show here are just the tip of the iceberg. If you scratch beneath the surface and look beyond the glamour games like the North London, Merseyside or Manchester derbies, there is a wealth of football stories bubbling away from countless rivalries big and small. In fact, regardless of the size and location of a football club, they are all connected by the certainty that a derby is that one game you don't want to lose and you dare not lack passion for.

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