Derby schmarby

Rivalries evolve naturally and over time, they don’t need to be hurried along. Can someone please let J.League clubs know…


Lately it seems like there is a handful of ‘derby’ matches every weekend.

Whether it be the ludicrous “SKY Series” (Shonan, Kawasaki, Yokohama – they all wear blue (kind of, in Shonan’s case, but don’t let that get in the way of a snappy title) and are reasonably close to each other), the slightly uninspiring “North Kanto derby” (Tochigi, Gunma, and Mito – they’re all, erm, in north Kanto…) or the barrel-scraping “Top of North Alps” (Matsumoto, Tottori, and Gifu – a grammatically and geographically confusing one, this), there are numerous straight-from-the packet rivalries ready to be consumed.

These are not derbies, though. True derbies are not created by marketing men and women with MacBooks and too much coffee. The ‘Tamagawa Clasico’? ‘Get the river under control’? Really?

Derbies are usually based on little more than the locality of the competing teams but they occur naturally. Really there are only two derbies in J1 right now: the Shizuoka derby and the Saitama derby.

Think of Liverpool-Everton, Roma-Lazio, Rangers-Celtic, these games are about local pride and bragging rights. They can also involve an inferiority complex – often one of the clubs is far more successful than its neighbour, which heightens the sense of occasion when the teams meet. For the weaker side it is the chance to get one over on their bigger rival, whereas for the more successful club it is a matter of not being embarrassed.

One of the, erm, keenly contested 'SKY Series' matches

Take Omiya v. Reds, for example. The Reds fans are probably more concerned with the fates of Kashima and/or Gamba than they are Omiya. They want to beat them, obviously, but that is more to do with the fact they don’t want to lose face against their less-successful neighbor. (Of course, the rivalry may be heating up a little now that Reds have won just one of the last nine league meetings between the teams and Omiya are going toe-to-toe with them in the league. The fact that the Squirrels bookended their record-breaking 18-game unbeaten run with results against Urawa will also have been especially enjoyable/frustrating depending on which side of the orange-red spectrum you sit.)

In Shizuoka, too, there is the desire to be seen as the best team in the region. Jubilo are the more successful side – in terms of trophies – but in recent years there has been little to separate the teams. Shimizu have frequently been on the verge of establishing themselves as No.1 before stumbling at the last hurdle and shuffling back to the drawing board – no doubt to the joy of the fans in blue just down the road.

The same applies to the local derbies in Osaka (Gamba and Cerezo), Yokohama (Marinos and FC) and Tokyo (FC and Verdy), with both sides having plenty of ammunition as to why they’re the ‘real’ representative of their region.

Flying the flag for the 'Top of North Alps'

And these subjective, often baseless, and hugely biased claims are what make the derbies derbies. It is the frustration that builds up over the days, weeks, and years. That idiot in your office who came in in his team’s shirt after they beat yours at the weekend. The anger you feel when one of your players signs for the local rival. That time your team lost because their guy dived. It takes time and is created by infinite small details, all of which occur naturally.

There is also a cross-over here with the other type of derbies. These have nothing to do with how close teams are geographically, but everything to do with success, respect, and ideology.

These rivalries – Barcelona-Real Madrid, Manchester United-Liverpool, Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund – are not just based on on-pitch issues and how many trophies each have won, but also draw upon far deeper, more complex factors, encompassing everything from the way the clubs are run – a focus on producing youth players compared to the assemblage of a squad of stars, for instance – to social, political, economical and even nationalistic aspects.

These rivalries will eventually emerge in Japan, too. Reds and Antlers, for instance, undoubtedly have very little time for each other, and that dislike will only intensify as the years roll by. They will happen organically though, and don’t need to be formed in brainstorming meetings or to have cute logos or catchy slogans.


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