The local derby is one of English football’s great levellers.
No matter how well or how poorly a team is doing, the chance to get one over on your nearest and fiercest rivals, spurred on by a hunger to win but also a deathly fear of losing.
Liverpool could be 20 points ahead of Everton and still know victory isn’t a foregone conclusion, while the North London Derby between Tottenham and Arsenal is another fixture where you might as well discard all previous results against other opposition in the lead-up to the game.
However, English football also has its share of fake derbies – games where clubs might not be far away geographically, but where affording the match ‘derby’ status just feels a bit… off.
Southampton v Bournemouth
Yes, their stadiums are less than 40 miles apart, but that isn’t the only contributing factor here.
When Southampton take on Bournemouth, commentators may refer to the meeting as a ‘derby’, but don’t be fooled. These people are lying to you in an effort to make you care about *checks notes* Steve Cook battling with *turns over sheet of paper and checks other notes* Danny Ings.
Southampton and Bournemouth are too nice to be rivals, and we’re not just talking about Eddie Howe’s lovely smiley face.
The teams have only been together in the Premier League for a few years, and they’ve been so far apart in the past that the Saints have been prepared to lend the Cherries their players like a big brother distributing hand-me-downs.
Andrew Surman spent time on loan at Bournemouth from Southampton earlier in his career before moving to Dorset permanently a few years later, as did Artur Boruc, while even Adam Lallana got himself a few games at Dean Court.
Chelsea v Fulham
There’s plenty of animosity between supporters of London clubs.
Chelsea fans and Spurs fans. Chelsea fans and Arsenal fans. Chelsea fans and West Ham fans. Chelsea fans and QPR fans. Chelsea fans and other Chelsea fans. Damn Chelsea fans, they ruined Chelsea!
Fulham and Chelsea simply have different priorities to one another, with the Cottagers having a fiercer rivalry with QPR. While Chelsea, as we’ve discussed, go for the throats of more or less anyone other than their near-neighbours.
There’s also the matter of whether you even can have a proper rivalry when your stadium has a neutral stand, but we won’t delve too far into that one.
Crystal Palace v Brighton
The ‘M23 Derby’? Grow up.
Newcastle v Middlesbrough
Newcastle v Sunderland? Now there’s a fine-looking derby. Newcastle v Middlesbrough, in contrast, is one of those not-quite-right store brand knockoff version called something like Corn Flukes or Prongles.
A Tyne-Tees Derby can sneak up on you in a way that a Tyne-Wear one never could, without anything close to the same degree of two-way animus in the days – nay, weeks – leading up to the fixture.
The last time they met at the Riverside in the Premier League, the game kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday – if anything screams ‘not a real derby’, it’s that.
Aston Villa v Wolves
Villa and Wolves have had the odd feisty game against one another, but one big battle does not a rivalry make.
Plenty of players have turned out for both clubs, with Wolves winger Adama Traoré spending a season in the Premier League with Villa and goalkeeper Michael Oakes playing more than 250 games for the Molineux club after beginning his career at Villa Park.
Villa’s main rivalry is, of course, with Birmingham City. Until a home fan runs onto the pitch to actively mock a visiting keeper following a comedy own goal, this one won’t come close, and even then, it’ll have a fair bit of catching up to do.
Manchester United v Manchester City
United v Liverpool’s the real one, let’s be honest. Maybe United v Leeds at a push.
Maybe this will reach the same heights in a few years, but it’s not there yet. Not even close.