A Derby game is always a special occasion. Two local teams battle it out, and one set of fans will earn bragging rights over their rivals, until the sides meet again.
Derbies tend to be hard fought ties, and there is always an extra edge to them. But which are the biggest Derby games in English football?
What is the Biggest Football Derby in England?
It’s generally accepted that the North-West Derby between Manchester United and Liverpool is the biggest derby game in England. These are seen by neutrals as the two biggest teams in English football, and they are close to each other geographically so this is a real local derby.
20 Biggest Football Derbies in English Football
North-West Derby – Manchester United vs Liverpool
As we have seen, this game represents the biggest rivalry in English football. Prior to the advent of the Premier League, Liverpool had held the record for the most wins in the old top flight of English football.
From the beginning of the EPL era, Manchester United began to dominate, and the Red Devils now hold the record for most Premier League titles. This adds an extra dimension to a derby, which is already highly anticipated among both sets of supporters and by football fans as a whole.
While neither have claimed a run of titles in recent years, they remain competitive towards the top of the table, and this is still the biggest derby of all.
North London Derby – Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur
This is the biggest Derby game in London and in the south of England as a whole. Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur is hugely important for both sets of supporters, and it’s another closely matched contest between two top flight clubs.
Spurs and Arsenal first played each other in 1887, and a rivalry began from that initial game. However, this didn’t become a North London Derby until 1913. Prior to that point, Arsenal were based in Woolwich, but they subsequently moved north of the River Thames to their later Highbury home.
Arsenal were a more dominant team at the start of the Premier League era, so the Gunners have won more matches, but Spurs always look to compete and raise their game for this top class Derby.
Manchester Derby – Manchester United vs Manchester City
Supporters of other teams will always argue that their game is bigger. In the case of Manchester City, they would feel that the Manchester Derby is more important than any other on this list.
The game itself has been played since 1881 when City were known as St Mark’s and United were Newton Heath. Since then, there have been many classic encounters between the sides, and these clubs also met in the 2023 FA Cup final.
Neutrals would claim that this isn’t the biggest Derby because it hasn’t always been the most competitive. Manchester City have spent more time out of the top flight of English football, but they have been a more dominant team since they won their first Premier League title in 2012.
Whatever your view may be, this is still one of the most competitive and historical Derby matches in the English game.
Merseyside Derby – Liverpool vs Everton
This is another game where the teams are close geographically. In fact, it’s just a short walk across Stanley Park between Liverpool’s Anfield Ground and Everton’s Goodison Park.
Everton will move to their new Bramley Dock stadium for the 2024/25 stadium, but the increased distance between the teams will not detract from the importance of this game.
Liverpool and Everton hold a record for the longest running top flight Derby in England. With neither side dropping out of the top division since the start of the 1960s, the match has been played continuously since 1962/63.
The game is also referred to as the ‘friendly Derby’ as there are many families on Merseyside who contain both Everton and Liverpool fans. However, the tense atmosphere on match days doesn’t suggest any hint of friendliness.
Tyne-Wear Derby – Newcastle United vs Sunderland
In the North East of England, the Tyne-Wear Derby is the biggest game of them all. Newcastle and Sunderland have traditionally been among the most successful teams in the country, and they have secured top honours including league titles and FA Cup wins.
The clubs are also close to each other geographically, with just 12 miles separating Newcastle and Sunderland’s current stadiums. The first game between them was an FA Cup tie in 1888, which Sunderland won by two goals to nil.
With Sunderland currently out of the top flight and Newcastle United challenging near the top of the Premier League table, the Tyne-Wear Derby is a rare game in modern football, but it remains a highly anticipated contest when it does come around.
London Derby – Arsenal vs Chelsea
Of the many alternatives to the North London Derby, this is the biggest. It’s only recently become a more important fixture since both Chelsea and Arsenal have been claiming Premier League titles.
At the start of the EPL era, this match was more competitive than the North London Derby, and it became a more exciting game for neutrals. Chelsea may have struggled since the departure of Roman Abramovich, but it’s still a top class contest.
The teams first met in a league match in 1907, with Chelsea winning 2-1. Since then, Arsenal have enjoyed more success than their rivals, but the teams are evenly matched in the modern day.
The Dockers Derby – West Ham United vs Millwall
The Dockers Derby is so called because many fans of West Ham United and Millwall have historically worked on the docks on either side of the River Thames. Certain sets of supporters also have a reputation, and that has led to a bitter rivalry between the fans.
This is one of the oldest Derby games in English football, and it was first played in 1899 when Millwall won an FA Cup tie by two goals to one. West Ham have spent more of their history in the top flight, so the Dockers Derby isn’t a common fixture these days. Despite that, Millwall have a better record with 38 wins from the first 99 games, West Ham won 34, and there have been 27 draws.
South Wales Derby – Swansea City vs Cardiff City
They are the best-performing football teams in Wales, so this is the biggest Derby match in this part of the UK. Swansea City and Cardiff City have both played in the Premier League, and they’ve met at various points on the football ladder.
Their first meeting in 1912 ended in a 1-1 draw, while the sides began the 2023/24 season in the Championship. Both Swansea and Cardiff will be aiming for promotion back to the Premier League moving forward, so there will be an extra edge to this Derby fixture.
East Anglian Derby – Norwich City vs Ipswich Town
They are the county towns of the neighbouring counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, so there’s plenty at stake whenever Norwich City take on Ipswich Town. The game is also known as the Old Farm Derby, due to the amount of agriculture taking place in this part of the country.
Norwich and Ipswich first played each other in 1902. They have, at times, both played in the Premier League, but the majority of East Anglian Derbies have come in the lower divisions.
Overall results from those contests have been evenly matched, so this is one of the closest fought Derby games on the calendar.
East Lancashire Derby – Blackburn Rovers vs Burnley
Anyone who has watched Blackburn Rovers take on Burnley, either live or on TV, would feel that this is arguably the fiercest game in English football. They may not be the biggest teams in the game, but the players are clearly aware of how much this means to both sets of supporters.
The match is also referred to as the Cotton Mills Derby, which reflects the typical type of industry in the two towns. Burnley and Blackburn Rovers first played each other in 1884, with Blackburn winning 4-2 away from home. Blackburn subsequently won a Premier League title, but Burnley were a much stronger team in the 1960s.
Birmingham Derby – Aston Villa vs Birmingham City
This is another match that delivers a hostile atmosphere inside the grounds whenever Aston Villa take on Birmingham City. The teams have been in the top flight for much of their respective histories, but Villa have been more of a presence in the Premier League since it began in 1992.
Also known as the Second City Derby, the first game was an FA Cup tie in the 1877/88 season which Aston Villa won 4-0. Villa have most wins in this game, but these matches are always entertaining and closely fought affairs.
South Coast Derby – Portsmouth vs Southampton
Another bitter Derby game is played on the South Coast of England. A traditional rivalry between two proud cities has spread onto the football terraces with just 19 miles separating Portsmouth and Southampton.
Both teams have appeared in the Premier League, but the majority of their first 77 games have taken place in lower divisions. The first South Coast Derby was a ‘friendly’ match in 1899, and results are fairly evenly divided between the two clubs.
Devon Derby – Exeter vs Plymouth
The two biggest clubs in the south west of England also take part in a hotly contested local Derby. In previous years, Torquay United were also part of the Devon football scene, but they’ve since dropped out of the League.
Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle first met in the Southern League in 1921, and they’ve since met almost 100 times. Because there is very little professional football in this part of the country, the Devon Derby attracts huge interest inside the county.
Black Country Derby – West Bromwich vs Wolverhampton
The Black Country in the West Midlands got its name from the smoke rising from the many iron foundries that used to exist here. West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers are the biggest teams in the area, and they’ve met in the Black Country Derby since 1886, when they contested an FA Cup tie.
West Brom have won most of the Derby matches between the two sides, but Wolves’ ongoing status as a Premier League club means that they are catching up.
Steel City Derby – Sheffield United vs Sheffield Wednesday
The Steel Industry dominated the working landscape in Sheffield for many years, and that’s how this Derby match gets its name. Once again, this is a case where the two sides involved have both played in the Premier League, but they’ve also spent much of their histories outside of the top division.
The most famous Steel City Derby was played in April 1993, when Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday met in the semi final of the FA Cup. Wednesday won 2-1, but United have won most of the first 131 Steel City Derbies.
Roses Rivalry – Leeds vs Man United
There are times in the history of the game, when the Roses game was considered to be the biggest Derby in English football. The teams first met quite late on, when Leeds United and Manchester United fought out a 0-0 draw in the Second Division in 1923.
Since then, Manchester United have enjoyed a better record, winning 50 of the first 113 Roses Derby matches. The match gets its name from the War of the Roses, a historical battle between the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire. In the present day, Leeds United represent Yorkshire, while Manchester United fly the flag for Lancashire.
There’s always an extra edge and an incredible atmosphere to these matches, and sections of the English media feel that this fixture produced the most intense rivalry in the national game.
Bristol Derby – Bristol City vs Bristol Rovers
Bristol is another location that boasts two professional football teams. While Bristol City have played in the top flight of English football more recently, the majority of Bristol Derby contests have taken place in the lower leagues.
The teams first met in a Gloucestershire Senior Challenge Cup Match in 1896. At that time, Bristol Rovers were known as Eastville Rovers, while Bristol City were called Bristol South End.
While there may be bigger Derby games in English football, this has to be one of the most prolific encounters in the world game. Between that first contest in 1896 and the game at Ashton Gate in 2013, Bristol City and Bristol Rovers had played each other on no fewer than 232 occasions.
West Lancashire (M55) Derby – Blackpool vs Preston North End
Historically, Blackpool and Preston North End have been major forces in English football. They’ve both won FA Cups while Preston were also former Champions of the First Division.
The West Lancashire Derby is also known as the M55 Derby, as Preston and Blackpool are situated at opposite ends of that particular motorway. The first ever meeting was a Football League match in the 1901/02 season, which Preston won by four goals to one. Preston went on to dominate the first 97 meetings between the two clubs, winning 47 of them. However, Blackpool currently boast the biggest victory, after sealing a 7-0 away win in 1948.
East Midlands Derby – Derby County vs Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest are closer to their City rivals Notts County, but there is a much bigger rivalry down the A52. Derby County and Forest were two the most successful sides of the 1970s and their achievements are linked by one man – manager Brian Clough.
Clough enjoyed success at Derby, but he became a legendary figure at Forest, winning the First Division title and two European Cups. That switch to Nottingham added an extra edge to this game which had always been closely fought. The East Midlands Derby was first played in the 1892/93 season, and it’s mainly been contested in the Championship since 2000.
Cross-Border Derby – Wrexham vs Chester
While they are only 12 miles apart, Wrexham and Chester are based in two different countries. There is a local rivalry between them, and the fact that Wrexham are in Wales and Chester in England, makes this Derby even more fascinating.
They have traditionally been the only clubs in the area to play in the Football League, so both have a big fanbase. The first Cross-Border Derby took place in 1888, but Wrexham’s promotion back to the Football League in 2023, and Chester’s current position in the National League, means that it may be some time before the next fixture.
Even if you are a neutral supporter, it is worth tuning in to watch these derby games on TV. They are special matches where teams give their all to earn three points, and those essential bragging rights over their opponents.
While some derbies are seen to be bigger than others, each of these games is vitally important to the fans and the two sets of teams taking part. Those supporters may be nervous as they watch their players in action but, for neutral followers, any Derby is a treat.