Rivalries, where would sport be without them? The recent varsity series saw Nottingham University pitted up against their fierce ex-polytechnic rivals, with the drama unfolding against the familiar chorus of “your Dad works for my Dad” and “I would rather be a poly than a c*nt.” Whether the swapping of (mostly) good natured insults is to your taste or not is a matter of opinion, but there can be little doubt that the excitement of a local derby was the biggest draw card to many of the thousands who attended the Varsity Ice hockey, despite not knowing their ice from their elbow when it came to the rules.
Rivalries like the Varsity series are integral to all sports, drawing in many supporters who would otherwise not bother. Look at English cricket and it is clear that television bosses agree, with only the Ashes series against Australia set to return for free to air viewing, despite the fact that the last home series against South Africa produced arguably the more exciting cricket. They have spotted that cricket coverage against the old enemy, where Barmy Army can unleash their repertoire including “You all live in a convict colony,” will draw in the average sports fan more than any other series.
Whilst the Ashes is undoubtedly one of sport’s great rivalries, it lacks the undercurrent of real hatred that fuels many of football’s greatest battles. History, politics and religion often cause the deepest hatred between opposing supporters and some are easier to understand than others. For example, only the historically challenged would struggle to guess why Polish fans would give anything to beat Germany. Furthermore, the Falklands war and a little genius/cokehead who scored with his hand can easily explain the extra spice in Argentina and England games. However it is often simple geographical reasons which are the root of most sporting rivalries. Local Derbies often involve a bit of good natured banter, but some uncover a darker side of sport where abuse and violence are the norm. Unfortunately, football throws up the most examples, including some Manchester derbies that have seen fans chant about the Munich air disaster, and the recent East-London ding-dong between West Ham and Millwall that saw violent scenes outside the ground. These are the aspects of rivalries that tarnish what is often a very healthy aspect of the tribal nature of football. For many, the fun of abusing supporters of your local rivals is the highlight of a season and most would rather share pints not fists at the end of a game. The fact that many fans do not even live anywhere near the team they support (you know who you are) does not matter. If you support Man Utd, you hate Man City, even if you do come from Surrey and think Fergie is nicknamed after the girl from the Black Eyed Peas.
Recent Varsity promoters have done well to capitalise on the local rivalry with Trent even if geographical animosity is often more irrational than others. Loyalties can change in an instant, depending on the nature of the geographical dispute. You can be Mancunian, Northern, English, British or European depending on the sport and the circumstances. However, mutual contempt based on geography is often what makes certain sporting occasions that extra bit special. Irrational it may be, but it is an important part of sports allure, and long may it continue.
Tommy ‘bodged’ Reynolds