Flags over fists

 
 

Aaron Kennedy takes a look at the world of sporting rivalries

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, sport has become an important component of people’s everyday lives. The passion felt by these fans for their teams inevitably breeds some fierce rivalries. These rivalries between teams often stem from the region in which they live in, a past event that occurred between them, or even religion.

These games place immense pressure on the players, the owners and the manager, but perhaps it is the fans with whom it strikes a chord the most. In recent times, club owners often encourage rivalries to increase television ratings as well generating further income from game attendance.

Intensity of these rivalries varies from a professional and friendly encounter to a far more extremist and violent nature. In one particular case, the so-called Football War between El Salvador and Honduras of 1969 lasted for 4 days and resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 people.

During the qualifying rounds for the 1970 World Cup, the two teams played each other in three matches over a two week period where eventually El Salvador came out victorious. Mass scenes of violence ensued after each match, gradually leading to violent border clashes between the two nations as well as El Salvador severing all ties with Honduras.

This is a clear example of how sporting rivalries can lead to the most horrific of circumstances such as hooliganism, rioting and fighting. Sometimes, in the worst cases, these clashes between rival fans end in the loss of human life.

If there is any sport where hooliganism has been heavily discernible for decades, it has to be football. Fans take to the terraces to roar on their beloved teams to victory in most circumstances, but occasionally a select few disrupt the ‘beautiful game’. One of the best known of these rivalries is that of Glasgow’s “Old-Firm”: Celtic and Rangers.

The two teams have a long standing rivalry, which dates back to the late 19th century, and is largely based on the differing religious beliefs of their respective supporters. The rivalry does not stem solely from religion, as the fans differ on social ideology in regards to conservatism and socialism as well as their beliefs on Northern Ireland related politics regarding republicanism and loyalism.

An example of this rivalry being brought too far is the aftermath of the 1980 Scottish Cup Final. Celtic won 1-0, sparking one of the worst pitch invasions ever witnessed. This ultimately lead to the banning of alcohol on football grounds in Scotland.

El Clásico is another example of both the good and the bad side of sporting rivalries. Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two most successful clubs in Spain, and their rivalry stems mainly from the Catalan bid for independence from Spain. The game between these two giants of Spain has had a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly.

With the Santiago Bernabéu and the Camp Nou being the stadiums involved in the rivalry, the games take place in two of the most beautiful stadiums on the planet as well as hosting an array of the world’s finest footballers on show, but the match often tends to bring out the worst in some of the players as well as managers.

The same can be said for Liverpool and Manchester United, where recently fans from both sides horrendously chanted at one another about the Munich Air Disaster as well the Hillsborough Disaster. The bad side of rivalries is clearly on view here as tragic events of the past involving both teams are clearly being marred by idiotic fans taking the rivalry too far.

Much closer to home, the rivalry of the Leinster and Munster in rugby has been an enjoyable watch over the past few years. Rivalries in rugby seem to be much less intense than their footballing counterparts. The allowance of alcohol on rugby grounds is an indication of trust from the governing bodies that violent outbursts are unlikely.

This confidence is supported by the refusal to segregate the fans in to home and away sections. Fans from both sides enjoy the game side by side. This has the added benefit of removing a mentality of violence as fans see the human side of the opposing supporters.

Rivalries in GAA are much similar to that of rugby in the way in which no apparent violence occurs between the sets of supporters and fans are not separated. One of the best-known rivalries in GAA occurs between the two Munster counties of Kerry and Cork in the football. Whether it be Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Croke Park, both sets of fans have cheered on their teams without violence.

Rivalries are what make sport so lovable. Without them, we would lose the passion needed to play these sports. They are certain people who take things too far in every aspect of life, but that should not reflect upon the majority of fans who simply come to enjoy the game with their family or friends.

A select few people may tarnish the image of several sports and their fan base, but in the overall scheme of things, the ones who genuinely love the sport come out on top.

 

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