Super League proposals, globalisation, games potentially being played abroad, the hunger for European football… it’s felt for a while that this might be the future of the game.
Ask your typical English football supporter which fixture they first look for in June and chances are they’ll say their team’s local derby.
Ritualistic piss-taking, one-upmanship on your neighbour and an in-built, almost unexplainable hatred of your local rival — these facets are still at the cornerstone of football fandom.
The Athletic decided to explore the anatomy of an English derby by taking in the sights, sounds, smells and shithousery of derbies in London, Manchester and the East Midlands over three days. Seventeen goals and endless mockery later, this is the result.
Given he’s wearing suit trousers, you’d be forgiven for thinking the man in his 60s hopping off the tube at Arsenal station is heading to work. Not today.
As he strides purposefully up the unceasing slope towards Gillespie Road, a thicket of grey hair peeking through the back of an Arsenal baseball cap, the man clutches a cherished item tightly in each hand. Right hand, tube pass. Left hand, red and white scarf. That’s almost all he needs.
A bright flash of sunshine causes temporary blindness at the top of the stairs and the senses veer towards an intoxicating blend of two contrasting scents polluting the autumnal air. The cocktail of fried onions and cigarette smoke immediately narrows down the location to near a football stadium, in this case, The Emirates, and in this very specific case, on derby day.
So far, so normal. Except a cursory glance at the faces congregating nearby for a pint or a burger reveal a shocking, sinister truth… everyone’s smiling.
- Watching three Premier League derbies in three days
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