La Liga derbies bring the fiercest football rivalries to life in South Africa.
February 2019. – There are fierce football rivalries…and then there are derbies. Spanish football league LaLiga Santander is home to some of the most celebrated of these long-running on-pitch battles in the world – and on 31 January, select South African media got to experience all the passion, tradition and spectacle first-hand through an immersive local LaLiga Derbies event at the Mesh Club in Rosebank.
Five LaLiga derbies are taking place between February and April – to be screened locally on SuperSport 7 – and the media event encouraged attendees to explore every aspect of the high-emotion derby experience, which is as deeply entrenched in Spanish culture as its signature regional foods.
Dating back decades and played between rival teams in the same cities and regions, LaLiga derbies have a significance that extends far beyond the football game itself. They encourage a healthy, good-natured sense of competition, festival atmosphere and a sense of belonging that unites players and fans alike.
LaLiga derbies are never run-of-the-mill contests and the South African media event reflected that, combining idiosyncratic traditional activities, customs and cuisines unique to each contest and Spanish region. These included local dishes like rice-and-fish paella, a meal integral to Valencian family life; and traditional pan tumaca, a simple and healthy combination of bread and seasoned tomato associated with the Catalan region. Guests were also treated to flamboyant flamenco dancing, synonymous with “El Gran Derby,” and a Mascelatá Showcase, replicating a raucous firecrackers celebration unique to Valencia.
Most importantly, media at the LaLiga Derbies event received further insight into the long, proud history of each competition and the world-class teams who bring their talent and heart to every crucial, reputation-defining encounter.
The LaLiga Derby Calendar for the rest of the season is as follows:
1) Basque Derby
Teams: Real Sociedad vs Athletic Club
Date: 3 February
Final Score: 2 – 1
This regional derby, bringing together teams from Bilbao and San Sebastián, is one of the oldest fixtures in LaLiga history and first took place in the inaugural LaLiga season of 1929. After 144 derbies, Athletic Club tops Real Sociedad in wins 58 to 49. One of the most warm-hearted rivalries, this derby brings together fans from both teams, and affiliations can even be split within the same families.
2) Madrid Derby
Teams: Atletico de Madrid vs Real Madrid
Date: 09 February
Final Score: 1 – 3
Once upon a time ago this derby used to be a bigger fixture than El Clasico. Madrid still boasts two of the best teams in Spanish and European football history, and this derby hinges on a hard-fought rivalry that reportedly dates back to 1903. Since 2013, Atletico has stepped up its game with the arrival of manager Diego Simeone and has won eight of the 25 derbies played since then, drawing 10 and losing seven.
3) Catalan Derby
Teams: FC Barcelona vs RCD Espanyol
Date: 30/31 March
This cross-city rivalry dates back to the very start of the 20th Century, and is considered one of the most unbalanced contests in the Spanish Derby. Out of 194 meetings, Barcelona has won 114, although Espanyol holds the honour of the greatest-ever Catalan Derby win, achieved 6-0 in 1951. Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, currently plays for FC Barcelona.
4) Valencian Derby
Teams: Valencia CF vs Levante UD
Date: 13/14 April
Valencia and Levante are so evenly matched that neither side has ever won both a home and away derby in a single season. Both well-loved Valencian clubs are in their second century of life, and one of their meetings was the first to be played in the iconic Mestalla stadium, the oldest of the current top-flight clubs in Spain. A phantom goal awarded to Valencia in 2004/05 remains a point of contention between the teams.
5) “El Gran Derby”
Teams: Sevilla FC vs Real Betis
Date: 13/4 April
Also known as the Andalusian or Seville Derby, this meeting of Sevilla city sides has consistently been one of the most watched games in the history of LaLiga. Sevilla leads here with 49 wins to Real Betis’s 33 although both teams hold the honour of winning the League – two of only nine clubs in history to do so. For the record, Sevilla is regarded as the most football-mad city in Spain, with more than 5% of its population fully paid-up members of either Sevilla or Real Betis.
Antonio Barradas, Managing Director of LaLiga South Africa, explains the enduring appeal of LaLiga derby clashes. “The prospect of getting the better of your fiercest rivals means that there’s far more at stake than just another three points. What’s more, LaLiga derbies don’t just last 90 minutes, they span several weeks, months and years, and the spirit associated with them has become inseparable from Spanish culture.”
Along with supporting the growth of grassroots football in South Africa, LaLiga is committed to inspiring new fans of the beautiful game, introducing them to the Spanish league and the best in world football while expanding their worldviews.