It’s Only a Derby If It’s a Derby

Growing up as a teenager in the 1970's was exciting and wondrous. I discovered soccer and the creative rebellious energy of that era will always be a guiding force for me and a force that I generally use for good. My history teacher in high school was from Scotland and quite brilliant and resourceful at finding ways to integrate soccer films into our lesson plan and it was there that I watched my first soccer game and learned that it was called a "match". It was a whole new world for me as I had never heard terms such as "gutted" and "shocking" used before in American sports commentary but the word that really stuck with me was "derby". A super 8 projector started rolling and the lights were turned off as Manchester United v Manchester City appeared on the cheesy silver video screen. How much have things changed since back then? Manchester City were bottom dwellers and had no money to buy players while Manchester United played with flair and style. As I watched the number 7 for United I thought to myself "this is the coolest man on the planet", his name was George Best. His long hair and fantastic dribbling skills had me hooked and my obsession with the sport began that day. The commentators kept referring to it being a "derby" and I made a mental note to ask my teacher later what that meant.

His explanation was simple and direct: it was when two teams from the same city or town play each other. The phrase most likely originated from The Derby, a horse race in England founded by the 12th Earl of Derby in 1780, since at least as early as 1840 "derby" has been used as a noun in English to denote a sporting contest of two rivals of close geographical proximity. Another possible origin of the term is that the town of Derby was renowned as the site of a chaotic and exuberant game that involved the whole town and often resulted in fatalities. The goals were at Nuns Mill in the north and the Gallows Balk in the south of the town, and much of the action took place in the River Derwent of the Markeaton Brook. Normally the players came from All Saints and St Peter's parishes, but in practice the game was a free for all with as many as 1,000 players. A Frenchman who observed the match in 1829 wrote in horror, "if Englishmen call this play, it would be impossible to say what they call fighting". The traditional Shrovetide football match is still an annual event in the town of Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

In the United States a derby would simply be called a "crosstown rival" game and there would be no confusion whatsoever as to what that means. Recently I have seen in print and heard the Barcelona v Real Madrid game being called a derby game. NO! STOP! THIS IS NOT A DERBY GAME! It's a rivalry and you can call it "El Classico" but  Barcelona is 387 miles from Madrid or 622 kilometers (as of this writing only Burma, Liberia and America are not on the metric system but that's a whole other rant). A wise man once said "if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem". I beg of you, when you hear someone misuse the D word, please call them out on it and patiently explain it to them. Now that we have that sorted out, I have to turn my attention to my next mission by letting youth coaches in my area know that it's "offside", not "offsides". The struggle is real but staying silent is what compounds problems and always remember that it's only a derby if it's a derby.

Author: Kristopher Klassen