Football derbies in France

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In many countries the term local derby, or simply just derby (pronounced 'dar-bee' after the English town) means a sporting fixture between two (generally local) rivals, particularly in Association Football. In North America, crosstown rivalry is a more common term.

Although there are no strict rules, derby games in France are commonly divided into three categories - derbies, local derbies and classicos (originally a Spanish expression).

A derby is a game involving two teams from the same city, a local derby would involve two teams from two neighbouring cities and a classico involves two teams from two cities quite far apart geographically which have developed a great rivalry along the years - such as PSG and Marseille in football for example.

Local derbies[edit]

Local derbies are extremely rare in France, especially in football. There are two main reasons for this.

Before WW2 derbies were quite common but they disappeared when new national leagues were artificially created - by the Vichy regime - involving only one team from each region. This fateful decision caused a lot of clubs to merge or temporarily disappear and even though some clubs were relaunched after the war the damage had already been done.

The other reason is purely financial. Because clubs in France rely heavily on public subsidies from local and regional councils, they have to share these monies with other clubs from the same region or town. As a result of this, it is usually more economically sensible for two clubs from the same area to merge rather than to compete against each other in the same league.

The last derby proper in French top-flight football, Paris derby took place during the Ligue 1 1989-90 season between Paris Saint-Germain and Racing Paris

Prior to this, derby games were more common, particularly in the 1930s. For example, Lille was the home of SC Fives and Olympique Lillois (both merged in 1944 and became Lille OSC). Another example was Roubaix, home of Excelsior and RC Roubaix who even met in the 1933 final of the Coupe de France, Excelsior being the winner (both merged with Tourcoing in 1945, RCR unmerged in 1963 and Excelsior in 1970).

Clubs from the same city but playing in different leagues can meet in the Coupe de France however, even if this rarely happens.

The only regularly occurring city derbies and which uphold their rivalries in recent years in France are the Parisian derbies between Red Star, US Créteil and Paris FC[1] in the second and third tiers, and the Ajaccio derby between AC Ajaccio and GFCO Ajaccio.

‡ Originally both founded in Paris, Racing and Red Star have moved out to the suburbs since then. However, back in the 1990s Racing did share PSG's Parisian stadium during their brief spell in Ligue 1. US Créteil was founded in the southern suburbs of Paris and had remained in the same suburb throughout its history.

Taking into account all the clubs playing at at least semi-professional level, the top four divisions; Ligue 1, Ligue 2, National, CFA and CFA2, additionally the following derbies could occur, although they do not evoke any emotion among fans:

† The reserve team of Girondins Bordeaux and the first team of Stade Bordelais play in the same pool of the CFA league.

Regional derbies[edit]

Whereas city derbies are quite rare in France, local regional derbies on the other hand are very common. And because French people usually identify primarily with their town or region (Esprit de clocher), these local derbies do attract a lot of attention.

The atmosphere surrounding local derbies can be electric, while remaining relatively good humoured most of the time. On a national level some derbies are considered more important than others - games between Saint-Étienne and Lyon or Lille and Lens are eagerly awaited affairs, whereas a game between Rouen and Le Havre for example, wouldn't get so much national coverage.

Notable local derbies include:

Nationwide derbies[edit]

While the attribution of the classico moniker can be pretty straight forward in countries such as Spain, things are not as clear cut in France. There are two schools of thoughts as to which game qualifies as the French classico.

Most people would consider OM vs PSG to be the French classico. However, some might argue that this is only a geopolitical choice as Paris and Marseille are respectively the 1st and 2nd most populated cities in France and the rivalry between both cities originally had nothing to do with football. Others would argue that because PSG and OM usually have the two biggest budgets in French football the game between the two deserved to be labelled the French classico. Infamously heated until the mid-2000s, with a lot of tension and aggressive behaviour by supporters of both teams, the rivalry is softening, as Paris has seen its financial abilities skyrocket.

The French major football broadcaster Canal+ calls this game "Olympico" referring also to El Clásico. It specifically refers to individual matches between the teams. Unlike Le Classique, the rivalry has no bad blood within it and, instead, stems from the competitiveness of the each club's players, managers, supporters, and presidential hierarchy. The rivalry is often cited as being particularly important as both clubs are of high standard in French football and the championship is regularly decided between the two. Marseille and Lyon (along with Saint-Étienne) are the only French clubs to have won the French first division four straight times with Marseille doing it on two occasions.

Because Paris Saint-Germain have only won four Ligue 1 titles, which is less than seven other French clubs have won, most purists think the classico should not be the game between the two teams with the biggest budget but rather the game between the two teams with the most titles. This, without a doubt, would be Marseille vs Saint-Étienne. Both teams have dominated French football in the 1960s and 1970s and, even though they have had different fortunes since then, the rivalry between the two is still going strong.

These two teams are amongst the most successful in French football, having won an aggregate 18 championships since 1932 - 8 for Nantes, 10 for Saint-Etienne. They dominated the French First Division from 1963 to 1983, with only 5 crowns not being awarded to one of the two. During that period, the clashes between the two clubs were the climax of the season and were eagerly anticipated by national networks, as they would be crucial to the final classification. More than just a clash of ambitions, the rivalry was also built on a clash of styles. Helped by the establishment of the French First two modern football academies, each team developed a specific identity: "Les Verts", representing the Working-Class mining and industrial city of Saint-Etienne played tough and very intense football, somewhat similar to the English "kick-n-rush", whereas the players of Nantes, "Les Canaris", created a distinctive football called "jeu à la nantaise" based on technical abilities, ball possession and a very strong tactical cohesion, a style that would please the merchant and elegant city of Nantes. That style of play remains iconic of Nantes to this day. Notable players to have played for the two teams during this period were Henri Michel, Maxime Bossis, Jean-Paul Bertrand-Demanes, Loïc Amisse, Vahid Halilhodžić under the directing of José Arribas, Jean Vincent, Jean-Claude Suaudeau for Nantes, and Jean-Michel Larqué, Hervé Revelli, Johnny Rep and Michel Platini for Saint-Etienne, coached by Robert Herbin.

This period of dominance ended with the relegation of Saint-Etienne in 1983. Nantes won another two championships in 1995 and 2001 heralding the same identity of play, but has declined since. As a consequence, this match is not a French crunch any more, as Saint-Etienne and Nantes don't contend for the crown. Nevertheless, this match still is regarded by French football connoisseurs as one of the most iconic clashes in French football, and receives lot of interest from both Nantes and Saint-Etienne fans.

Mini classicos[edit]

Along the years some clubs have developed deep rivalry with others but because they're quite distant geographically speaking, these matches are not considered derbies, however they are sometimes referred to as "mini classicos" in the French media. Whether the terminology will stay or not remains to be seen.


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