What determines a derby match?

The recent Newport and Wrexham clashed in an intense all-Welsh affair at Rodney Parade. Inevitably, given Wrexham’s newfound celebrity status, the game was given significant media attention.

Derby Day: What Determines a Derby Match?


Last weekend, Newport and Wrexham clashed in an intense all-Welsh affair at Rodney Parade. Inevitably, given Wrexham’s newfound celebrity status, the game was given significant media attention.


However, a phrase thrown around in the buildup that caused some contention was ‘derby’.


While there is no denying a rivalry has formed between the two clubs, largely in part due to Newport’s 2-0 play-off final victory over Wrexham in 2013, describing it as a derby feels like a stretch. There are 125 miles between Newport’s Rodney Parade and Wrexham’s Racecourse ground, roughly a two-and-a-half-hour drive.


Most fans of both clubs would agree, with many just feeling it was another attempt to push a narrative for their documentary series. But the situation does raise an interesting question: what exactly determines a derby? And do both sets of fans need to agree?


Geography and League Status


To stick with Wrexham for a moment, the club had a much more local derby take place last month when they took on Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup. The Shrews had all but condemned Wrexham to relegation in 2009, and it was the first chance The Reds had been given to get revenge on them.


However, despite both clubs and fans calling it a derby, many quickly protest on social media. There are 33 miles between the clubs, but the thing that appeared to cause contention was the presence of a border between them.


Less than a month earlier, Norwich City and Ipswich had clashed in the East-Anglia derby. It is one of the most famous rivalries outside of the Premier League, and it has a fiery reputation. However, there are 44 miles between the two sides, more than the Shrewsbury vs Wrexham clash.


For some clubs, it can also be a case of a team simply being the closest and most relevant. There are nearly 50 miles between Brighton and Crystal Palace, with teams like Crawley being closer to both sides. However, their rivalry has been the first game most fans have looked for in the fixture list for years, and their continued status in the top flight continues to up the ante.


League Position


In many cases, rivalries can fall away if teams do not play each other for many years. And to the younger generation, they can often feel like a bit of a myth. A romantic tale of days gone by when the terraces were packed, local lads filled the field, tackles were flying, and red cards were handed out like points deductions for Everton.


To other generations, however, these can often be the fiercest derbies, and they dream of seeing that one team’s name gets drawn out of the hat in the FA Cup or League Cup. Teams will sometimes even settle for the EFL Trophy, with Stoke fans flooding to Vale Park in 2018 to support Stoke U21s away at their rivals.


The aforementioned clash between Shrewsbury and Wrexham is an excellent example of this, with this year’s FA Cup clash being the first time many fans would have experienced a rivalry that felt long forgotten.


Oftentimes, the younger generation, while not forgetting their main rivals, may adopt teams that they play more frequently as a derby. This can feel like they are settling for someone else while they wait to rekindle or get to experience an old rivalry.


Promotions, relegations, and takeovers all play a part in shaping the future of a rivalry. In some instances, such as Newcastle’s recent clash with Sunderland, or Wrexham’s rivalry with Chester, one team has been taken over and is now in a huge position of financial strength, leaving the derby feeling one-sided.


Sticking with Port Vale, they have developed fierce rivalries with the likes of Shrewsbury and Walsall in recent seasons, with the three Midlands teams often sharing leagues. Likewise, Newport County and Forest Green Rovers have developed a serious dislike for one another due to their league status and relatively close proximity.


While for many fans, these derbies will never live up to their biggest ones, they have grown a certain atmosphere over the years and have become a chance to grab bragging rights for fans and to provide them with an almost quasi-derby-like atmosphere to tide them over until they get a chance to meet old foes.


Rivalries, Not Derbies


Back to the beginning and Wrexham’s clash with Newport. Some rivalries are born out of a heated history and are often mistaken as derbies. This can often be down to simple things like a manager leaving a club for another, an off-the-cuff comment from a player in the press, or something slightly more impactful like beating someone to promotion or relegation.


Rivalries like this are fuelled much more by revenge, and they tend to be intense for periods of time, but don’t stand the test of time in the same way.


Clashes like Cardiff vs Wolves are good examples of this. There was a period in the late 2000s when fans were being banned from attending games after things had become incredibly heated in the crowd. Future clashes between the two will be intense, but no one is going to label a clash between a team from the West Midlands and a team from South Wales as a derby.


Some of these rivalries can be intense though, and perhaps the most unique rivalry in English football is MK Dons vs Wimbledon. The two sides recently clashed once again in the League, and there is no doubt of the intense hatred share between the clubs, especially from the Wimbledon fan base. Once again, defining this as a derby would be questionable, but there is no denying the hostile nature of the clash.




So, ultimately, what determines a derby game? For fans down the leagues, the changing makeup of the divisions means that derbies will chop and change, and as such, for some clubs, the older generation’s biggest derby may be different to the younger.


For most, it will ultimately come down to the local team you have played the most in your time as your fan. One thing is for sure: a game separated by 150 miles is not and never will be a derby.