Spain is a complex country where people often take greater pride in their region than they do in their nation. It is full of contrasting regional identities and those really do manifest themselves on the football pitch and in the stands, not least on derby day. Here’s a look at some of the biggest Spanish football rivalries with a bit of help from the excellent Copa90 documentaries which feature some of the biggest Spanish derbies, amongst others from around the world.
10 of the Biggest Spanish Football Rivalries
The Seville Derby
Sevilla vs Real Betis
This is Spain’s fiercest city derby by some distance. The other major cities have rivalries that have historically been quite one-sided but not this one. It’s only really over the past 15 years that Sevilla have truly emerged as the more successful club with no fewer than 6 UEFA Cup/Europa League successes giving them a clear edge in terms of trophies won and a real modern identity.
However Betis fans will be quick to claim the bigger fanbase and attendances at the larger Benito Villamarin do back that up, with the green and white half of Seville averaging around 12,000 more fans per home game than their rivals during the 2021/22 season (which ended with a rare Betis trophy in the shape of the Copa del Rey). They also see themselves as the working class club and this is a derby day where tempers regularly flare both on and off the pitch in arguably Spain’s most passionate football city.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid
This one doesn’t really need any introduction. It would be silly to even try to summarise the complexities and politics of the Clásico into a short paragraph but it’s safe to say that this remains the biggest game in world football featuring the two biggest clubs on the planet.
Unlike many major football club rivalries around the world, the action more often than not lives up to the hype with attacking football, sublime skill and a few goals usually guaranteed. Tickets for this fixture don’t come cheap but if there’s one game you want to experience in your lifetime, it’s surely the eternal rivalry between Madrid and Barça with fans travelling from far and wide to sample the Clásico atmosphere.
The Basque Derby
Athletic Club vs Real Sociedad
The Basque Country is a truly unique place, and given that, it’s no surprise that its biggest football fixture doesn’t quite fit the usual mold of a derby game. Most local dust-ups have their unsavoury elements and passionate atmospheres that at times cross the line into something far more unpleasant. However the meeting of the two biggest Basque clubs sees fans of opposing sides mingle to drink together before the game and often sit next to each other in the stadium.
Despite the friendly nature, it is unquestionably still one of the biggest rivalries in Spanish football. Athletic have had more success down the years and have boldly hung on to their “Basque only” transfer policy. Real Sociedad abandoned that stance when they signed John Aldridge in 1989 but still take great pride in their academy and ability to produce local talent, something which helped them get the better of Athletic in the delayed 2020 Copa del Rey Final, arguably the biggest ever meeting between the clubs.
The Madrid Derby
Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid
For long periods, this was one of those lopsided city rivalries dominated by Real Madrid, but there are few things Atléti fans enjoy more than getting one over on their illustrious neighbours. The rise of Los Rojiblancos under Diego Simeone in the 2010’s ensured it became an increasingly important and more even contest.
Such was Atleti’s dramatic rise, that we even had two Champions League Final Madrid derbies, both won in dramatic circumstances by Los Blancos in 2014 and 2016. In terms of the quality and levels of the two teams, this is up there with the very best city derbies in world football and Madrid has even been referred to as the European capital of football in recent years.
The Galician Derby
Celta Vigo vs Deportivo La Coruña
Galicia is in some respects one of the least Spanish parts of Spain. With a climate, landscape and even culture that has a Celtic feel, this isolated corner of Iberia is home to two major clubs, who historically have been roughly equal in terms of size and stature.
Vigo, home of Celta, is marginally the bigger city and can currently claim to be the home of the region’s only top flight club. However in terms of silverware, Depor have the edge thanks to a remarkable period where they defied the odds to challenge the Spanish elite around the turn of the century. These days though, they are languishing in the third tier following a shock relegation from the Segunda División in 2020 and have even suffered the humiliation of losing against Celta’s B team who are in their section of the Primera RFEF.
The Asturian Derby
Real Oviedo vs Sporting Gijón
Another of the most ferocious football rivalries in Spain takes place in Asturias, a small but incredibly picturesque northern region. Gijón and Oviedo are just 30 km apart, which certainly adds to the spice in a country where many “local” derbies involve teams that are actually fairly distant neighbours by the standards of most European countries.
A bit like the Galician derby, fans of Sporting Gijón and Real Oviedo are both really proud to be Asturian but when derby day comes, passions rise and the battle to be the pride of the principality can spill over into the streets with violent clashes between rival groups not uncommon.
Canary Islands Derby
Las Palmas vs Tenerife
The Canary Islands are most widely known as a pleasant, winter sun destination but not many visitors appreciate the extent of the passion for football which exists. Even within Spain, their distant location, a two hour flight from the mainland, means they are often overlooked but the Canaries have played a real part in Spanish football history with the likes of David Silva and current Barcelona star Pedri hailing from the two major islands whose biggest clubs contest the Canary Islands Derby.
Las Palmas, from the island of Gran Canaria, have spent more seasons in the top flight but Tenerife have had periods when they’ve been the more successful side too, particularly during the 1990’s when they spent 10 straight seasons in the Primera. To some extent, it’s surprising how rarely this fixture has been played with the clubs often in different leagues but it has been a regular on the Segunda División calendar in recent years. The clubs even met in a huge play-off Semi-Final in 2021/22 with Tenerife winning both legs to advance to the Final to the delight of their fans.
Barcelona vs Espanyol
The big derby in Catalunya is between the two major clubs in the city of Barcelona and is also known as the Derbi barceloní. It has been one of the most one-sided rivalries in European football with FC Barcelona the dominant force but their rare derby slip-ups have often been memorable.
One of the sweetest moments for Espanyol fans was not even a victory, but a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in a match dubbed “El Tamudazo” as visiting forward Raúl Tamudo scored a brace late in the season which proved decisive in Barcelona’s failure to win the league. They’ve not had much to shout about since but Espanyol supporters at the RCDE Stadium, are hoping to finally close the gap on their great rivals again, having briefly dropped into the second tier in 2020.
Alicante Province Derby
Hércules vs Elche
This is another of those derbies that younger football fans may not be aware of with the most recent meetings having taken place in the relative obscurity of the Segunda B in 2017/18. While Elche have since risen back to take their place amongst the Spanish elite, Hércules have slid further, ending up in the fourth tier in 2021/22 following a restructure of the Spanish lower leagues.
It therefore may be some time before we get another derby between the two regional rivals but Hércules are a club who really should be higher up Spain’s football ladder. Based in Alicante, the country’s 11th largest city and with a stadium which holds almost 30,000, Hércules followers certainly do not view themselves as inferior to their rivals in nearby Elche, less than 30 km away. Both clubs have spent 20+ seasons in the top flight but it’s now nearly 40 years since this derby was played out at the highest level.
Derbi de la Comunitat
Valencia vs Villarreal
For basically the entire 20th Century, Valencia had things almost all their own way in their region of Spain. While city rivals Levante have become a more regular top flight fixture in recent years, regional neighbours Villarreal have been the team to emerge as their main 21st Century rivals in the Valencian Community, eclipsing the likes of Elche, Hércules and CD Castellón.
The Yellow Submarine have risen from virtually nowhere, admittedly with the help of some significant financial backing, to take the fight to Valencia, regularly finishing above and beating their big city neighbours. They’ve even started pinching their players with Dani Parejo, arguably Valencia’s best player at the time, moving to the Ceramica in 2020. At the time of writing, Villarreal are unquestionably now the strongest side in this part of Spain, even winning their first major trophy in 2021 with a memorable Europa League triumph.
Spanish Football Derbies – The Best of the Rest
There are plenty more smaller derbies that mean the world to supporters all around Spain. Other notable ones include the South Madrid derby between Getafe and Leganés which became an unlikely top flight fixture in the 2010’s. While the clubs are small, there is no love lost between the two sets of fans with just 5 km separating the two stadiums. Geographically speaking, the derby in the city of Valencia is the closest in Spain’s top two leagues, although it’s off the menu for 2022/23 following Levante’s relegation.
Meanwhile sizable cities such as Salamanca, Murcia and Jerez de la Frontera have witnessed their main clubs go bust in recent years, with more than one new entity rising from the ashes. That has led to the emergence of several new derbies, with splits even created between fans who used to cheer on the same side.