It’s a strange phenomenon but there remains a certain magic about the local derby. This is in spite of what we hear again and again about the game going global, Scudamore waxing on the attraction of the 39th game and Chelsea vs. Manchester United games’ billing as a clash of heavyweight powers of Haye vs. Harrison proportions (greater, even?).
The Scottish Premier League could almost be made up entirely of its four Old Firm Derbies such is the Southern media’s coverage of the Scottish game. In some ways it is a good advert for Scottish Football as the bouncing stands both look and sound great in ‘quality High Definition’ (although pretty terrifying, I’d imagine, in ‘glorious 3D’). It suggests a game in rude health; it also suggests a pretty rude game such is the reckless fervor with which players fly into tackles (did you see the state of Anthony Stokes’ tackle on Sasa Papac 30 seconds into his debut?). In the super slow-mos into which Sky insist on breaking every players ‘discussion’ with the referee, and there are lots of these, their veins pulsate so much that it looks like even their blood cells are straining to ‘get into the Bastard’. It makes Scottish Football look barbaric and primal and a potential guilty pleasure (four times a year anyway) which suits Sky’s agenda just fine, but that’s not the point here. The point here is that for some reason these players really really care about this game. In that way, the Celtic and Rangers players do their respective sets of fans proud.
It’s not as clear-cut in England where for every Arsenal Tottenham there’s a United City, which actually looked as if the two teams were equal in their desire not to win. Even if rivalries in the Premiership are not as clearly defined as they are in Glasgow, it is pretty clear that the Old Firm Derby is exceptional in the way the players become avatars for the extreme emotions in the stands.
In a way though it doesn’t actually matter if the game itself is terrible. In fact, it’s almost better if it is. Local derbies aren’t for fans like me who choose their team on aesthetic principles. They aren’t for Sky Sports or International Broadcasters either, unlike almost everything in football these days they still belong to the fans who live and work in their team’s city (or area of the city).
The beauty of the local derby is that it is sacred. However many mercenaries you pack into defensive midfield positions or off to Fat Camp in America, there will still be 11 blokes out there (at the beginning at least) wearing a shirt that means something importantly good to you and they will be lining up against 11 other blokes in shirts that you hate. That might not make sense in Malaysia, and it’s annoying that you’ll probably have to get up at 9 to make it to the stadium in time for kick-off, but it was never really about any of that anyway.
It’s about the days before and after the game itself when your usually mundane life gains a bit of HD. I imagine that there are some delighted Tottenham fans lording it over their Arsenal supporting colleagues this morning at the huge Staples at Brent Cross, North London. And it is good that a couple of times a season football still gets to mean that.