A city divided by a title duel is a rarity to savour

The Weekend Dossier

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Monday's Manchester match-up "will be the biggest derby of all", says Alex Ferguson. Hyperbole is the soundtrack of the Premier League but, when it comes to England, he is probably right. Whereas the game north of the border has usually been a tale of Glaswegian rivalry, there have been surprisingly few one-city championship duels in the English game. Not until 1967-68, when Manchester City pipped Manchester United to the title, did the first two clubs in the standings hail from the same city. Subsequently Everton and Liverpool traded places for three seasons in the mid-80s, and Arsenal and Chelsea swapped first and second two decades later. This will still be only the seventh season in 113 in which one city has taken first and second places.

Surprising, but not in the wider context unusual. A glance at the major European leagues reveals a similar pattern. In Spain there have been five instances, all between 1958 and 1966 and featuring Madrid teams Real and Atletico. In Italy 10, four involving Torino and Juventus, six featuring Milan and Internazionale. There are none in Germany and France, countries where it is unusual to have two teams in a city, let alone both challenging. Even Paris has not had two significant clubs since the 1920s while the nearest thing Germany has to a city derby is Munich, but Bayern rarely lose to 1860. Even where there are rivalries they have usually been one-sided for most of the last 50 years with Juventus and Real ascendant over their neighbours, as Liverpool and Manchester United have usually been.

Some smaller footballing nations have featured a glut of city rivalries, notably Turkey where the Istanbul clubs are dominant, but even in Russia and Portugal provincial clubs such as Zenit St Petersburg (or, in Soviet times, Dynamo Kiev) and Porto have broken the hegemony of clubs from the capital. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, there is one major club in each of Amsterdam (Ajax), Rotterdam (Feyenoord) and Eindhoven (PSV), now challenged by AZ of Alkmaar. You have to go to South America, where football arrived along with the industrial revolution (usually brought by the same British industrialists) for the one-city rivalries of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.

There are deep-seated historical reasons for this lack of rivalries. In the early years of the game's development there would be a welter of small clubs in each town but in most cases one would gradually emerge as the strongest. Maybe they had the best venue, the most charismatic organisers, or the strongest backing – many clubs grew out of factory teams (West Ham) or from churches (Southampton).

Sometimes it was a matter of influence. When the Football League was formed in 1888 Birmingham St George's were the city's second biggest club after Aston Villa. They failed by two votes to get into the nascent league. Four years later the Football League added a second division but accepted Small Heath (later to become Birmingham City) instead. St George's soon fell into financial trouble and folded.

Often, as in the case of Newcastle United, rival clubs merged, usually for financial reasons. As a consequence most of the medium-sized towns and cities have one team (for example Ipswich, Portsmouth, Sunderland).

There are usually exceptional reasons for two clubs emerging. On Merseyside Liverpool were formed by Everton's former landlord after the Blues moved out of Anfield leaving him with a ground to fill. In Glasgow, Celtic and Rangers quickly became symbols of the city's religious divide giving both clubs a population base to tap into. In Nottingham and Sheffield, being among the earliest places to fall under football's spell, clubs developed their own identities long before the league system accelerated development.

Manchester, being the home of the industrial revolution, had a big enough population base to support two clubs, but United's 19 titles to City's two illustrate it has been a one-sided rivalry.

It is logical for cities to have one dominant club, for they can benefit from a monopoly of sponsorship, publicity and support. Indeed, in the US where sports leagues have generally been planned rather than developing organically, that is the norm. Major League Soccer has 19 teams representing 18 cities and with the exception, Los Angeles, Galaxy and Hispanic-orientated Chivas represent different constituencies. The NFL, NBA and NBL are similar, with only the San Francisco Bay area, New York/New Jersey and LA being allowed more than one franchise. Indeed clubs such as baseball's much-loved Brooklyn Dodgers have been uprooted (to LA) to spread coverage.

It is also logical that a combined Sheffield team would have been more likely to give Leeds a run for their money as Yorkshire's major team over the past 50 years. Were Birmingham represented by one club, instead of City and Villa (and perhaps West Bromwich Albion), it would surely be a title challenger. Bristol United, drawing on a population base similar to Leeds, would surely be more successful than either City or Rovers.

But logic is not everything, and not just because it is unlikely that a Nottingham United would have achieved more than Nottingham Forest's two European Cups. How many Bristolians would swap their intense rivalry for greater national prominence? Would Sheffield fans really prefer mid-table mediocrity in this year's Premier League to the agonies and ecstacies of this season's promotion duel?

In America's MLS, clubs have concocted derbies with a variety of "rivalry cups", such as the Brimstone Cup between Chicago Fire and FC Dallas. However, with 800 miles between the cities the rivalry is false. Back in Europe's big leagues not many cities can sustain two successful teams for long. Milan is probably the only place to enjoy a rivalry that is usually of national significance as well as local, the teams not only competing for the title in most decades but also rivals on the European stage. Mancunians then, should savour Monday's derby, for the current rivalry they enjoy is as rare as it is gripping.

City limits: Title 1-2's

On only six previous occasions have the top two in the English league come from the same city.

Season Champs Runners-up

1967-68 Man City, Man Utd

1984-85 Everton, Liverpool

1985-86 Liverpool, Everton

1986-87 Everton, Liverpool

2003-04 Arsenal, Chelsea

2004-05 Chelsea, Arsenal

Five Asides

1 Women's game still has such a long way to go

What to make of the 5,052 who paid to watch Arsenal Ladies defeat their Chelsea counterparts on Thursday night? Although it was the highest gate recorded in the embryonic FA Women's Super League, the fans must have rattled around in the Emirates. Since many will have attended as much to see the venue as the match, it shows just how far the women's game has to go in this country, but so does the near-invisibility of the fixture in the national media. Success in the Olympics will help, but the FA has its work cut out persuading public and press to take an interest. Arsenal, incidentally, won 3-1.

2 Impressive turnout helps give Luton Town a leg-up

The depth of football in England was highlighted last weekend when 8,415 watched Luton Town beat Kidderminster Harriers at Kenilworth Road to close in on a place in the Conference play-offs. Even accepting that Luton were a top-flight team 20 years ago, it was an impressive turnout.

3 Old Trafford draw leaves Everton fans at a loss

Everton's 4-4 draw at Old Trafford, coming after the FA Cup semi-final disappointment, was testament to the character of the team David Moyes has built, but it must have left many Evertonians thinking: "Why didn't they play like that at Wembley?"

4 Torres in the right place at the right time ... for once

With a minute to go on Tuesday, Chelsea's exhausted defence must have looked at Fernando Torres loitering upfield and thought: "Why isn't he helping us out?" Moments later... Goalscoring is so often about being in the right place; this time Torres was.

5 Vieira puts football first in academy of excellence

Patrick Vieira will have looked on with great pride at the qualification of Senegal for the Olympic football tournament. Eight members of the squad that beat Oman in the play-off at Coventry on Monday either attend Diambars, the academy he helped set up in the West African country of his birth, or have done so. Unlike so many so-called 'academies' its aim is to produce rounded, educated men, not just profit-making footballers.


This weekend's team news...

Everton v Fulham

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 5-2; Away 7-2.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell (both hamstring) again miss out for Everton, with Sylvain Distin likely to deputise at left-back. For Fulham, Stephen Kelly has returned to training, while Andy Johnson is also available, but Bryan Ruiz (foot) remains out and Steve Sidwell (hernia) and Zdenek Grygera (knee) also miss out.

Stoke City v Arsenal

Odds Home 10-3; Draw 13-5; Away 5-6.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Stoke are without the services of defender Andy Wilkinson (groin) after the 27-year-old was taken off at Newcastle last weekend. Arsenal will make late checks on Abou Diaby (virus), while Tomas Rosicky has recovered from a similar illness. Yossi Benayoun also returns, but Theo Walcott (hamstring) is not fit to feature.

Sunderland v Bolton

Odds Home 10-11; Draw 5-2; Away 14-5.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill is without Kieran Richardson and Sebastian Larsson (both hernia) and the suspended Craig Gardner. Lee Cattermole has a chance of returning from a knee injury. Bolton will give late checks to a number of players, with Chris Eagles, Ryo Miyaichi and Mark Davies all missing training yesterday.

Swansea City v Wolves

Odds Home 8-15; Draw 3-1; Away 11-2.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Nathan Dyer has recovered from illness for Swansea, while Steven Caulker has also returned to fitness. Relegated Wolves are without on-loan defender Sébastien Bassong after the centre-back suffered a hamstring injury against Manchester City last week, with Christophe Berra likely to come in.

WBA v Aston Villa

Odds Home 11-10; Draw 12-5; Away 5-2.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Marc-Antoine Fortuné (hamstring) returns for West Bromwich Albion, while Paul Scharner is expected to be fit despite a wrist injury picked up at Liverpool last week. Aston Villa have Richard Dunne (collarbone) back for the first time in two months, but James Collins (groin), Stephen Ireland (hamstring) and Emile Heskey (Achilles) are doubts.

Wigan v Newcastle

Odds Home 9-5; Draw 12-5; Away 6-4.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Franco Di Santo is doubtful for Wigan Athletic with a calf worry, although Hugo Rodallega (knee) is nearing a return, along with Albert Crusat (calf). Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has reported no fresh injury concerns. Midfielders Gabriel Obertan (ankle) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) are back in training but short of fitness.

Norwich v Liverpool

Odds Home 14-5; Draw 12-5; Away Evens.

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC1 10.30pm)

Team news Striker James Vaughan is pushing for a start for Norwich after returning from injury, but Zak Whitbread (hamstring) misses out against his former side. Liverpool welcome back Steven Gerrard (hamstring), although manager Kenny Dalglish could opt to rest him for next weekend's FA Cup final. Charlie Adam (knee) is out.

Chelsea v QPR

Odds Home 2-5; Draw 7-2; Away 15-2.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2 10pm)

Team news Chelsea have defensive worries, with centre-backs Gary Cahill and David Luiz (hamstring) injured and Branislav Ivanovic serving the final match of a three-game ban. QPR have midfielder Adel Taarabt banned, while Samba Diakité (illness) and Djibril Cissé (knee) are doubts.

Tottenham v Blackburn

Odds Home 4-11; Draw 4-1; Away 7-1.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2 10pm)

Team news Younes Kaboul (knee) and Emmanuel Adebayor (hamstring) return to the Tottenham squad, but Ledley King (knee) is a doubt and Benoît Assou-Ekotto (shoulder) is out for the season. Blackburn have almost a fully fit squad, with only Grant Hanley (ankle) missing.

Man City v Man United

Odds Home 11-10; Draw 5-2; Away 12-5.

Kick-off Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC1 10.35pm)

Team news Mario Balotelli returns from suspension for Manchester City, while Micah Richards (hamstring) is also available. United could make changes in defence, with Rafael a possible omission and Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley and Ji-sung Park in line for recalls. Nani (ankle) is a doubt.