It would not be overstating it to say that the city of London is synonymous with soccer/association football. The area boasts of more than 15 clubs which participate in various football divisions in England. The teams reside in close proximity to one another and often compete against each other in epic showdowns known as derbies.
How many London derbies are there? There are five (5) major London derbies namely: The North London derby, the North West London derby, the East London derby, the West London derby and the South London derby. Meetings between any of the clubs located within the five major areas (and particularly the latter four) are given the distinction of being called a derby from those respective areas.
In order to properly appreciate the significance of these derbies, one needs to first explore the history of clubs located in the larger London metropolitan area. Some London-based clubs are arguably as old as the sport (of association football/soccer) itself and are trailblazers in their own right.
A Brief History of Football in London
London’s contribution to the sport can be traced back to the early 1860s. During this period, a number of meetings were held by football clubs from the area and its environs resulting in the drafting of the first uniform set of rules and the formation of the Football Association.
Much-needed rule revisions in the early 1880s created the necessary environment for the emergence of the first crop of professional football/soccer teams. These soccer teams gradually replaced the semi-professional, run-of-the-mill teams that had been in existence until that point.
The first professional London club to be formed was Fulham in 1879 and were originally known as the Fulham St. Andrews Church Sunday School FC. After two years, the club that would later be known as Leyton Orient was constituted. A year later in 1882, Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur followed suit.
Other clubs quickly sprung up in the following years – Millwall in 1885, Arsenal in 1886, Barnet in 1888, Brentford and Wimbledon in 1889, and West Ham (United) in 1895. The turn of the century brought about Chelsea, Charlton and Crystal Palace in 1905.
The Clubs of London
Currently, there are 31 football clubs situated in London which participate in seven different tiers of competitions/ divisions. The most widely recognized of the said divisions are the top three – the Premier League (EPL), the Championship and the Football League One.
As of the 2021, there are six London-based clubs in the EPL and an additional seven in the Football League: three in the Championship and two each in League One and League Two. Those in the EPL include Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Brentford.
Fulham, Millwall and Queens Park Rangers compete in the second-tier Championship whereas Charlton Athletic and AFC Wimbledon participate in the third-tier League One. Leyton Orient and Sutton United round off the list and feature in the fourth-tier League Two competition.
A fifth, sixth and seventh tier also exist. The fifth-tier National League has four London-based teams, the sixth-tier National League South has three whereas the seventh and final tier has another 11 in two concurrent competitions (the Southern League Premier South and the Isthmian Premier).
London Derbies Demystified
Below are the main London derbies and the teams that feature in them.
1. The North London Derby
This derby involves perennial rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur who have not been able to see eye to eye since the Gunners moved from South East London in 1913 and relocated to North London, roughly 6.4 km or 4 miles away from the Spurs.
The two clubs first competed against each other in 1887 but didn’t consider themselves to be rivals until Arsenal opted to move north. The two teams have since featured in around 203 clashes and are considered to have one of the most heated rivalries in the EPL.
The rivalry intensified after the Gunners rose to prominence and captured significantly more top-flight trophies (13) than their counterparts (2). Arsenal have garnered more derby wins over the years with 83 to Tottenham’s 66 at the time of the writing of this article.
2. The North West London Derby
This refers to two derbies where Chelsea competes against North Londoners Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Chelsea first played the Gunners and the Spurs in 1907 and 1909 and has since competed against them in over 200 and 160 games respectively.
Chelsea’s derby with Arsenal is widely considered to be the bigger of the two rivalries. Chelsea and Tottenham have however also had historic clashes. One such match in 2020 which was dubbed “the Battle of the Bridge” saw Chelsea deny Tottenham a chance at the coveted EPL title – a development which only added fuel to the fire.
The enmity between Chelsea and the two clubs has increased in recent years since the Blues have replaced them as the most successful club from the area. Chelsea are the last team from the locality to win both domestic (EPL trophy) and international honors (the UEFA Champions League title).
Arsenal boasts of a better win-loss record against Chelsea. The Blues have equally secured more wins against Tottenham.
3. The East London Derby
This less-touted derby involves a rivalry between three teams – West Ham United, Leyton Orient and Dagenham & Redbridge. This derby rarely happens since the above-mentioned clubs often find themselves competing at different levels.
Currently, only the Hammers feature in the EPL. Leyton Orient compete in League Two whereas Dagenham & Redbridge compete in the National League. The latter two have met on more than one occasion. West Ham United has never met Dagenham & Redbridge and last met Leyton Orient in early 1987.
4. The West London Derby
This derby features two teams who currently compete in the EPL in Chelsea and Brentford and two plying their trade in the Championship in Queens Park Rangers (QPR), and Fulham. The latter three clubs have had continuing rivalries with each other.
Both QPR and Fulham consider Chelsea to be their biggest rival. QPR and Fulham’s rivalry nevertheless predates Chelsea, which was formed in 1905, having first faced each other in 1892. Fulham also have a heated rivalry with Brentford. The two clubs often deny each other the chance of being promoted into the EPL.
Chelsea has a better win-loss record than all its West London rivals. Blues fans have however been known to favor Chelsea’s clashes against Arsenal and Tottenham. Recent trends have also shown that they consider Manchester United and West Ham United as bigger rivals than Fulham, QPR and Brentford.
5. The South London Derby
This derby consists of matches between Crystal Palace, Millwall, Charlton Athletic and AFC Wimbledon, who have jointly played over 300 games against each other. Though there has been an ongoing rivalry between the four clubs, it has quieted down in recent years since the teams often compete in different competitions.
As of the 2021-22 season, only Crystal Palace play in the EPL. Millwall feature in the Championship whereas Charlton and Wimbledon compete in League One. Millwall, however , consider West Ham United as their archrivals and square off in a clash of their own dubbed the Dockers Derby.