One of the many aspects of football which makes it such a unique sport, is its ability to bring communities, cities and countries to a standstill. There is no better example of football’s power to simultaneously bring people together yet divide them than a derby. A city cannot be called a city until it has a football derby which is celebrated passionately and followed religiously. Speaking of which, on Sunday one of the world’s most famous derbies will take place in the natural home of both passion and religion as AC Milan face Inter in the ‘Derby Della Madoninna’.
The derby’s name is taken from the Virgin Mary which sits on top of Milan’s famous cathedral, a symbol of the Catholicism which has historically united all of Italy. Yet, in the early years of both clubs, they were bitterly divided, as most inter-city derbies are, by social class. AC Milan, set up in 1899, represented the workers and built its values around the everyday Italian.
Internazionale was set up ten years later by former members of AC Milan who wanted to incorporate Swiss friends, hence the name ‘international’. The members of the breakaway group considered themselves intellectuals and upper class, and became associated with those values.
Nowadays, Inter’s name is the only remnant of the early social division. In everyday life, Milan and Inter fans have almost no divide, with the Milan derby being one of the most passionate yet civilised in the world. The two ultra-groups, who, as expected, relentlessly mock each other through chants and banners at every derby, also have a peace pact, so that families can enjoy the spectacle without fear of violence.
Both teams have enjoyed periods of dominance throughout the fixture’s history. In the 1960’s the rivalry first reached the level we know today with club legends Sandro Mazzolla and Gianni Rivera facing off, representing Inter and Milan respectively. The presence of two club icons on the same pitch thrusted the derby into the national spotlight, where it has belonged ever since.
The 1980’s and 90’s saw Milan dominate, fielding one of the greatest teams modern football has seen. Players such as Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini featured in a period where Milan won four Serie A titles and three European Cups in seven years.
Inter, on the other hand, enjoyed success in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal, which included Juventus being relegated and Milan being given a points deduction. Inter by default won the 2005-06 Serie A title and again the following season, as well as famously winning the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10. A symbol of Inter’s ‘golden era’ is their 4-0 victory over Milan in August 2009.
Even with the fall of both Milan clubs in recent years and with it the decrease in overall attendance, the derby has been and still is, one of the most exciting and highly-anticipated matches in the Serie A calendar.
Despite its long and grand history, as well as both clubs enjoying success and failure, the overall record for the derby is still incredibly balanced. In competitive matches, Inter currently lead 77 wins to Milan’s 75, with 66 draws.
In the days leading up to the match, the famous Italian newspaper, Gazzetta Dello Sport, is dominated by the fixture, dedicated pages upon pages to pre-match analysis and infographics.
Its not just the media and public who get caught up in the excitement of the match. Kaka, former Milan player and Ballon d’Or winner, said in the lead up to Sunday’s match,
“The derby is something unique, always unforgettable. I played the derby in the league, in the Champions League, all the times I had the chance to play it was fantastic. I cannot have one favourite derby, but all the ones I played in.”