- Derby13:14 | 11/05/2013
In many countries the term local derby, or simply just derby means a sporting fixture between two, generally local, rivals, particularly in soccer. In North America, “crosstown rivalry” is a more common term.
Origins of “derby”
The phrase most likely originated from The Derby, a horse race in England, founded by the 12th Earl of Derby in 1780, since at least as early as 1840 ‘derby’ has been used as a noun in English to denote any kind of sporting contest. A local derby is just a sporting contest between local rivals. It may be that the Earl, or his ancestors, are responsible for lending their titled name to sporting events, giving rise to the ‘derby’ match.
Another widely reported theory, though not accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary, is that the phrase came about from the county of Derbyshire itself. The traditional Shrovetide football match is commonplace in the town of Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It was renowned as a chaotic and exuberant game that involved the whole town and often resulted in fatalities. The goals were at Nuns Mill in the north and the Gallows Balk in the south of the town, and much of the action took place in the Derwent river or Markeaton brook. Nominally the players came from All Saints’ and St Peter’s parishes, but in practice the game was a free-for-all with as many as 1,000 players. A Frenchman who observed the match in 1829 wrote in horror, ‘if Englishmen call this play, it would be impossible to say what they call fighting’. Though this has been refuted by the Oxford dictionary and hailed as “nothing apart from local folklore … after all, the phrase isn’t ‘a local Ashbourne’.
Early uses of the phrase referred to football (soccer) matches and the first printed citation appears to be the Daily Express, October 1914: “A local Derby between Liverpool and Everton”.
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