There’s a first time for everything. The Football League in England was founded in 1888, and since its inception there has never been a matchup in the top flight between two clubs from Wales. There are nine Welsh clubs competing in the English football league system and only two have ever won a major honor in England: Cardiff City (1927 FA Cup) and Swansea City (2013 League Cup). It just so happens that both those clubs are from South Wales and have one of the nastiest rivalries in the sport.
There are many derbies of varying intensity throughout the world of football: El Clasico in Spain, Superclasico in South America, Liverpool-Manchester United in England, Derby della Madonnina (the Milan Derby) in Italy, The Kitalar Arasi Derbi (between Fenerbache and Galatasary) in Turkey and The Old Firm in Scotland, to name a few of the more volatile matchups. Most derbies are a result of extreme geographical, political, and/or religious differences. For American sports fans, the power of these derbies can’t be explained by saying “It’s like the Red Sox versus the Yankees or North Carolina versus Duke” because they simply don’t compare when it comes to the air of menace and the level of hatred involved with these derbies.
The South Wales Derby is a footballing war that (for the most part) has gone largely unseen by anyone outside of Wales. Now, with the global reach of the Premier League, this derby will take center stage on Sunday in front of a potential worldwide audience of over 700 million people across 212 territories.
The first match between the two took place 101 years ago. For the better part of fifty years, there appeared to be no tribalism between supporters of the clubs. But that may have changed starting in 1955 when Cardiff was selected as the capital city of Wales. What provoked the citizens of Swansea was not so much that Cardiff had been named ‘capital,’ it had more to do with the feeling that the Welsh government had begun to finance the city of Cardiff, while ignoring Swansea which was only 30 miles down the coast. Many citizens of Swansea still feel that they are ignored by the Welsh government as new monies are continually sent to Cardiff.
Things between the clubs seemed to escalate during a quarter-final matchup in the 1960 Welsh Cup when tension between the club directors spilled out on to the pitch. Those who recall the match described it as “brawl more than a football match”.