Forget Sydney v Melbourne: Here are the world's greatest city rivalries

Look, it's getting a bit ugly. Sydney and Melbourne have always had a friendly rivalry, as similarly sized and geographically close cities often do, but in the last few months things have taken a turn for the worse.

We've gone from potato-scallops-no-potato-cakes to curfews and rings of steel; best bars and better beaches to viral loads and "defending our border". COVID-19 has brought out the worst in this interstate enmity and it has not been pretty.

So, it's time to put things into perspective. You think Australia's two biggest cities have a rivalry? You think we have cultural differences? You think we have beef? Ha, please. In comparison to these notorious enemies, we're the best of friends.

Hanoi v Ho Chi Minh City

Busy street corner in old town Hanoi, Vietnam. Lots of people are commuting on motorbikes or cars. The street is lined by stores and appartment buildings. sunmar15hanoi food walking tour Hanoi old town Vietnam ; text by Steve Meacham ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; iStock ^^^ REUSE PERMITTED ^^^ 

Hanoi's old town. Photo: iStock

This one is particularly brutal. Not only were these two cities engaged in an actual war with genuine atrocities in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but the ultimately victorious party, Hanoi, forced the vanquished to take on the name of its hated conqueror forevermore. Hence, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. To put this ignominy into perspective, it's essentially like Sydneysiders storming the Murray, waging decades-long, potato scallops-driven ideological warfare with Victoria, before eventually forcing the people of Melbourne to forever refer to their home as Gladys Berejiklian City.

Madrid v Barcelona

Barcelona, La Rambla
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David Whitley
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Barcelona's, famous La Rambla. Photo: iStock

Again, actual wars, as well as continuing unrest. The Catalans of Barcelona were brought under Spanish rule – centred in Madrid – after the Spanish War of Succession in 1714, and ever since have been pushing with varying degrees of passion for the return of their independence. That fight for autonomy was crushed under Franco's rule, but has lately regained popularity, with marches, riots and arrests in Barcelona in recent years. Oh, and there's football. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two powerhouses of the Spanish league; of all competitive matches played between the two, Real has won 98, and Barcelona 96.

Edmonton v Calgary

This rivalry is so intense that it even has its own name: "The Battle of Alberta". There's enmity here that dates back to pre-colonial times, when First Nations groups – fur traders in the north and buffalo herders in the south – fought for power and position. Later, different patterns of migration and settlement led to all sorts of cultural and political divisions between the two Alberta powerhouses, and the discovery of oil brought more issues. The main arena for the Battle of Alberta these days, however, is the hockey rink: the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers are notorious enemies.

Edinburgh v Glasgow

Edinburgh Castle. Photo: iStock


Glasgow, of course, is wrapped up in an intra-city rivalry in the form of the Celtic and Rangers football clubs and their traditionally Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative fanbases. However, those rivals can mostly come together in agreement in their opinion of prettier, richer Edinburgh just an hour down the M8. Fair to say they're not fans, and that the feeling in Edinburgh is mutual. There are genuine cultural differences to these twin cities, developed over many hundreds of years – though in the eyes of a neutral outsider, both are brilliant places.

Karachi v Lahore

As the two largest cities in Pakistan, you would expect a natural rivalry between Karachi and Lahore. And you would be right. Karachi is the economic hub; Lahore the cultural centre. Karachi has traditionally been the globally recognised power – a fact Karachiites like to brag about – while in Lahore there's a certain chip on the shoulder about being ignored (which, I dunno, sounds kind of familiar?). Karachi is seen as conservative; Lahoris are more liberal. Food in these two cities is very different and fiercely defended. And when the two cities' cricket teams play each other, more than 25 million people drop everything to cheer their heroes.

Rome v Milan

Cityscape image of Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy during sunrise. sunfeb23cover
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The Spanish Steps in Rome. Photo: iStock

This could essentially be classed as "Rome and everything surrounding and to the south of Rome v Milan", given the disdain with which the Milanese apparently hold those in the south of Italy. The latter are supposed to be work-shy layabouts, while Milan is the hard-grafting financial powerhouse keeping everyone else supported. And there may be a small grain of truth there, if this story about absenteeism in various Barilla pasta factories is anything to go by. And again, there's football to add to this rivalry, in the form of AS Roma and Lazio from the capital, and AC Milan and Internazionale from the north.

Rio de Janeiro v Sao Paulo

Aerial view of Rio De Janeiro. Corcovado mountain with statue of Christ the Redeemer, urban areas of Botafogo, Flamengo and Centro, Sugarloaf mountain. sunnov17rio
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Rio is Brazil's party capital. Photo: iStock

This is another case of the financial powerhouse – Sao Paulo – and the party animals – Rio de Janeiro – locked in a battle for hearts and minds. Paulistas tend to think of themselves as hard-working, no-nonsense types who knuckle down and get the job done. Cariocas, meanwhile, are laid back and laissez-faire, more partial to a caipirinha by the beach than a spreadsheet at the office. The two cities are only a five-hour drive apart, and yet worlds away from each other in terms of character and reputation. And the inhabitants wouldn't have it any other way.

Copenhagen v Malmo

Kopenhagen, Nyhavn SatOct19One - One & Only Copenhagen - text Monique Farmer
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Denmark's capital Copenhagen (above) has a rivalry with Malmo, Sweden. Photo: iStock

Again, this could more accurately be classed as "Sweden v Denmark", neighbouring countries with a friendly modern-day relationship and a far more serious and bloody history. The cities of Copenhagen and Malmo are only 40 minutes apart, connected by the 8km Oresund Bridge. There's a spirit of cooperation and respect between these two places that is only slightly marred by Malmo's statue of King Karl X Gustav, conqueror of Denmark in the 1600s, the man responsible for stealing the land Malmo now sits upon from the Danes. His sculpted likeness stares out across the Oresund to Copenhagen as a permanent reminder of who won. Awks.

Boston v New York

BOSTON, MA - JULY 25: Enrique Hernandez #5 of the Boston Red Sox slides home safely ahead of the tag by catcher Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees to score the go ahead run during the eighth inning of Bostons 5-4 win at Fenway Park on July 25, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

The Boston Red Sox take on the New York Yankees in Boston last month. Photo: Getty Images

There is, of course, a rivalry between the west and east coasts of the US, the likes of New York and LA. However, there's a far more interesting tussle between NYC and nearby Boston. The two have their cultural differences – listen to the accents, or check out a Manhattan clam chowder compared to the Boston variety – but there's also a long-standing, baseball-related grudge. In 1919, the Boston Red Sox traded a pitcher named Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, and then didn't win a World Series for the next 86 years. Bostonians never quite got over it. Couple that with "little brother syndrome", and you have yourself a beef.

Which inter-city rivalries have you witnessed on your travels? How do they compare to the "rivalry" between Sydney and Melbourne?



See also: Move over, Melbourne and Sydney: Australia has a new most liveable city

See also: Scallop or cake? The greatest cultural differences between states

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