One of the biggest points of contention among football fans is the appropriate application of the term ‘derby’.
What exactly constitutes a ‘derby’?
It appears at first glance that the term’s definition is quite straightforward. If two neighbouring football teams play each other, that match is a ‘derby’ match, right?
But then, what constitutes ‘neighbouring’?
Yes, I suppose such an example is still of more interest than something like Arsenal v West Brom as the chances of fans being friends with or working alongside supporters of the other side are much larger.
Then there’s the commute: long trips involve many fans either driving in or being herded on coaches. Even the most uninspiring of city ‘derby’ games sees a bit of what some refer to as ‘bantaaaaah’ on the Underground/Metro lines and buses.
So okay: anything that adds a little extra flavour to an upcoming match is better than nothing. But even with that being said, there is no confusing a ‘derby’ with a ‘grudge’.
Yes, some ‘derby’ matches evolve into genuine rivalries thanks to the bitterness that comes over time and numerous sub-plots.
But Saturday’s clash between Tottenham and Chelsea, for me, is not a ‘London derby’ but a very real, very mouth-watering battle between two enemy sides. And rightly so, it’s the headline attraction of the Premier League weekend.
Prior to the arrival of Roman Abramovich, Spurs and the Blues were very similar. Both had patches of silverware in their history, but yearned to be much more in a modern era dominated by Manchester United and Arsenal, and before them Liverpool and Everton.
In fact, the old folk story that the Russian money man was considering making his mark in North London a decade ago, only for a helicopter view of the King’s Road to change his mind, only adds to the vendetta.
Familiarity breeds contempt. In looking at each other, Chelsea and Tottenham fans see a lot of their own club. And they hate it.
The Abramovich situation and a 16-year league run during which Tottenham could not beat Chelsea once saw the West London outfit pull slowly away. Not only were they not in close enough proximity to be an Arsenal-Spurs or a West Ham-Millwall, but for a few years they were also on a different level on the pitch.
The path back for Spurs began in 2006 with the end of the near two-decade hoodoo. It also happened on the watch of one Jose Mourinho.
‘The Special One’, known even before his initial 2004 arrival at Stamford Bridge as a brilliant source of quotable lines and incendiary quips, formally made himself known to the British audience one month in by accusing Tottenham of ‘parking the team bus’ in front of their goal as they held the champions-to-be to a dull 0-0 draw.
Just like that, a year and change after it appeared Chelsea had found checkmate in a rivalry which in prior years had fans living vicariously through hard men like Chopper Harris and Dave Mackay, Tottenham had reason to hate again.
And it was Mourinho who gave it to them.
Jose’s return to Chelsea coincides with Tottenham, arguably, finally reaching the level that Abramovich’s investments took the Blues to, away from the Lilywhites. Beginning with Martin Jol’s fruitful spell in charge, Tottenham have slowly matured in stature and performances under Daniel Levy.
The next step, if Andre Villas-Boas’ men are to complete the return to Chelsea’s level, is Champions League football. And this season more than any other, those four spots are completely up for grabs.
Villas-Boas, a former Mourinho protégé turned sour, took over at Chelsea during their frantic revolving-door managerial phase (which may not yet be over) and lasted just eight months.
If this is the moment when Tottenham finally begin to breathe down Chelsea’s necks again, it couldn’t have been written any sweeter for neither Spurs nor Villas-Boas.
The revival of a rivalry in its purest form would mean redemption for a manager and a club.
And yes, finishing above Arsenal for the first time in 18+ years would be sweet, but if the three London sides do end up mixing it up at the top of the table for the foreseeable future, don’t necessarily presume the North London pairing will be the most vociferous.
As Manchester United and Liverpool – once upon a time, the greatest example of rivalry over ‘derby’ - have shown to an extent in their two meetings so far in 2013/14, all it takes is a little parity, not proximity, for two dogs to really start showing their teeth at one another.
And whether a supporter of one of the teams involved or a neutral, don’t we just love it?
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter