The Derby of the Islands is the proud contest between the clubs from Sardinia and Sicily. In recent times this match has seen Cagliari of Sardinia take on either Palermo or Catania of Sicily. It is true that if the Sardinian team 1903 Torres did play the Sicilian outfit Messina, this would also be classed under the title of the ‘Derby delle Isole.’
For this season, the derby in the top flight will see Cagliari take on Palermo in the most well-known of the clashes. With the two Islands being fiercely proud of their culture and heritage, it is no surprise that the game is revered and brings with it local pressure. It is rarely, however, a violent occasion with the Islanders often finding more in common with themselves than with the Italians on the mainland.
Although Cagliari and Palermo have enjoyed some success in the top flight they have mostly been mediocre in recent times. Palermo had at times threatened to become a force but this has never really materialised. The Derby has therefore never demanded hardcore antagonism between the two, although it has remained an important part of the calendar. Its significance predominately revolves around bragging rights rather than competing for major honours. They are just two proud entities fighting for supremacy.
Italy as a nation, perhaps evolved before anybody actually had a chance to think what, ‘being Italian’, actually meant. Throughout history, the North of Italy has been much more independent through politics, trade and thought and thus regarded less feudal than the South and the islands. This meant that when Italy finally became a nation and absorbed the two islands, they perhaps did not see themselves as Italian and to this day have never really adapted or fully given themselves to the idea of being one entity.
In football terms this feeling has carried over and although the rivalry is there, it provides no hatred as there is between Lazio and Roma. In an amateur Derby delle Isole clash between Ustica and Lampedusa Virtus in 2015, the islander’s philosophy of football was encapsulated by an interesting statement read out before the game. The Football Association of Sicily said:
“We will play for the first time in the history of the Sicilian amateur football, a fascinating new ‘Derby of the Islands’. It is a time of great sports participation and human monopolization for regional football today. Two islands protagonists in the field with the same values and hopes that reflect what is important in the social sphere.”
This certainly was not a message that suggested that the game would be played out in any sort of hostile manner. The game, if you are interested, ended 2-2.
Sardinia’s main team for this Derby match is the aforementioned Cagliari. The Rossoblu have had a troubled recent past. Massimo Cellino certainly left the club reeling after creating as many problems as he left. Stadium wrangles with local authorities were the tip of the iceberg, as Cellino himself was involved in many other ‘questionable’ activities. They will certainly be glad to see the back of these problems as by the end they had even found themselves playing their home games in Trieste. Now, with new ownership and under the leadership of cult hero Zdenek Zeman, the Sardinians can look forward with hope for the first time in many seasons.
Sicily has had more teams reach Italy’s top flight in recent years but none more so than Palermo. The islands capital club were competing for the Coppa Italia final and making outings into Europe with a plethora of stars in the not too distant past. However, in 2013 they were relegated to Serie B, something nobody had predicted. With a tight knit squad they have now ascended back to the top tier and will be Sicily’s soul representative in the division this year. A big club with big support and big tradition, they have often flattered to deceive but will be expecting a to maintain their Serie A status this year.
Poor old Catania saw themselves relegated to Serie B in 2013/14 and this was a cruel blow for the club. They had acquitted themselves well in the top flight since 2007 and had become in many people’s eyes, a main stay in the division. A 22-year spell out of the top flight before this, had made their presence even sweeter, especially seeing their rivals Palermo relegated last year. Fate is a cruel mistress and soon the tables were turned as they soon slipped into the second tier.
Messina has never been a major powerhouse in Sicilian Football buy they have had some recent success. In 2004/05 they were promoted to Serie A and performed admirably. They did so well in fact that they only missed out on a Europa League spot by a single place and managed to take the scalps of Milan and Inter in the process. Relegated again in 2006/07, they were battling with Cagliari to stay up right till the end, perhaps one of the few times where the Derby saw some tension. Currently in Serie D1 they are in dire straits, a term perhaps apt as they class the Derby dello Stretto (“Derby of the Strait”) against Reggina there biggest game, but that is another story.
One of the most memorable Derby delle Isole was in the 1969/70 season. Cagliari were marching on to an unprecedented Scudetto winning season and faced Palermo in Sardinia with only four games to go.
The game was played at a furious pace from the first minute as was to be expected. Cagliari were desperate for the title whilst Palermo were trying desperately to stay in the division. Giovanni Ferretti in the Palermo goal had a super first-half making save after save denying the famous Gigi Riva time and time again.
The first game between the two had seen the Sicilians come out 1-0 winners but just as they thought they may be able to resist the Sardinian pressure, Riva eventually scored. He towered above all before him to head home before half-time. A second goal in the 60th minute by Brazilian Nene was dispatched with supreme quality to seal the match. His 20-yard well placed shot gave Ferretti no chance.
The game finished 2-0 and Cagliari went on to win the league whilst Palermo were relegated. It maybe some time until we see the Derby delle Isole conjure up such drama again but it is certainly a fixture to look out for in the Serie A calendar.
Words by Richard Hall: @Gentleman_Ultra