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Derby della Madonnina: Italy’s fiercest derby on and off the pitch

The famous Milan Derby, known as Derby della Madonnina, epitomises the historic and fierce rivalry between two of Italy’s most storied football clubs: AC Milan and Inter Milan. This year, the match is more special than ever before. If Inter Milan wins, they will win their twentieth scudetto whilst AC Milan will remain at nineteen league titles.

Milan Derby Main

AC Milan

Founded in 1899, AC Milan, or Rossoneri, quickly established itself as a powerhouse in Italian football. The club, which was originally labelled the Milan Football and Cricket Club, resonated deeply with Milan’s working-class, who are known as the casciavit. The club has enjoyed immense success, securing 19 Serie A titles and 7 UEFA Champions League trophies, with an unparalleled 58-game unbeaten streak in Italian competitions from 1991 to 1993.

This era, especially the late 1980s through the mid-2000s, is often considered the golden age of AC Milan, boasting legends like Paolo Maldini and Marco van Basten. Rooted in the industrial and blue-collar sectors, AC Milan’s fans, predominantly from the city’s southern parts, have historically gathered in the southern end of San Siro, known as Curva Sud. Nicknamed as the tramvee due to them traditionally traveling to matches by public transport, these passionate supporters embody the club’s humble and passionate origins.

Inter Milan

Inter Milan, or Nerazzurri, was founded in 1908 as Football Club Internazionale Milano by a breakaway group from AC Milan, and quickly distinguished themselves within Italy for their integration of foreign players. The club has a rich history of success, boasting 19 Serie A titles and 3 UEFA Champions League trophies, highlighted by a historic treble in 2010 under José Mourinho, which the first for an Italian club.

Inter’s fan base, known as bauscia in Milanese dialect, traditionally comes from the more affluent northern parts of Milan, with fans originally traveling to games by motorcycle, earning them the nickname motoretta. Inter’s supporters, who passionately fill the northern end Curva Nord at San Siro, celebrate a colourful legacy defined by repeated success and renowned figures like Giuseppe Meazza, Ronaldo and Javier Zanetti.

Inter Milan 1

Derby della Madonnina

The derby between these two clubs, known as Derby della Madonnina, or simply Derby di Milano, is steeped in a rich history and intense rivalry. Named after the statue Madonnina of the Virgin Mary atop Milan Cathedral, this derby epitomizes both the passionate spirit and cultural duality of Milan. Francesca Di Pietro, a Milan local and Inter supporter, describes the atmosphere during the Derby di Milano as extremely divisive within the city. “Going to the stadium on derby day can be very tense, and there’s always lots of fighting and insults between fans”. This rift within the city is very pronounced, with Milan native and AC supporter Federico Tognetti stating that “the city is basically split in half two hours before the game”.

The Derby della Madonnina is one of the only major intercity derbies in world football that is always held at the same pitch, and occurs at least twice annually through league fixtures. Even though both teams share the iconic stadium, they refer to it with different names. AC Milan fans call it San Siro, while Inter fans know it as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The rivalry on the pitch is remarkably balanced, with both clubs having each won 19 Serie A titles, and in over 230 official matches, Inter has won 80, Milan 71, with 67 draws.

The first-ever derby, which was actually played in Switzerland, saw Milan triumph with a 2–1 victory, setting the stage for over a century of rivalry. Memorable matches between the Milanese clubs have featured in both Serie A and European competitions, with the two teams meeting in the Champions League Semi-Finals of 2003 and 2022. This historic feud has also influenced Italy’s national team, where through the 20th century, players from Milan and Inter were often substituted for one another at half-time due to the intensity of their club’s rivalries. With legends like Paolo Maldini holding the record for most appearances at 56 and Andriy Shevchenko as the top scorer with 14 goals, the Derby della Madonnina continues to be a cornerstone rivalry of not only Milanese or Italian football, but also within global football.

This year’s Derby di Milano, which will be the 231st official match, carries extra significance for Inter Milan as they stand on the cusp of securing their 20th Serie A title. A victory over AC Milan this Monday would not only break their current tie of 19 titles each, but also put Inter in second place all time in Serie A championships, only trailing Juventus. This pivotal match, which kicks off at 20:45, promises high stakes and intense performances as Inter aims to make Italian history against their storied rivals.

Inter Milan 2

Global Power

These teams not only have an intense rivalry on the pitch, but also continue to compete globally to be the top ambassador for Italian football and unique kit fashion. AC Milan has utilized their partnerships with Adidas and Puma to innovatively premier new kits that blend their traditional club aesthetics with a modern and contemporary Milan style, making their jerseys one of the most recognizable in the world of football. Conversely, Inter’s partnership with Nike, who are rivals of Adidas and Puma, features unconventional and cutting-edge elements within the design of their kits, including elements that promote the international and global inclusivity that Inter is known for.

Both clubs have also expanded their image beyond the pitch. AC Milan has partnered with several high-profile fashion brands over the years, collaborating with designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, who have designed suits for the team’s official outings. Inter on the other hand has expanded its brand to include lifestyle items like branded coffee machines, home decor, and even bicycles, showing how deeply the brand can integrate into the daily lives of football supporters.

Both clubs also offer a variety of upscale merchandise that includes luxury watches and designer sunglasses, which feature sleek, minimalist designs that appeal to trends within Italian fashion. As these two clubs continue to compete with each other off the pitch for support and recognition, more fans will be tuned into the historically important derby this weekend, making it the most significant Derby di Milano in recent memory.

Photos: via Unsplash