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Opinion: Why the Hull Derby is the biggest

It’s an age old argument, the Hull Derby, or Wigan/Saints, which is the biggest and best?

On Friday these two battles recommence hostilities, with the KCOM Stadium just about sold out of all its 25,404 seats, and no doubt a huge television audience as well.

There will be a similar crowd at the DW Stadium for the Wigan v St. Helens game, with the game very close to selling out with an announcement likely in the next few days.

I’m obviously going to promote the Hull Derby, as a supporter of the Black & White side of this divided city I do of course have a vested interest. As a local playwright from the current UK City of Culture, who is producing a play based on this rivalry later this year, I also have a pretty good idea of just how important the battle between West and East is.

As full of big names and quality personnel as Wigan v St. Helens is, and with all the trophies that have been shared between those two clubs, I’m here to tell you now just why the Hull Derby is a bigger, more intense game.

The main difference is the geographical locations and distances between the combatants of these two great games. When Wigan lose to St. Helens, or vice versa, the fans of the losing team simply disappear over the hill, back to their hometown to lick their wounds. In Hull that just isn’t an option, wherever you go you’re still surrounded by it. You go to work, you go to the pub, you go shopping, you can even go home and still be confronted by supporters of the other side.

The clue is in the name of it, it’s the HULL DERBY, all year round there is no getting away from it. The derby is sewn into the very fabric of a divided city. Is Wigan divided? Is St. Helens divided? No they’re both galvanized against each other, but some would even argue that it isn’t even their biggest rivalry right now, with St. Helens top of the league, battling it out in what they call another derby, last week against Warrington Wolves.

Wigan also class their games against Warrington as a derby, there’s no getting away from it, Wigan and St. Helens are bitter rivals, but they’re a watered down version of the rivalry that exists only in the city of Kingston Upon Hull, the city which is divided between East and West, the city where there is no hiding place when you have lost a derby, a match which in previous years has been graced by some of the greatest names in the sport like Clive Sullivan, Johnny Whiteley, Roger Millward, Peter Sterling, Steve Norton, Gavin Miller, Dave Topliss and many other great names.

It also needs to be noted that, although it’s changed this year, the Hull Derby is the only one that features regularly at Magic Weekend, largely because of the following it receives when it’s taken on the road to pastures new, but on derby match day, Hull is engulfed in a different sort of atmosphere, it is a truly unique experience, unlike any other game in Super League. It has also produced some memorable finishes over the years, such as a comeback from 20-0 down with 20 minutes left to go, the tackle by Tom Briscoe on Peter Fox, David Hodgson’s last minute try at Magic 2012, Chris Green’s winning try at Magic 2013, Roger Millward’s heroics at Wembley in 1980 and Colin Hutton’s winning goal kick for the Black & Whites in the Championship Final against the club who now have a new stand adorned with his name because of his service to them after his playing career.

So there is the difference for you, I’m not doubting Wigan and Saints credentials as a derby, but you have other rivalries that you count as a derby as well, while in Hull, there is only one derby, a true derby which unites and divides one small city, with only three miles between the two teams grounds, a place where there is nowhere you can get away from a derby defeat, unlike in Wigan, St. Helens and Warrington.

That is my case, why I know for definite that the Hull Derby, a derby that only needs the name of one place in it, is the biggest, best and most bitterly contested derby in Super League because, unlike the Wigan/Saints affair, there are no imitations of it against other teams a few miles down the road.

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