Leicester City’s Rivals – Who Are They?

In the world of English football rivalries, some clubs are embroiled in historic and passionate feuds that transcend generations. Other teams do not have such deep-seated and fiery rivalries and even have to ask themselves who their biggest rivals really are! For Leicester City, they find themselves somewhere in the middle, though perhaps more in the latter category than the former. While the Foxes do indeed have a variety of clubs that could be considered rivals, they lack a standout adversary who they have passionately loathed for decades.

Although many footballing rivalries are born out of geographical proximity, they can also be a result of regular and intense competition or occasionally one-off events. In the example of Bolton and Tranmere for example, their dislike of one another dates back to the 1991 Division Three play-off final and the perceived over-celebration from Rovers. The point of mentioning this is to say that Leicester could develop a clear and fierce rivalry in future, not necessarily with a team close to them. For now though, let us look at who is currently considered to be the Foxes’ main rivals according to their fan base.

1. Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest logo Although there is no clear consensus, most Leicester fans consider Nottingham Forest to be their main rivals. The two clubs first played one another back in 1901 for an FA Cup clash so it is a fixture with historic roots. That contest finished 5-1 in favour of Forest but they were to deliver a much harsher punishment eight years later. In April 1909, Forst hammered Leicester Fosse, as they were known then, 12-0, which remains their biggest-ever league win. Sometimes such an embarrassing defeat can get a team fired up but it was reported that the many Leicester players were hungover from a wedding the night before. Add in the fact they were already relegated and it is hard to think the match upset them too much.

A lack of meetings between the two clubs during the early years perhaps stopped a fiercer rivalry from developing. Between their first-ever clash in 1901 and 1946, the clubs only faced each other 23 times, practically an average of one game every two years. After WWII, clashes were more common but Forest seemed to care much more about Derby, who are significantly closer geographically. With this rivalry really intensifying in the 1970s, Leicester struggled to muster much of Forests’ wrath as it was largely being directed towards the Rams.

One thing that shows you that this is not the fiercest rivalry going is the number of players that have moved directly between both clubs. Recent examples include Yohan Benalouane, Ben Hamer (loan), Wes Morgan, Paul Konchesky and Gareth Williams. There have also been nine bosses who managed both clubs or played for one and managed the other. Martin O’Neill is a great example as he had 285 appearances as a Forest player but then managed Leicester for almost five years years as well as briefly managing Forest!

That said, while Leicester vs. Forest is far from the most tense rivalry, there is still some friction between both sets of supporters. Crowd trouble is not a particularly unusual sight when these teams play one another, although it is usually an isolated incident involving a small number of fans. There was of course the infamous incident in 2022 in which an angry Leicester fan ran onto the pitch to assault three Forest players who were celebrating a goal.

Although such incidents are completely reprehensible, it is perhaps evidence that this rivalry has shown more life of late. A recent uplift in animosity can possibly be traced back to the final day of the 2012-13 Championship season. The teams were facing one another and both had a chance of reaching the play-offs. A late Anthony Knockaert goal gave the Foxes their first win at the City Ground since 1972, pushing them into the play-off places and ensuring their rivals missed out. As you can imagine, there are few more bitter-tasting ways to end a league campaign than that. Interestingly, what this East Midlands rivalry lacks in fervency, it makes up for in competitiveness. At the time of writing both clubs had won 41 of their 109 meetings with the remaining 27 ending all-square.

2. Coventry

Coventry City logoA clear second choice among Leicester fans is Coventry City. When these clubs play, their matches are sometimes referred to as the M69 Derby, with this being the motorway connecting the two cities. It was once a relatively considerable rivalry, reaching as high as 26th place in the Football Pool’s list of fiercest English football rivalries. The Football Pools released their standings shortly after a huge brawl in a Coventry pub on the day Leicester were playing. As many as 100 fans of both clubs were involved, leading to 18 arrests.

To keep any animosity burning though you need regular contact and that is something this has lacked in recent years. Following Coventry’s relegation in 2012, the two clubs spent the next 11 seasons not playing a single game before finally being re-united for the 2023-24 Championship campaign. This 11-year absence was possibly quite a welcome one for Coventry supporters as before this they had won just one of their last 16 meetings with the Foxes.

Having finally returned to the same league (albeit potentially very briefly) it is possible that this fading rivalry may be reignited but to what extent, only time will tell.

3. Derby

Derby County logoThe last genuine contender for Leicester’s main rival is Derby County. According to around 700 Foxes supporters who took part in an online poll, 10% picked the Rams as the team they consider to be their biggest rival. Although hardly a large chunk, it still goes to show there is some tension there between the two clubs. The unfriendliness does not go much further though than Leicester fans enjoying seeing Derby falter, and vice versa. Also, as a slight wind-up, some of the Foxes faithful prefer calling Derby ‘the Sheep’ rather than the Rams! Oh, the bantz.

Meetings between the two clubs rarely carry that same level of pre-game anticipation as they would for a major derby clash. The list of players that have played for both clubs is extremely long too as there is quite a minimal risk of getting a frosty reception. Even unsavoury pre- and post-game incidents are a rarity, which is not usually the case for significant rivalries. There was something akin to a riot after Derby knocked Leicester out of the EFL Cup but this was all the way back in 1985. Since then, there has been little major trouble whenever the two sides have met.

The Bottom Line

Leicester City’s rivalry map lacks the deep-seated animosity seen in traditional footballing clashes. Although the Foxes generally (with a small majority) deem Nottingham Forest to be their main rival, it is a long way from being one of the more significant “derbies” in the country. Part of the reason is the fact Leicester have no club immediately close by and those that are nearest to them have a closer foe (Forest & Derby, Coventry & Aston Villa). Still, as rivalries are not wholly dependent on geography, nor historical links, maybe in 20 years’ time Leicester will have a fierce rivalry with someone new.

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