Ask people to name the biggest derby in Mexican football and most will no doubt mention the clásico between America and Guadalajara. What many people outside the country do not know, however, is that there is one regional rivalry that can match that encounter for passion and intensity.
While most fans across the country support their local side and one member of the 'big four', namely Pumas, Guadalajara, America and Cruz Azul, the citizens of Monterrey divide their loyalties almost exclusively between Tigres and Monterrey.
Whenever the two sides meet, the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon grinds to a halt, and for the opposing sets of fans, victory over their eternal rivals often means more than winning a title. On the downside, defeat can lead to six months of taunting at the hands of schoolmates, work colleagues and even fellow family members.
Strangely, the clásico regiomontano (Monterrey Derby) has a relatively short history. Founded in 1945 and closely linked to the Tecnologico de Monterrey, the largest private university in the city, Monterrey were the biggest side in the local area for many years.
Nicknamed Los Rayados (The Stripes), Monterrey have had a number of different rivals in that time, including Club de Futbol Nuevo Leon, who managed only a short stay in the top flight. Monterrey's local dominance was not truly challenged until the mid-1970s, when Los Tigres, representing the city's state university Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, earned promotion to the Mexican first division.
Right from the early days the rivalry had all the necessary ingredients, pitting Monterrey's well-heeled old-schoolers against Tigres's less affluent new boys, who play their football outside the city's boundaries, at the Estadio Universitario, in the neighbouring town of San Nicolas de los Garza.
The social and cultural distinctions between the two sides and their loyal supporters have become more blurred over the years, with Monterrey and Tigres fans now hailing from all walks of life. The passion the rivalry arouses has remained undimmed, however, and in the days leading up to the local derby the city fairly bubbles with excitement.
Facts and figures
That excitement will be felt once more this Saturday when the two sides meet for the 89th time. Tigres have had the upper hand so far, having won 33, drawn 25 and lost 29 with the one remaining match being suspended after just seven minutes. One of those draws came in their very first meeting when Los Felinos shared six goals with Monterrey in their maiden outing in the top tier.
One thing that sets the clásico regiomontano (regiomontanos is the name given to the inhabitants of Monterrey) apart from Mexico's other derbies is the fact that away fans are seldom seen in the stands, though this has nothing to do with security. Monterrey's big two have the highest proportion of season-ticket holders in the country and their respective grounds are regularly packed to the rafters with home supporters, leaving little space for rival fans.
Tales of derbies past
In the build-up to one of last year's derbies, former Monterrey coach Ricardo La Volpe riled their neighbours when he declared, "I'd rather go shopping in Laredo than watch Tigres play." The outspoken Argentinian was eating his words just a few days later, though, when his side crashed to a 4-1 defeat to Manuel Lapuente's Auriazules.
Perhaps the best remembered of their meetings over the years was Los Rayados' similarly emphatic 4-1 away win in the Clausura Championship semi-finals back in June 2003. Inspired by a magnificent performance from Guillermo Franco, Monterrey took a decisive step towards the final, where they prevailed in an exciting two-legged decider against Morelia.
That defeat was particularly painful for Tigres, who last won the title way back in 1982, during which time their city rivals have lifted the championship trophy twice.
The rivalry today
Having fallen on hard times in recent years, Nuevo Leon's finest are looking to make up for lost time in the 2009 Apertura. Now coached by Victor Manuel Vucetich, Los Rayados boast one of the most talented squads in the land, headed by the freescoring Humberto Suazo. Tigres, meanwhile, are undergoing another transitional phase and have turned to Daniel Guzman, one of Mexico's most successful coaches of recent times, to lead them back to the top.
With four games of the season gone both sides have collected seven points. Yet there will be more than league placings at stake on Saturday, a day when the streets of Monterrey will be filled once more with passion and colour as Rayados and Felinos renew their 35-year-old rivalry.