Played out against the imposing backdrop of the 3,300-metre-high Mount Etna, the tallest and most active volcano in Europe, the Sicilian derby between Catania and Palermo has always been an explosive affair. And while the action is always heated on the pitch, the fixture is first and foremost an outlet for the burning rivalry between two cities which lie just over 200km apart.
The winner of the match is guaranteed bragging rights on the island – if only until the next time the teams meet. FIFA.com takes a closer look at this local encounter, which has come to reflect the character and tradition of the Sicilian people.
The Sicilian derby was one of the lesser-known local clashes in Italian football for quite some time, owing to the fact that the first Serie A encounter between Palermo and Catania did not come until the 1961/62 season. To date, the pair have still only met 14 times in the Italian top flight.
The first match between Unione Sportiva Catanese and Palermo Football and Cricket Club came in the Lipton Challenge Cup in the 1910s. The competition involved teams from Southern Italy and Sicily, and took place at a time when there was no official league championship in the country.
The Sicilian derby enjoyed something of a golden era when the two sides were in the second and third divisions together, as well as the Coppa Italia. However, these encounters never carried quite the same levels of drama and intensity as their Serie A clashes. Another rivalry, albeit much smaller, exists with Sicily’s third-largest city, Messina, whose football club have spent a total of just five seasons in the top division.
Facts and figures
Palermo hosted the first official league derby on 1 November 1936 – a Serie B encounter which ended in a 1-1 draw. The pair also met in Catania in the Coppa Italia on 26 December 1935, with the hosts winning 1-0 on that occasion. In total the rivals have locked horns 80 times, with Palermo boasting a slightly stronger record of 24 wins, 37 draws and 19 defeats.
The Rosanero and Rossazzuri both enjoyed Serie A status from 1961 to 1963 and resumed their top-flight rivalry in 2006, adding an extra layer of pressure to the derby in the process. The pair have contested just 14 derbies at the highest level of Italian football, and Catania boast marginally the better record with five wins, five draws and four defeats, scoring 22 goals and conceding 14 along the way.
Catania hold the record for the biggest winning margin in a Sicilian derby match, achieving the feat with a 4-0 away victory on 1 March 2009. Palermo, meanwhile, won the highest scoring derby to date with a 5-3 victory on 20 September 2006.
Tales of derbies past
For those new to the Sicilian derby, there is a banner at Palermo's training ground that provides insight into just how much pressure surrounds the fixture. It reminds visitors that a derby victory is every bit as important as winning the Scudetto – a prize that continues to elude both sides. “It’s not an exaggeration,” explained Palermo favourite Fabrizio Miccoli. “That’s the real feeling among our fans. We know just how much the derby means to them, and it’s clear that we need to do all we can to win it for them.”
There has been no let-up in the passion and rivalry between the two sets of fans over the years. During a televised fixture in September 2009, Palermo’s supporters unfurled a huge banner that expressed, in no uncertain terms, their feelings towards their counterparts from Catania. Two years earlier, during Palermo’s 2-1 victory in Catania, the ill-feeling between the two sets of supporters even resulted in scenes of violence.
Fortunately, the derby has also been the setting for several less dramatic but equally interesting incidents. One such story came in a cup clash between the pair on 6 September 1959. With two minutes left and with Palermo leading 1-0, Catania’s players decided it was too dark and that the lighting too poor to continue playing. They subsequently left the pitch and headed for the dressing room, forfeiting the match in the process.
On 4 March 2001, Palermo entered the dressing room at Catania’s stadium to find that their match shirts had been stolen. The players were left with no choice but to don their training tops, with self-adhesive tape stuck on their backs to create makeshift numbers.
Finally, on the pitch, a Javier Pastore hat-trick on 14 November 2010 helped Palermo to a 3-1 home win, and put smiles back on the fans’ faces. Catania had dominated the fixture for the two previous seasons.
The rivalry today
The Sicilian rivals have made good starts to this season’s Serie A campaign, with Palermo in sixth place on 20 points and Catania not far behind in ninth with 18. Palermo’s form is all the more remarkable given the departure of key pair Javier Pastore and Salvatore Sirigu, who left to join French side Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. Fortunately for the Rosanero, Miccoli, their all-time leading scorer with 58 goals, is still there to drive the team forward. As for Catania, their side features a 13-strong contingent of Argentinian players, as well as experienced campaigners such as 35-year-old centre-back Nicola Legrottaglie.
While this year’s derby is sure to be as hard-fought as ever, it will also be played in a slightly more benevolent spirit than usual. Indeed, the two clubs have agreed to donate all proceeds from the match to the families in Messina who find themselves homeless following the recent floods in the region. “Sicilian football is united to help Sicilians in need,” the two clubs declared in a rare but welcome moment of togetherness.