The ​Derby Rhône-Alpes is part of 90min's 50 Biggest Derbies in the World Series 


The rivalry between the cities of Lyon and Saint-Étienne is steeped in centuries of bad blood; it can be traced all the way back to Roman times. 

In the modern day, the rivalry emerges in football matches that pits the teams of the two cities against each other. Teams which happen to be among the most decorated in French football and whose records against each other are strikingly similar. 

There is ultimately one thing that divides Lyon and Saint-Étienne fans: class. The Lyon faithful see themselves as sophisticated, cultured and middle-class, whereas Saint-Étienne fans are more associated with the working-class, with industry and social struggle. 
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Saint-Étienne, despite being from a city of just 172,655 people (the 14th biggest in France), are the most successful club in Ligue 1 history, winning a total of 10 league titles between 1957 and 1981. During this time, they also won six Coupes de France and reached the final of the European Cup in 1976, where they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich in what was considered to be an unlucky defeat. 


They entered a steep decline following the jailing of long-term president Roger Rocher, eventually suffering relegation to Ligue 2 in 1984. They were promoted again two years later, but have never come close to winning another title. Saint-Étienne became largely a mid-table side, suffering with the occasional spell in Ligue 2. 


Back in Ligue 1 since 2004, Saint-Étienne are currently undergoing their best spell since the glory days, consistently qualifying for Europe while never troubling the teams at the top of the table.

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But 39 miles northwestLyon have almost experienced Les Verts' history in reverse. An unremarkable, largely mid-table team who sometimes slipped into Ligue 2, Lyon's fortunes changed following the arrival of Jean-Michael Aulas as owner in 1987. Under Aulas, the club won seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 2002 and 2008 and even reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2010, where - fate would have it - Bayern Munich beat them over two legs. 

Lyon haven't won a French title since 2008, and although they continue to regularly qualify for the Champions League, the success of the naughties in unlikely to be repeated, especially with the wealth and quality that makes Paris Saint-Germain so dominant. 

In short, you have two clubs situated in cities less than 50 miles apart, who have a history of bad relations and who are so divided in terms of culture and class. These, alongside the fact that both their glory days are over - meaning the derby takes more precedence - are all ingredients for a great, hotly contested rivalry. 
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In fact, their records against each other are practically the same - Lyon have won the contest 43 times, while Saint-Étienne have won 44. 


Passions run high - with the fans displaying banners which mock the opposition, lighting flares and singing insulting songs, the normal stuff. Occasionally, these passions boil over, leading to the fights between the two sets of fans, most notably in 1993 in which they fought each other while the match was still going on.

Even the coaching staff and players get in on the act, too. In 2013, the derby was played behind doors for security reasons. Joel Bats, Lyon's goalkeeping coach at the time, tied a scarf to the netting in front of the stand in which the Saint-Étienne ultras sit. After the match, which Lyon won, Aulas and long-serving Les Verts goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier had an altercation in the tunnel. Naturally, Ruffier and Bats were suspended.
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Saint-Étienne won the return fixture and their players celebrated in front of Lyon fans. This led to a few unfriendly exchanges between the staff and players of both sides in the changing rooms afterwards, resulting in more suspensions. 


The most recent - and perhaps the most notable of these incidents - came in 2017. Nabil Fekir, Lyon born and raised, had just bagged his second goal - Les Gones' fifth - of the match. He promptly went over to the Saint-Étienne fans, took off his shirt, and displayed it at them. 

This caused the Saint-Étienne fans to go absolutely bonkers, with some of them running onto the pitch. The match was paused - with just five minutes to go - for 20 minutes as the riot police restored order. Lyon fans later showed their appreciation of Fekir's actions by creating and displaying a massive tifo depicting the incident. 
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It's an unpredictable, fierce and hostile derby in a country which doesn't have many of them, and that's what makes this rivalry so special. It's one in which, should the fans actually be let into the stadium, a great atmosphere is guaranteed.