It’s a fixture that invokes the same question time and time again. To most fans and pundits outside the realms of these two clubs, more often than not, the answer is yes. Ask any fan with an attachment to either club and the answer will almost certainly be different, often blurred by ambiguity.
Is AFC Bournemouth vs Southampton a derby?
As Simon Jordan would say, ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck…’ we all know the rest of that sentence. On the face of it, this very much looks like a derby. Read the fixture out loud and it even sounds like one.
From Old Firm to Old Farm, if dissect every football derby across the globe you’ll find certain elements that are consistent for every single one. Same city clubs. The short distance between. One is Rovers, one is City. One is AC, one is Inter, and so on. Then, sharpen your focus and you’ll see the finer details; the derby DNA that makes a rivalry unique when compared to any other.
Their history, number of trophies and even religion often cranks up the Fahrenheit.
When we talk Bournemouth versus Southampton, we talk Dorset versus Hampshire. Cherry versus halo. Just where does this match-up reside on the local derby scale?
Local derby geography matters. Separated only by the beautiful New Forest, the short 32 mile stretch of tar-mac between The Vitality Stadium and St. Mary’s screams local derby. Shorter than Plymouth Argyle versus Exeter City (46 miles) and Cardiff City versus Swansea City (43 miles) by comparison.
Local derby distance? Tick.
How managers view the fixture is interesting. Looking ahead to Southampton’s FA Cup quarter-final visit to Bournemouth, Ralph Hasenhüttldescribed the game as a “South Derby”, no mention of the word coast,whilst highlighting the intensity that this ‘special’ fixture holds.
In 2018, former Cherries boss Eddie Howe declared “the rivalry is growing” between the Cherries and Saints. “I don’t think the rivalry was there before, but it has the scope to get bigger”. Looking back, it is hard to argue against Howe’s perception.
Having never played in England’s top flight, Bournemouth earned Premier League status in 2015. A side effect to their promotion being that, the seeds of a top flight rivalry between the two clubs were sowed, and finally allowed to grow.
By the time Bournemouth dropped out of football’s elite in 2020, the needle between both set of fans undoubtably felt sharper and pricklier, more boil than simmer, than five years earlier.
To hate (Latin: Odisse): To feel intense or passionate dislike for someone or something
Now, no one likes the ‘H’ word, but try to describe your nearest and dearest rivals without saying it; good luck with that. It is obvious, and equallyinevitable that a hint of odisse will pass the lips when drilling down on the finer points of why you dislike your rivals. This is where the lines become hazy when defining Bournemouth vs Southampton.
Sometimes, there is just not enough odisse to go around.
Southampton aim so much odisse towards their neighbours, Portsmouth, that there is simply not enough left in the pot to direct at Bournemouth. To put into context; when Southampton visit Portsmouth, the welcome they receive includes police bubbles, airborne Stella Artois bottles and the odd Baggeridge Tabasco Red brick. Not a single cuddle in sight.
Bournemouth however, have plenty of odisse in their pot. Cooked up and ready serve. It’s difficult to imagine Bournemouth aiming their cross-hair at Poole Town FC or Weymouth FC any time soon, which explains why when it comes to Bournemouth’s most wanted list, Southampton sit proudly at the top.
In recent years, Bournemouth fans have even started call Southampton fans ‘Scummers’. A name that has been ‘affectionately’ used for years by Portsmouth fans when describing Southampton. A name believed to be born decades ago out of dock strikes and crossed picket lines.
Bournemouth desperately need a rivalry, someone to dislike, to odisse. If Southampton satisfy that craving then, why the hell not?
As a fixture, based on the bare ingredients required for a derby, Bournemouth vs Southampton fit the bill. But when it comes to having true derby DNA, the ‘derby’ tag sometimes attached to this fixture feels rather lopsided, and well under-cooked when applied to Cherries vs Saints.Especially when held up against the longstanding South Coast Derby of Southampton vs Portsmouth.
For now, and possibly for many years to come, Bournemouth will have to settle for being the third wheel on the South coast however, if there is a space that exists between a normal football match and a fierce local derby, this fixture fits into that space perfectly.