The ‘Enclave Derby’: The Curious Story behind Spain’s Two North African Clubs

In football, derbies usually denote a rivalry between two clubs of the same region, and in most cases, of the same town. They also produce some of the most heated clashes in the sport, independently of the country. In La Liga, there is a variety, perhaps none more heated than the one opposing Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. In Catalonia, Barcelona and Espanyol have often seen the wife of the then Barcelona player Gerard Pique, Shakira, insulted by Espanyol fans, with him and hers sizes of just about everything under the sun. Further down the East Coast, Levante and Valencia also produced heated derbies.

If all of these clashes bring thousands of fans together, there is one curious clash in Spain’s lower divisions that is rarely mentioned – if even heard of. Ceuta and Melilla are the names. Both cities are located in… North Africa, in Spain’s portion that borders Morocco’s lands. A.D Ceuta and Melilla C.F are two clubs that became a headache for Spanish administration. After the creation of both clubs — respectively in the 1940’s and in the 1950’s, a ‘Moroccan League’ was created, with both a west and east division. This was where both Ceuta and Melilla participated. In 1956, Morocco’s independence forced a drastic change, as Ceuta and Melilla needed to integrate the Spanish league system, a major logistical problem.

For Melilla, the start was horrific. The club suffered regional success prior to Morocco’s independence, but in 1951, a bus accident in Alicante saw the death of a physio as well as two players. In addition to several transfers, it forced Melilla into decline. As the team joined the Spanish league system in 1956, it was merged with Tangier’s football club. Unfortunately for Melilla, the merger also meant merging debt — the club had suffered economically since its decline in the 1950’s, and Tangier added four million of pesetas in debt. Two years later, Melilla was dissolved due to its economic situation.

It took about twenty years to appear for Melilla to reappear in Spanish football — in 1975. Since then, the club has been evolving in ‘Segunda B’, Spain’s fourth tier. Their success is comparable to its first years, reaching twice the Round of 16 in the Copa Del Rey (2012/13 & 2018/19).

Por qué Ceuta y Melilla pertenecen a España si están en África - BBC News Mundo
Image via the BBC.

As Ceuta C.F was only founded in 1956, it did not have to experience the transition from the North-African league system to Spain’s leagues like its ‘neighbour’ Melilla. Ceuta started out in the Segunda B for ten years, before coming down to the ‘Tercera’ (Fifth Division), and later spending a few years in the regional leagues. The post-pandemic era has however seen Ceuta first promoted to the Segunda B, and they’ve now been in the ‘Primera RFEF’ (Spain’s third division, it’s not a system angled towards simplicity) for the last two seasons. In 2022-2023, they too reached the Round of 16 in the Copa del Rey.

On the first of October 2023, Ceuta faced Melilla in the league once again. A derby that saw a draw, a red and four other yellow cards, as well as various injurie and a 0-0 scoreline. This ‘derby’ had last taken place in 2012 — a derby that sees 225km divide both teams, making it perhaps the furthest derby in ‘Europe’, though it takes place… In North Africa. Following the result, Melilla are 19th (out of 20), while Ceuta are third. This was the story of the ‘Enclave Derby’, a derby that will once again take place on the 29th of January 2024 in Melilla.

Tags Ceuta Melilla Spain
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