FC Levadia Tallinn's emergence as a force in Estonia may have cramped FC Flora's style, yet Flora coach Martin Reim thinks the advent of serious competition has benefited everyone.
Reborn in 1990 under current Estonian Football Association (EJL) president Aivar Pohlak, following a marginal existence as a chemical plant's works team, Flora became the giants of post-independence football in Estonia.
Then Levadia came along. Founded under the auspices of a local metalworks in 1998 as FC Levadia Maardu, they landed their first titles in 1999 and 2000. Flora responded by claiming the next three crowns, but since 2004 Levadia have dominated, winning five of the last six Meistriliiga races.
That strength has been reflected in the clubs' meetings: Flora have failed to win any of the last ten derbies, with their 2-1 loss on 3 April their fifth successive defeat by their neighbours. Even so, 157-cap former Estonian international Reim still enjoys the sight of the Green-and-Whites.
"These games are the future of Estonian football," said the 38-year-old recently appointed Flora coach. "We can be proud of them. Levadia are our main rivals, but they're not enemies. There should be no wars in sport – Levadia are just good opponents. Estonian football would lose a lot without this derby."
Levadia defender Igor Morozov credits the derby with sparking his passion for football. "As a child I wasn't so interested in the Estonian league, but Flora-Levadia matches always attracted me," said the 20-year-old. "There was something exciting about them. Now I feel that Flora games are the most intense. No one holds back for fear of getting a yellow card."
Indeed, while the Flora and Levadia lineups contain most of Morozov's Estonia Under-21 team-mates, the players are only friends off the pitch – never on it. "You don't worry whether your opponent is a mate or not before making a tackle," said Morozov. "You can always apologise after the match."
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