Why is the FC Cincinnati-Columbus Crew rivalry called ‘Hell is Real’?

How the Ohio MLS Derby Began and Got It’s Name

Adam Cairns

For those who have never driven between Cincinnati and Columbus, the term “Hell is Real” likely has little significance. But for those of us who have made the 110-mile trip, it likely rings a bell. South of Columbus, there is a sign just off Interstate 71, clear to anyone driving toward Cincinnati. Erected by Kentucky real-estate developer Jimmy Harston, nearly 30 years ago, the message it delivers is quite simple: “Hell is real.”

While originally intended to prompt people to reflect on their faith, the sign now serves a different meaning for Major League Soccer fans in Ohio. It stands as a moniker for a budding rivalry between two MLS sides.

How a new MLS rivalry was born

An MLS original, Columbus Crew SC have lacked a true geographic rival. When FC Cincinnati joined the USL in 2015, however, a potential showdown emerged. That possibility became a reality in 2017, when Cincinnati defeated Louisville City FC in the U.S. Open Cup, to then set up the first-ever match against the Crew.

Originally dubbed the “Ohio Derby,” the match-up eventually received a new moniker from the fans.

As the trash talk between the two sets of supporters escalated on social media, in the buildup to the Open Cup showdown, a member of the fan-base dubbed the rivalry Hell is Real, in honor of the sign. The name caught on and has stuck.

The match lived up to its name. On June 14, 2017, at Nippert Stadium, the USL side upset the Crew 1-0. Although they faced a lower-division side, Columbus rolled out a largely first-choice lineup, only to be stymied by Cincy in front of a raucous crowd of 30,160. While it was only one game, it was enough to set the tone โ€” on the field and in the stands.

And so a rivalry was born.

Just getting started

On May 29, 2018, MLS announced Cincinnati as an expansion team, meaning the two sides would begin playing twice a season, home and away, starting in 2019.

In a sport-rich state like Ohio, there are plenty of rivalries, the biggest being the annual interstate clash between Ohio State and Michigan in college football. But the NFLโ€™s Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals play in the same division and MLB’s Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians vie for the Ohio Cup every year.

(Source: MLSSoccer.com)

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