One hopes the Civil Aviation Authority investigators are not too strict with the perpetrators of the lame Blackpool stunt who sent a low-flying plane over Deepdale at the weekend trailing a message taunting Preston North End for slipping into League One. It was not much of a joke, admittedly, and the CAA team could also take a dim view of the complete lack of originality and wit, though it must be remembered that Blackpool themselves may be going down this season and the Seasiders supporters responsible were probably taking one last, fairly pathetic opportunity to claim superiority in a supposed rivalry.

I say supposed, because while Blackpool and Preston are geographically neighbours and technically rivals, the only person I have ever heard mention such a relationship is Jimmy Armfield, and that was mostly because he has such a long memory. Blackpool and Preston must have been proper rivals once, when they both played in the same division, both appeared in FA Cup finals and boasted players between them of the calibre of Armfield, Stanley Matthews, Bill Shankly and Tom Finney. But since that post-war era was consigned to history by the abolition of the maximum wage both teams have been up and down the leagues, particularly Blackpool, and when clubs only pass as ships in the night, sometimes not seeing each other for years, real rivalry does not usually flourish.

To judge by the weekend's events some Blackpool fans may not wish to hear this, but Preston have not spent the past half-century hating Blackpool or wishing they would climb back to the big time so that rivalry could be resumed. Until this season, or perhaps one could say until Simon Grayson, then Ian Holloway, set them on the right path, hardly anyone beyond the Fylde coast spared a thought for Blackpool. They were history, like Matthews, wooden rattles and Cup finals that were not played on the same day as important league matches. Preston have no obvious or official rivals, and matches against Burnley or Blackburn Rovers would have more bite and feeling than occasional meetings with Blackpool.

Blackburn and Burnley are locked in a real rivalry, a bona fide love-hate relationship that excludes all others and makes interlopers unwelcome. And of course they pioneered the plane-flying jape. Burnley (because they are a club of similar size, proximity, history and because they have often found themselves in the same division) are not particularly fond of Preston. There is a bit of local rivalry there, as there would be with Bolton Wanderers, but nothing to touch the main east Lancashire item. Perhaps because the clubs are so close together, the dialects so similar and the whole area more or less impenetrable to outsiders, the Blackburn-Burnley rivalry has managed to persist despite, or possibly because, the teams have often found themselves in different divisions. The key here is that Blackburn and Burnley see themselves as rivals anyway, even without the football. Like Wigan and St Helens in rugby league, the towns are preoccupied with sneering at each other, measuring themselves against each other and making jokes at the other's expense. A sporting context comes in handy, but is not essential. That was never the case with Blackpool and Preston, which is why their footballing rivalry soon fell away.

The best and worst of football is to be found within the great rivalries. Caring not just about whether your own team win but whether the other team lose definitely makes a big difference, though on the downside one of the most depressing aspects of modern football is the way in which fans of, say, Everton or Manchester City, now seem to define themselves more by their hatred of the rival team than love of their own. For very few derby rivalries are evenly matched, with each club sharing roughly equal amounts of success and failure. Generally one team are doing much better than the other, and envy soon turns to resentment.

Looking at the 20 teams currently in the Premier League, no fewer than a dozen can claim true, self-contained derby rivalries within the division. To wit, both Manchester teams, both Merseyside teams and both (central) Birmingham teams, plus the north London, Tyne-Wear and Black Country rivals. It is true that Sir Alex Ferguson often says his main derby is the north-west one with Liverpool, but one always suspects he says that to wind up City fans. As will be seen this weekend, the Manchester rivalry is alive and well. Chelsea and Fulham have a close proximity and something of a shared history – had Fulham been prepared to move into the newly refurbished Stamford Bridge in 1905 it is possible Chelsea would never have been brought into existence – but little else ties the two clubs and games against Queens Park Rangers next season are likely to be more intense.

Of the six clubs that remain, half have historical rivals outside the Premier League, even if they do not always feel like acknowledging them. Blackburn have been mentioned, West Ham United have a famous, or possibly infamous, animosity towards Millwall, while Stoke City – geographically isolated in terms of Premier League opponents – have always had to share the Potteries with Port Vale. The Valiants are very much the poor relations these days, and matches have tended to be few and far between, but like east Lancashire the Potteries is one of those self-contained regions where rivalries last a lifetime.

That leaves three Billy-No-Mates teams. Bolton, Blackpool and Wigan Athletic. Bolton traditionally fancy themselves as rivals of Manchester United, though at best this is outdated wishful thinking based on events of more than 50 years ago and has no basis in modern reality. United fans have more of a rivalry going on with Barcelona than with Bolton. Wigan like to look upwards to Bolton, though Bolton supporters are reluctant to look downwards and take the bait. Parts of Wigan are very close to Bolton, indeed the Reebok Stadium is handier for many Wigan supporters than Boltonians, and because there was no league team in Wigan until the 70s plenty of people who live in Wigan support Bolton. Plenty of others support Manchester or Merseyside teams, too – it is one reason why the DW Stadium is rarely filled to capacity – but Wigan's late arrival into the professional ranks means most prospective partners for rivalry have already been booked.

Bolton are available but uninterested, mainly because there is no history between the teams. There is, however, and always has been, a natural affinity between Wigan and Blackpool, dating back to the Wakes Weeks and doubtless beyond. Many a Wigan hen party ends up in Blackpool, George Formby not only sang of a little stick of Blackpool rock but went to live there, and most of the donkeys from Blackpool beach spend their winter holidays in Wigan. So far, though, the relationship has been a non-footballing one. There is still time for that to change. Indeed, if the bottom three does no change between now and the end of the season, Blackpool and Wigan will be meeting again next season with quite a lot in common.