Soapbox: hating and hoping

Something got up Pete Sixsmith‘s nose when he read Alan Sims’s offering in Who Are They? Was it the confession that Mags found it hard to help a charity if it had the least Sunderland connection? Or the behaviour of NUFC neanderthals who stayed behind to shout idiotic abuse at young players sent out by Keano to train after the derby game at the SoL this season? Salut! Sunderland suspects it had more to with Alan keeping a straight face as he claimed Bar Codes were above tribal rivalry

Having read the views of one Alan Sims it’s amazing how a bunch of hybrids can even string two sentences together let alone have the gall to criticise a perfect football team playing in a perfect football stadium situated in a perfect town.

I won’t try to equal the bile and bitterness of a supporter of a club so clearly inferior to our own beloved Red and Whites – I could surpass it in spades if I wanted to – so let’s have a look at how the rivalry has intensified over the last 45 years.

My first experience of a Derby at SJP was in March 1964 when we were pushing for promotion and they were idling away yet another season in the middle of the league. I went with Colin on the train from Shildon, via such exotic spots as Hunwick, Willington and Brandon, on a day where it poured down from beginning to end. No Gore Tex in those days so our parkas or gabardine raincoats shipped in the water and we were soaked to the skin. In those days there was nobody wearing replica shirts. I can not quite picture Alderman McKeag, the monocled NUFC Chairman, wearing something akin to a supermarket bar code over his immaculately tailored suit.

When we arrived at Newcastle Central there were people getting back onto trains saying that the match was off. I was all for going home and watching Rugby League on Grandstand but Colin decided otherwise and we walked out to SJP to find the game on and people going in. As the Leazes End was covered we went in there and saw a game spoiled by the rain and then ruined by Ron McGarry scoring the only goal.

That was my first experience and throughout my teens I used to go a few times a season with Barry Stannard and Barry Gilmore when I couldn’t get to a Sunderland away game. Clearly I wanted them to lose, but there was never the loathing that exists between the two clubs now. In fact, I saw four of the home games in their Fairs Cup winning year, the last time they won a trophy. I would have been four the last time this “Big Club” won a domestic competition.

In the early 70s I would pay the odd visit. My younger brother thought himself a Liverpool fan and I took him the day McDonald scored a hat trick on his debut but my visits tailed off after that. In fact, the only times since 73 I have set foot in the place, other than when we have been playing there, were to see Blyth Spartans play Wrexham and a couple of Euro 96 games.

I have had some good moments at the Cess Pit. A 3-0 win in 1967 (Mulhall, O’Hare and Martin), Gary Rowell’s hat trick and, best of all, the play off game in 1990. I was stood in line with Fat Burridge as Marco slipped the ball past him to clinch it on another very wet night. I clearly remember Gary Owers blocking a free kick with one of the bravest challenges I have ever seen and the idiotic Mag at the end jumping on his scarf in the centre circle. The walk back to the car was fraught with danger as it was impossible not to have a smile as wide as the Tyne so we kept our heads down as the hybrids went mad.

Football has changed so much over the years that the tribalism that has always been at its heart has become much more intense. The fact that people have to be bussed in with police helicopters circling above is in some ways a condemnation of the way that we play and follow the game. Peter Horan was at the last win at SJP. He sat with Mags and he said that the feeling of hatred was quite worrying. I’m sure that I nodded in agreement – and then displayed exactly the same base animal instincts when they next came calling at the Stadium.

No, I don’t like them and if we can beat them on Sunday, the world will take on a rosy glow that will last until the next time we have to play them. The ultimate dream for this season was that they would finish one place below us – and we finished 17th. That’s not going to happen but it would be lovely to finish above them and see Ashley’s fat, almost bankrupt face as the Toon Army (ridiculous name for ridiculous people) turn on him. Here’s hoping.

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