In that wonderful, heartwarming world of bonhomie and banter that is football, the Tyne-Wear derby (yes, I know that reverses the natural order of things, but it is an away game) occupies a special place. Mackems and Geordies may say they loathe one another, but that does not really do justice to the true nature of the relationship.
Loathe, when all is said and done, is just too weak a word. For some.
Other side of the coin? Salut! Sunderland seems to have little trouble finding Mags willing to penetrate enemy territory to the extent of writing for us with enthusiasm and flair – and for nowt – about such games.
We prefer to ask ordinary fans, and cannot always get the big names anyway; Joe Kinnear might have seemed an obvious choice, given the warmth of his feelings for gentlemen of the press, but a spokesman for the Queen’s English Society, which these days represents him, said: “He’s too *&#ing busy, you ^*+$ing c*!#.” Mike Ashley felt we’d misquoted him last time he did it.
So we turned to Paul McMillan*, a good bloke and fellow hack in Abu Dhabi. We saw it as our contribution to the principle of offering care in the community; the poor lad had scorned a glorious boyhood opportunity, growing up in Washington but taking his allegiance across the Tyne on board the Bryan Ferry.
Paul repaid our kindness with the following heap of venom….
Among the unwanted socks, smellies and chocolates I received as Christmas gifts last year was the surprise stocking filler Geordies vs. Mackems: Why Tyneside is better than Wearside by Ian Black.
The book contains a series of jokes, anecdotes and one-liners at the expense of “The Great Unwashed” such as:
Q: What’s the first question in a Sunderland pub quiz?
A: “What are you looking at?”
But what makes this luminary text stand out in the vast sea of Mackem-baiting literature (at least on the shelves of Waterstone’s in Northumberland Street), is that on the reverse cover its title changes to Mackems vs. Geordies: Why Wearside is better than Tyneside.
Read from the “back” to the middle the book changes tact and pokes fun at the proud, upstanding Geordie nation (I’ll not repeat any of them here).
To me, the book sums up the relationship between Newcastle and Sunderland: polar opposites joined at the hip.
Both clubs have large fan bases with the majority of season ticket holders living within spitting distance of the respective grounds, which are less than 10 miles apart. Fans work side by side during the week and any success on the pitch will be lorded over the other side, who will in turn take glee in pointing out the other’s failures.
But it’s the passion for football in the North East that gives derby day an edge not seen in many other parts of the country.
Since the mid-1990s, I would – with a pinch of salt – say relations between the two clubs have been one of “anything you [Newcastle] can do, we’ll try and emulate”.
There was the Stadium of Light and the then chairman Bob Murray’s boast of always making sure there was one more seat than St James’. To be fair to Mr Murray, he never promised to fill them.
There was also – briefly – Sunderland’s big spending policy. But Tor Andre Flo didn’t work out quite as well as Alan Shearer.
Both clubs have also been burned by their choice of managers: think Ruud Guillt for Peter Reid and Kenny Dalglish for Roy Keane.
I refuse to acknowledge the reign of either Souness or Allardyce and I am genetically unable to criticise Keegan, although I still chuckle at the Howard Wilkinson and Malcolm Crosby eras.
Unlike Merseyside, where one family can house Liverpool and Everton fans, in the North East, the saying – usually on Metro Radio – goes: “You’re either Black and White or Red and White.”
This means the hype in the region before a derby is unreal. In the week before kick-off it will be the only topic of conversation in the pubs and clubs, on the radio and in the local papers.
Those who don’t even follow football will take an interest in this fixture and make sure to mention the result to “friends” on the opposite side of the fence.
Not so much to celebrate any progress that season, but to air insults like:
Q. Why wasn’t Jesus born in Sunderland?
A. Because God couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.
Paul, like Alan Sims and Garry Steckles before him, proved so long-winded that we’ve had to split his offering into two. The next instalment – how he responded to our questions – will appear tomorrow or Friday. The serialisation of War and Peace has had to be put on hold.
Paul McMillan on Paul McMillan:
I was born in Gateshead – where most of my family are from – and then had the misfortune to be raised in Washington, Tyne and Wear. This last part is important as it’s a new town, half of which is black and white – the enlightened half – while the rest are just Mackems.
My father says he took me to my first match when I was three, although I have to take his word for it as I have no recollection of that.
My earliest memories of watching Newcastle revolve around being crushed in the “family enclosure” while catching glimpses of Keegan, Waddle and Beardsley (usually just their legs). At half time I would retrieve soggy bags of crisps that were thrown into the stands. Occasionally I would be thrown in the air when we scored. Very occasionally.
I would continue to support Newcastle, despite being asked by Mackem schoolmates to go to reserve games with them. It was part pride, part being able to wind a lot of people up that kept me black and white through the lean years.
After serving an apprenticeship in the Gallowgate corner, I would stand behind the old scoreboard. Later I would have a share in a season ticket for the seats above the Gallowgate goal.
For further reading, I recommend nufc.com – a fountain of knowledge and biting opinion compiled by true fans.