1: Sunderland 2: Newcastle United 3: Middlesbrough – could we live with that?

That was not quite how David Athey* had the running order. David is Monsieur Salut’s cousin and a lifelong Newcastle supporter. He’s all for passionate rivalry but the pipe dream suggested in the headline (once re-arranged to suit his tastes) reflects a deeper view, that the North East looks a little sad when those passions descend into pure hatred …

“Season 2012-2013: Premier League placings:

Champions: Newcastle United
Second: Sunderland
Third: Middlesbrough”

Yes, I accept that this is an unlikely scenario, but I am allowed my pipe dream, am I not?

You will gather from my order of preference that my loyalties lie fairly and squarely at St James’ Park (not to be confused with Ashley’s Sports Direct Arena – “ASDA” for short). You will also gather however that I am not a vitriolic opponent of the Black Cats or the Smoggies.

The first football match my father took me to was circa 1955 at St James’ Park and I was hooked.

Most supporters begin and maintain a lifetime of club loyalty in this way. You can’t subsequently change that loyalty. It is part of your identity. It also explains why I and tens of thousands of other misguided souls continue to support the Toon, despite a conspicuous lack of success over the years. The passage of time prevents me from continuing to boast about our Fairs Cup success in 1969 (and the most ardent supporter can’t boast about the 2006 Intertoto Cup).

Sunderland of course has a much more recent history of success, winning the FA Cup as recently as 1973! It is almost yesterday (well 2004) that the Boro won the League Cup.

Jake' s art

Set against this background of mainly abject failure on the part of all three clubs, I have, for the past four decades and more, been amazed and dismayed at the level of hostility oft demonstrated by their respective supporters towards the other two clubs.

In the late fifties and early sixties (I was only a schoolboy then of course) I would often go to Roker Park when Newcastle were playing away and I would support Sunderland wholeheartedly. Why wouldn’t you support a North East team, especially one graced by the likes of Charlie Hurley (totally dominant mountain of a man), George Herd (incredible skill on the ball), Stan Anderson (an attacking wing-half of the highest calibre), and one of the best, if unsung, outside-lefts (as they called them in those days) I have ever seen in George Mulhall (speed, balance, ball control, ferocious shot, heading ability and work-rate)? Half a century on, I can still name the entire Sunderland team of that era. However lest you think that I had swapped my black stripes for red ones, let me assure you that when it game to derby games, I could be heard roundly booing the same players who only the previous week I had been roaring on!

I attended school in North Shields. My school year was evenly divided between supporters of both Newcastle and Sunderland (I believe that there may be historical reasons and am aware that north of the Tyne and in Northumberland there remain even to this day large pockets of Sunderland support in places which you might think would be diehard black and white).

When the Magpies (we didn’t call them the Toon in those days did we?) played Sunderland at Roker Park, we would hire a bus and the 50 of us, both Newcastle and Sunderland supporters, would not only travel to the game together but we would also stand together in the Fulwell end, sporting our respective colours and cheering ourselves hoarse. On one occasion, a pal of mine even “borrowed” the school bell, which he painted red and white and rang enthusiastically throughout the match. Why didn’t I get there first? Naturally there was plenty of good humoured banter, but the rivalry never descended into the naked hostility that is all too apparent today.

Join the Salut! Sunderland Facebook group – click anywhere along this line

And follow us on Twitter: @salutsunderland … click along this line

Click anywhere on this sentence for a glance at the home page – and highlights of all the most recent articles including everything Tyne-Wear derby …

Having already singled out some Sunderland players of yesteryear for special mention, let me redress the balance by recalling the likes of Jim Iley (a most cultured wing-half), John McGrath (almost as good, if not as totemic, as Charlie Hurley), Wyn “the Leap” Davies (renowned for his fearless ability to tackle with his head!) and importantly Stan Anderson. This is the same Stan Anderson who I mentioned above as a Sunderland player and is one of a select few to make the transition from one North East club to another. He also became the first player to captain all three North East teams and was and admired and respected by all. I am too young (yes really) to recall the signing by Middlesbrough in 1905 of Alf Common from Sunderland for a British record of £1,000, but can recall the more recent example of Bob Moncur moving from Newcastle to Sunderland.

Click here for the Martin O’Neill ‘Team of all Talents’ mug: £9.50, post-free for UK buyers, from the Salut! Sunderland Shop

Although subsequently a frequent attender at St James’ Park over the years, I had not seen much of Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. However a couple of seasons ago a friend from Manchester asked me to get tickets for City’s game at Sunderland. I did so and went along with him thinking I would be happy just to see a good game of football, whoever won.

How wrong can you be? Any objectivity went out of the window as my old affection for the Red ‘n Whites resurfaced within the first five minutes. The crowning glory came when Carlos Tevez missed an open goal from a yard out, allowing Sunderland to run out 1-0 winners.

I was positively upset last weekend when Sunderland’s excellent progress under Martin (“the Messiah”) O’Neil stuttered at West Brom. I also took it personally when only 26,042 turned up recently to see Sunderland beat Arsenal in the Cup. Having said all that, I still rejoice over “our” demolition of Sunderland at home last season, and will be looking for a repeat performance at St James’ this weekend!

So yes, local rivalry is good and stimulating, but when it degenerates into pointless tribalism of the worst sort, then it just shows North East football support to be parochial and rather pathetic. Why not buck the trend by demonstrating respect and sportsmanship particularly towards our local rivals?

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful boost for the North East as a whole if my pipe dream came true? In your dreams!

* David Athey on David Athey:

I am content to own up to being your cousin. I am recently retired and, like you, love football. My ability was in inverse proportion to my affection for the game. Played left back at Uni (when I had decent pace and fitness). Moved to central defence when pace and fitness diminished (responsibilities of work, family etc). Continued playing (latterly in the Sunderland and District Over 40s League) until I was 62. Most of my football was played south of the Tyne, as the odd “scrape” was inevitable and perhaps not to be recommended in “my own back yard”. Ultimately decided (or was it my team mates?) that the future of the team did not lie with a 62-year-old. An operation for a detached retina hastened the decision. Continue to be involved as team secretary (not the same as playing). The Over 40s league is, I understand, the biggest of its sort in the country, ahead of similar leagues in Liverpool and London. Teams stretch from Blyth down to Richmond. There are 73 teams in five divisions. Great crowd of lads whoever they support.

** In a similar vein
(published just before we eased past Boro in the FA Cup): https://safc.blog/2012/02/beat-boro-overhaul-newcaste-but-cling-to-regional-common-ground/

4 thoughts on “1: Sunderland 2: Newcastle United 3: Middlesbrough – could we live with that?”

  1. A few years ago I got talking with a Mag on a train, we were talking about how the rivalry of the past had turned into very nasty hatred. He told me he had attended Ollie Burton’s testimonial at Sid James’ Park in the close season of 1973, Sunderland were the visitors. He remembered our lads parading around the pitch before the game with our newly won FA Cup and that the home fans warmly applauded our achievement. To be honest I found this hard to believe so I related his version of events to a skunk, er I mean a Newcastle-supporting work-mate of mine. He remembered the match but he said we were roundly booed and jeered at from all sides of the ground. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle, maybe the rowdy elements in the Barbara Windsor end gave us abuse, while the more mature fans in the Charles Hawtrey Paddock politely applauded. Maybe I’m taking this Sid James’ Park joke too far…….carry on.

  2. I’m a Geordie and a proud NUFC fan but I thought I’d have a look around the Sunderland pages to check out the banter etc from your fans point of view for a change being derby week.

    This article is actually a breath of fresh air to be honest. We forget that it wasn’t that long ago that this hatred didn’t even exist really.

    In fact I was watching an old Auf Wiedersehen Pet the other day and there’s a part where they’re all over the moon because they can pick up the radio signal to a Sunderland game they wanted to listen to!

    Can’t imagine many opposing fans doing that these day can you?

    I’m really looking forward to this weekend because, not least, this should be one of the most closely fought derby games for years as both teams are very good on their day and Martin O’Neill is working his usual magic right now.

    Obviously I’m hoping for a Newcastle win from my point of view but I think this will be a cracking game. Cant wait!

  3. A brilliant piece and I, wholeheartedly, concur with your comments on rivalry v tribalism!

    When my family moved to the N.E. we lived in Newcastle and I used to, sometimes, go with friends to SJP as one of them used to receive free tickets (his father wrote the schools football section for the Chronicle).

    What was strange, though, was that I never felt any desire to support the team and (if truth be known) my enjoyment came from “winding up” my friends by cheering for whoever they were playing.

    At that time I could not be classed as a supporter of any club and it wasn’t until the end of ’62 that my lifelong love affair started with SAFC.

    Nevertheless, even after that bond was established, I still used to pay the odd visit to SJP and saw (I think) every home game in the ICFC, including the final, when my overwhelming memory is of the crowd keeping up the United, United chant for most of the game.

    The volume was, simply, amazing!

    Over the years both clubs have had some superb players and some that were not fit to clean their boots.

    For every Wyn Davies there has been a Wayne Entwhistle and for every Jim Montgomery there has been a Gordon Marshall.

    Talking of the latter, do you remember when Alex Dawson put him and the ball in the back of the United net?

    As they say, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be”!

    • WRONG sign off!

      I think that I SHOULD have said “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be”

      Does anyone believe that?

Comments are closed.

Next Post