Beat Middlesbrough, overhaul Newcastle but cling to regional common ground

... where we all start rail journeys home from London

If you grow up in the North East, there is a very good chance that your family will be spread around the region so that aunties, uncles, siblings, cousins and the rest end up supporting different football teams.

Image of Kings Cross, starting or finishing point for all London-NE rail journeys, from Barry Lewis’s Flickr photos

So it was – and remains – in my own family. My sister has lived most of her life in Middlesbrough; there was a football-related murder close to her home in 1980, when she was living near Ayresome Park and Nottingham Forest “supporters” attacked a 17-year-old local lad (roughly how I remember it, but the detail is taken from an ITV web page about the old Tyne Tees programme Shoot).

So sister notionally supports Boro, as – with rather more passion in some cases – do her sons and daughters, all now adults.

A cousin who has lived only in Tynemouth and Whitley Bay is a lifelong Newcastle United supporter. Aunts and uncles, long dead, from Wallsend and Byker had similar Toon leanings if they cared at all. And a Ryhope connection in the family goes back so far that a certain Uncle Peter could have been shouting for Sunderland when we beat Newcastle United 9-1 at St James’ Park in 1908 (though I am not sure how many Sunderland fans were allowed by police to gain admission).

One of my oldest friends, Darlington-born of Irish parentage showed no interest in football at all when we were young, then popped up in his 30s as a Newcastle supporter before changing allegiance to Boro, an attachment that has held. Despite fondness he also expresses for Sunderland, especially with the Irish connections of recent years, I fully expect him to be at Riverside tonight, yelling himself hoarse for the home team.

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

For all these conflicts of family loyalty, I never wavered in my own allegiance. At a very young age, I did go through a phase of liking Peterborough a lot, but that was just a brief fling, a spot of Midland League gloryseeking (what glamour!). Sunderland was in County Durham and so was I, and SAFC was the county team the same as Durham was the county cricket team. I didn’t even invoke old Uncle Peter, not least because I was unaware he had existed.

I can never forget that Kate Adie quote from one of my interviews with her for ALS or Wear Down South, about the slight feeling of snootiness she felt as a proper Sunderland lass when walking to Roker Park on matchdays:

I remember thinking how curious it was as you got nearer the ground to see all these rather ancient buses full of supporters from Tow Law or Spennymoor or Crook.

They seemed such far-off places. The small towns and pit villages were somehow seen as separate from Sunderland, and the one time that the divide was breached was at the match.

But never, in Shildon or later when I lived up in Stanley (the one near Consett) or Newton Aycliffe, did I have cause to question the certainty of my Sunderland support, the earliest origins of which I trace to being taken by my dad to the Boro-SAFC match in which Brian Clough scored our winner. If that makes me sound ancient, there could be a good reason for it.

As far as regional rivalries are concerned, these are rightly lived with passion, though I draw the line long before the ferocity shown by so many.

And I loved this, from yesterday’s Boro “Who are You?” volunteer Iain Lazenby:

Living outside the area and having lived abroad it’s easier to see what unites us rather than what divides us. I think the rivalry with Sunderland – so strong – and to a lesser extent Newcastle is so strong because we are brothers and sisters who suffer from similar problems and who have a similar outlook. A strong North East is a challenge to the Cockerneys, Scousers and Mancs and that can’t be bad even if we have to swallow the baleful influence of Black and White TV broadcasting from the Tyne. I would settle for Boro and Sunderland doing well with the Geordies doomed to an eternal struggle against relegation.

For me, my brother and parents the moment of truth was the FA Cup final of 1973. Who did we hate most? Sunderland or Leeds? We started the match wanting both to lose but when Ian Porterfield scored, we are all on our feet. It made our promotion the next season even sweeter though.

Newcastle fans would disagree, of course, but I think that says it all for a good proportion of us, whether born or adopted northerners (my parents were Londoners who moved to Co Durham when I was a few months old). I’d love to see the three big clubs in the Premier, with Sunderland regaining top dog statu of course, and I’d be delighted to have Hartlepool in the Championship, Darlington in League 1 and Shildon top of the Conference.

A start to this dream can be made after tonight, when I naturally hope we turn in a great performance to maintain the O’Neill momentum, with Boro sufficiently emboldened by honourable defeat to go on and confirm a place in the playoffs.

Further reading:

* The Boro “Who are You?”: SAFC to finish 6th top, Boro to reach 6th round

* Georgia’s tale: when Sunderland/Newcastle tribalism loses meaning

* The Newcastle fan who wants Sunderland success

* Tribute to a great lad who happened to be a Mag

And whoever got the ‘ell out of Newcastle, very briefly making it Newcaste in the headline as originally posted, has been shot or fired.

Monsieur Salut

16 thoughts on “Beat Middlesbrough, overhaul Newcastle but cling to regional common ground”

  1. My Grandfather came down from Scotland in1896(football was in its infancy) to work at Durham Cathedral as a mason he lived at Eighton Banks and loved football although it would have been far easier to support Newcastle he decided Sunderland were his team and 116 years and 3 generations later the whole family are still ardent Sunderland supporters. Spread all over the world Australia South Africa USA and the Fens each and everyone has sustained the legacy of me old granddad. It would be immpossibe to turn your back on Sunderland and remain part of the family. It is entrenched in our DNA and it would be unthinkable to support anyone else. We do watch other teams and I still remember going to Redheugh Park to watch Gateshead and Crook Town at St James Park evn Blthe Spartans but never the other lot. It was dangerous the Elswick, Byker Wallsend mob of violent Phycopaths in the 70’s who were all looking for a fight and usually found one, had no interest in football

  2. You know what I hate Hilary? What really gets on my wick is the way Newcastle are the media’s darlings. They talk about their fans as if their devotion to their team is somehow stronger and more special than anyone elses. What piffle, tosh and balderdash!! And don’t get me started on this mythical number nine shirt nonsense! Grrrrrrr….

    • Agree, Jake. Alan Shearer’s smug omnipresence as high end football pundit reinforces the myth. I am impressed with Pardew’s performance as manager-although Hughton put in the spade work, and we know that Ashley could send it all crashing down at any time. What Sunderland have is grounded and stable and we can build upon that . I see Newcastle’s renaissance as a temporary one-and even their most rabid supporters probably sense that.

      • It is without doubt Newcastle fans’ assumption of privilege that amplifies my hatred for them. Realise every fan of the club is different, but i could count on one hand the amount of Newcastle fans i have had a debate with who have offered rational and logical reasons for them being ‘better’ than us. The arguement they offer regarding attendances infuriates me the most. They have the largest catchment area in the country surely? Spotting them everywhere in their tops as well (nightclubs when abroad? put a shirt on like everyone else!), and the way cameras will zoom in on one if spotted at Wimbledon, for example, on Centre Court, just…..who cares? Well i do, obviously, but not in the way the media think we all do.

  3. God, the Teesside smell… When I was commuting from Bishop Auckland, you could literally sometimes see the cloud from ICI hanging over the place as you drove in. I remember once a guy falling into the river. He died but not from drowning…
    Hard on Mowbray? Maybe. Yes, he’s better than Strachan but I don’t think he IS doing the job he needs to do. Assuming Boro do get promoted this year, I can see them next year hovering yet again around the relegation zone – not like Swansea or Norwich who have come on like gangbusters. Or even, last season, Blackpool who were a really entertaining addition to the Premiership and who, if Ian Holloway had had a bit more money to play with, would surely have stayed up.
    I’ve been rude here about “Middlesbore” but I’d love to see three northeastern clubs in the Premiership. It could only be good. But there has to be a fundamental change in philosophy at Riverside, otherwise Harry Pearson will never be proved wrong.

  4. I worked in Middlesbrough in the late ’60s and occasionally covered Boro Reserves games for the Evening Gazette. It was depressed then, though in a different way, and totally depressing when I was back there briefly in 2010.
    I keep coming back to what Harry Pearson wrote here a couple of weeks ago: “That’s what Boro essentially are, a top-half Championship team maybe too good for there but not quite good enough for the Premier.”
    It’s a harsh thing to say but for the longest time they’ve seemed like perpetual also-rans. They lack the fire in the belly that Sunderland and Newcastle both have. A “decent man” like Mowbray isn’t what they need to snap them out of that, especially someone who, as Malcolm says, always looks and sounds miserable. Even if he gets a brilliant win, a guy like that sucks the energy out of it. Boro need someone full of piss and vinegar, a latter-day Brian Clough, which seems unlikely to happen.
    I love Malcolm’s comment, “In our youth, the world was defined by where the buses went.” Yeah, you knew you were somewhere “foreign” when you didn’t recognize the bus company colours. We all had rattles and rosettes in those days, too. Whatever happened…

    • Yes Bill, Middlesbrough has always been depressing. As a child I remember the smell of ICI lingering everywhere-sulphurous and toxic. I was always glad to come back to Sunderland. However it has become ever more deprived and the University is one of the few things left that brings the outside into the area. Mowbray is no Clough, but he represents something decent and dignified and is a good manager. I think you are hard on him-he may not have a sunny disposition but that doesnt necessarily mean he cant do the job. He has worked marvels since Strachan left-now there was a miserable manager.

  5. While I clearly hope and believe we will win tonight, I genuinely hope that Boro get promoted. Put aside all prejudices, a number of people recently lost their jobs at Boro as a result of the loss of the parachute payment and I understand that Mowbray has stated that all, without exception, will be offered their jobs back if they are promoted. That statement alone is enough for me to support them ahead of any others in that league.
    Compare and contrast with grasping West Ham.

  6. I have to say, soft spot though I have for the Boro, I find it hard to feel any warmth for Newcastle. I think thats due in part to the sense of entitlement that the supporters feel. However, I have to admit that under Pardew and with what looks like a potentially dynamic combination of Ba and Cisse up front, I can see for once some real justification for the fans grandiosity. Damn it !

  7. Your thoughts will ring lots of bells with those who like you and I are of a certain age and moved out of the area before the saturation coverage of Sky, increasing affluence and improved infrastructure changed the football world and our perceptions of it.

    In our youth, the world was defined by where the buses went. Televised football was one game on “Match of the Day” (which retains its singular title despite now showing highlights from all games) or “Shoot” in the North East which showed the 5 NE teams.

    This, Mike Neville, “The Lambton Worm”, the homogenous nature of our communities (mining village in my case) etc. all engendered a North East perspective, rather than a blinkered one team view.

    This was further strengthened when I went to college in London and encountered some very ignorant and jaundiced views of the area.

    But the world has changed. There are still many of us who take Sir Bobby Robson’s view that things are best when all the regions teams are doing well – just as long as ours is doing best. But then we are products of an era gone forever, even if it was only a few years ago.

  8. We do all have regional common ground and in a period of economic decline, more in common than we would wish.

    I made a rare visit to Middlesbrough last week and was struck by how depressed parts of it looked. I have a soft spot for the Boro and know what a difference a successful football club can make to a community in otherwise hard times. I obviously hope and believe that we will win tonight, but that we do so gently. Boro played some stylish football in the game at the SoL

    Mowbray is a decent man doing a great job with restricted resources and an increasing injury tally. If Bryan Robson had showed the same application and patience a decade or 2 ago who knows where the Boro would be They are in that viscious circle of needing promotion to enhance their finances but not being financed well enough to quite make promotion. I hope I am wrong – they deserve some luck, but not tonight.

  9. May I add Gateshead back in league 2? It’s an injustice the way they weren’t re-elected at the first time of asking.

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