County cricket tean = Durham, county football team = Sunderland. OK, you have to be nearly 40 to have been alive when Sunderland was a proud part of County Durham. All the same, that’s how lots of people still see things. But at the Riverside ground (can we still call it that?), Pete Sixsmith saw today how that cricket team soothes the mutual antagonism of SAFC and NUFC supporters. The tribes came together to celebrate and acclaim another wonderful county championship title for Paul Collingwood and his men. After just four Premier League games, it might be harsh to write off PDC’s team as County Chumps. Durham CCC, however, are absolutely County Champs …
There are few things that bring Sunderland and Newcastle United fans together – a visceral dislike of Chelsea perhaps, a love of ham and pease pudding – but support for Durham County Cricket Club is maybe the only important one.
Mackems and Mags will just about forget their tribal loyalties and wholeheartedly agree on the captaincy qualities of Paul Collingwood (a proud Mackem) and the bowling skills of Graham Onions (for his sins, a Mag – sorry, I can’t resist it).
At 1420 Mark Stoneman hit the winning boundary and the ever growing crowd whooped in delight and Red and Whites hugged Black and Whites and the County Championship came back to the North East for the third time in five years.
This was the most unlikely triumph as every pundit from Land’s End to John O’Groats had tipped Durham to accompany Derbyshire to the depths of the Second Division and trips to a desolate Grace Road and a reunion with an overweight Robert Key at Canterbury.
The same experts had said the title was a shoo-in for Surrey, with Ponting, Smith, Dernbach, Tremlett and the ghosts of Peter May and the Bedser Twins hovering above Kennington Oval. They look likely to be relegated to the immense satisfaction of every Durham follower I have spoken to.
Collingwood has led a team that is made up of North Eastern players (with a couple of Aussies, South Africans and a Jamaican thrown in) and who have crushed, among others, Surrey twice, Nottinghamshire twice, Derbyshire twice and Yorkshire in the game of the season at Scarborough a month ago.
Ten games were won, including the last five as they pulled away from Yorkshire and Sussex, culminating in today’s heartwarming 50 minutes as grown men and women applauded the team off and then gave huge ovations to Collingwood and the head coach Geoff Cook, who had almost died after a heart attack suffered while out running near his Chester-le-Street home.
Collingwood spoke eloquently of his love and affection for the county and for his players, and they will, in private, reciprocate about him. He exudes dignity and pride and is a perfect example for any young man or woman who is getting into professional sport.
He has a strong contingent of Sunderland-born players with him: Phil Mustard, known to one and all as the Colonel, Chris Rushworth, the Colonel’s cousin and a proud parent who is often seen trundling round the ground with the pushchair, and Scott Borthwick, a revelation this year having been transformed from a spin bowler who bats a bit into a batsman who is a very good bowler. I hopethey are all of the Red and White persuasion.
0ur two football clubs have very few local lads in their teams. Jack Colback is the only home grown one we possess and Adam Johnson is a returnee. Up the road, they have Steven Taylor and Shola Ameobi. Not a great record is it?
We have Italians, Koreans, Czechs and what seems like 101 other nationalities, while our neighbours have a liking for French footballers. It would be a good thing for the region, the fans and loudmouths like Greg Dyke and Martin Samuel if we could be more like the cricketers.
I look forward to seeing the victorious team parading the trophy around a packed Stadium of Light when we play Liverpool a week on Sunday – and to seeing Sunderland gain our second consecutive win.