A posting at the main Salut! site, which you can see by clicking this link, mentions the subject only in passing, but it was sufficient to inspire a cartoonist, James Benn, to come up with a great illustration. It got me thinking: we’re all meant to hate the Mags, they hate us. We both used to hate Boro, and them us, but what with all that’s happened down on Teesside, we’ve all but forgotten one another’s existence. Maybe we should just all get a life …
Pete Sixsmith made a telling comment here the other day that should have made every thinking Sunderland supporter reconsider the kneejerk anti-Mag mantras they – we – adopt, and vice versa.
He was reacting to Jeremy Robson’s amusing look at the story of the two lads, from either side of the Wear-Tyne divide, who had a wager on who would finish higher: the loser had to go to the other club’s shop and buy and wear a top.
“At Stephen Wilson’s funeral in August 2009, the eulogy was given by his mate, Brian Neil. Brian was a dyed in the wool Mag who had played for Shildon Sunderland Supporters and had worn a kind of red and white shirt but who would no more wear a SAFC strip than I would a NUFC one. After a wonderful eulogy, which showed Brian’s class as well as Stephen’s, he ripped off his shirt to reveal a proper red and white Sunderland shirt. A very moving moment which shows that, at the end of the day, football is only a game and that friendship and love transcends all.”
Leaving aside the thought process (and allegiance) of the one reader who ticked the thumbs-down icon, and who may well be a care-in-the-community case, it was a sentiment most decent people, whoever they support, would find uplifting and right.
That is not to argue for the abolition of banter. It can be funny, motivating and, when it stops short of brutishness, utterly harmless.
But if we are from the North East, grew up there or spent long enough there to form an attachment to one club or the other, it is almost inconceivable that our friends, classmates, colleagues or lovers did not include some who supported the opposition.
The cartoon, used with something I wrote for Mother & Baby (honest) about becoming a grandfather, says it all for me. Little Maya will be encouraged by her grandpa to support Sunderland. Grandpa will hope that since the Newcastle-supporting father is his daughter’s former partner, albeit a doting dad, paternal influence on her footballing decisions will be slight.
But what can I do about it if she decides Toon is for her? Or glory seeks an attachment to Barcelona or Arsenal, or simply dismisses football as uninteresting? Stop loving her?
Among my family in the North East is a household of Boro supporters – the address has moved to Acklam but was so close to Ayresome Park in the dark old days that a football-related murder once happened not far from the front door.
A cousin is a Mag, as were other cousins, aunties and uncles before him. But the family was scattered so widely around the region that it is hardly surprising we ended up supporting different teams. One close pal showed no interest whatsoever in football when we were both in our teens, metamorphosed between visits into a Newcastle supporter but then switched to following, quite passionately, Boro while always quite liking Sunderland. Get that if you can.
My suspicion, indeed my knowledge, is that lots of people who read Salut! Sunderland regularly can produce similar mixed-up tales of friends and family with conflicting or unexpected clashes of loyalty. Your stories will be most welcome ….