How can’t you love the Mags?

Jeremy Robson
Jeremy Robson

If Salut! Sunderland aspires to be one of the more literate of football’s independent one-club sites, the Blackcats forum is already home to some of the game’s most intelligent, sharp-witted discussion. Among the messages posted by regulars, you will find incisive match analysis, bags of reminiscences and – between each game – a steady flow of general banter about Sunderland, the North East and more.

Lately it has been positively buzzing. Step forward Jeremy Robson*, whose return to the fold (albeit from the snowy wastes of Canada) has brought a torrent of new topics and lively debate. Here, he addresses the question in the headline with a classic mixture of wit, wisdom and bluster…

They say we live in an ever shrinking world. Distances contract, physically, or at least in the sense that it takes us less time to travel greater distances, or virtually by making distant parts of the world seem much closer than they really are due to advances in telecommunications technology.

When I was a youngster growing up in Murton, one of many colliery villages scattered across County Durham, the city and the inhabitants of Newcastle seemed a long way away.

Sure, we used to go there sometimes, but not that often. The quayside market on a Sunday morning was a common destination. Black and white stripes and Newcastle United was another matter. You didn’t go there, and never thought about going there, well at least I didn’t. St James’ Park seemed a long way away, but was brought into our homes courtesy of Tyne Tees Television, and the familiar tones of George Taylor, the erstwhile presenter of Shoot.
geordies v mackems
In my youth I used to be able to perform a very passable impersonation of George Taylor.

I never saw myself as a threat to Mike Yarwood, exactly and unless I find myself in the company of people who grew up during the 1970s in North East England there is little point in impersonating George. I should say my party piece used to be followed immediately by a less competent attempt at emulating Doug Moscrop, the racing correspondent from The Journal and resident tipster on Sportstime – alongside George of course.

Attempting this double header would be wasted on the majority these days. Sunday afternoons back in those days gave you the chance to see one of the big three in action at home. Sunderland, Newcastle Utd and Middlesbro’ on different weeks depending on the fixtures. Wyn Davies, Supermac, Kenny Hibbitt, Benny Arentoft, Olly Burton were regulars on the black and white screen in our front room. In some respects they were as familiar as our players from those days, the likes of Kerr, Hughes, Porterfield, Malone etc.

Back then, the Mags were seen as neighbours rather than the bitter rivals that they have become in the intervening three to four decades.

It has to be said that I grew up in a staunchly Sunderland supporting area where the only time you would see Newcastle supporters would be on the telly or at derby matches. We had very little to do with them, and little in common by all accounts.

There were no kids in our school wearing their colours. This was not for fear of recrimination, it was simply that it just didn’t even enter your head. We didn’t even know any Mags. Your Dad didn’t work with any and you weren’t even related to them.

Back then it didn’t seem to matter even if you were, as travelling to visit relations on Tyneside required serious logistical planning, and a thorough knowledge of the Northern and United bus timetables as still relatively few people owned cars.

It was probably as easy to get to Scarborough or Whitby as the Tyneside area.

I am aware of course that some of our fans originate from towns and villages which are split between ourselves and THEM. Some of you will have gone to school and been mates with Mags. Their relationship with Mags may well have been different.

There seems little doubt these days that the rivalry and enmity between the two clubs is greater than at any time in history. Maybe it’s because there is more TV coverage of football than there ever was before; the plethora of internet bulletin boards, fans’ web sites etc all facilitate the immediate exchange of information, opinion and often venom between different groups of supporters.

People travel more, and commute longer distances to work, meaning that there is more personal contact between us and them. The distance has shrunk adding spice and intensity to the rivalry between red and white and black and white.

I’m not sure why I started thinking about this as a happily married man. My wife has no real interest in football at all. I’m convinced though, that had she followed football and supported the Mags that I couldn’t have loved her, and certainly wouldn’t have lived with her or married her. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t love a woman that loved something that I disliked so much, and vice versa. I couldn’t imagine living with someone who would be wanting us to get beat every time I went off to the match. I just couldn’t! It would have been simply impossible. The thought of children of mine wearing black and white!. They would have to go up for adoption!

And this was the question I posed on the Blackcats list: could you love a Mag?

One well known contributor was of the view that he couldn’t marry a Mag but that he had happily gone along with the FTM maxim on countless occasions.

Another one of our fans remarked that he hadn’t married one, but that his Dad and his aunts were all Mags. It must have been really interesting round their house at Christmas! Another contributor who just happened to be born on May 5 1973 was born into a whole family of Mags and still shook it off. This is what he said, and I quote:

They constantly complain that their Christmas cards never reach them. It’s not my fault that the postman chucks them simply because I write “Near Sunderland” after “Newcastle upon Tyne”.

One of the most amusing tales was of a Mackem lass who was courting a Mag lad, who proposed to her. She accepted his proposal on the basis that he convert to red and white and invest in decent season tickets for the pair of them.

This couple have now been happily married for 10 years and have a red and white daughter! Maybe I was wrong when I said that I couldn’t have married my wife. I realise now that had I been faced with the dilemma of marrying a Mag or not, I would just have had to work hard to change her.

Jeremy Robson on Jeremy Robson
I’ve supported SAFC for forty years. My first game was a 0-0 draw against Sheffield Wednesday back in the late 60s. Rather remarkably I’ve never tried to trace the precise date. Now exiled to Canada, so only get to the occasional game. Roker Park was very special to me, and I don’t think that to this day I will ever come to terms with leaving there. The SOL is just not the same. I know that probably it never will be. My favourite Sunderland players of all time are Marco Gabbiadini, Kieron Brady for what he might have otherwise achieved. Darius Kubicki for having the heart of a lion and Garry Bennett for just being himself. I stood in the Clock Stand Paddock at Roker and still miss the crack with Pete Horan, his daughers and of course the Sixer! Our club is unlikely to ever rival Real Madrid but we can live in hope. The health of SAFC has probably never been better and the future is in the hands of the best chairman that we’ve ever had in Niall Quinn. My kids are red and white through and through (well 2/3, the third one has no interest in football at all).

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5 thoughts on “How can’t you love the Mags?”

  1. I worked for a while in Seaham, with lads from Seaham and Murton. They were all staunch Sunderland supporters who perversely, all seemed to hate people from Sunderland, or “F*%&ing Townies” as they called us.

    • My dad felt the same – he would say “never trust a Townie.” When I went to work in Sunderland at around the time of Elvis’s death and when the Sex Pistols were giving Bill Grundy a hard time on TV, I realised how different the dialect was even though I had grown up only seven miles away.

      We were pretty self sufficient in the pit villages at that time and my mates from outside of Hetton were from Easington, Horden, Blackhall, Peterlee, Seaham etc. as I had been to Peterlee Tech after leaving school.

  2. Interesting thing about the buses in the 60s and 70s. I grew up in Hetton and could just about see Murton over the fields from my bedroom window which overlooked the Bull Wells and Eppleton Colliery but I don’t ever remember going there. The buses ran NE/SW to Sunderland and Durham and N/S to N********e and Hartlepool. If ever I went anywhere it would be on a bus route. Plus the fact we went to Secondary School in Houghton so going to Murton was as likely as going to the Arctic (or Middlesbrough).

    Occasionally I might walk over the fields to get to the sea at Seaham Harbour but that took me away from Murton. My dad probably passed through Murton loads of times but 1500 feet underground. Looking back I find it strange remembering just how parochial we were in the pit villages of East Durham!

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