A few of the Newcastle United supporters who have come here this week have made the claim, in different ways, that Sunderland fans care that much more about Newcastle United than vice versa.
It is debatable whether this is really the case, but when you look at this paragraph from the BBC website, repeating a fact that is hardly unknown to most passionate SAFC or NUFC supporters, you begin to realise why we care an awful lot:
Sunderland have only won on two of the last 21 occasions they’ve hosted their rivals since 1967, with Kieran Richardson’s rocket of a free-kick three years ago bringing their only win in nine played at the Stadium of Light.
The formbook matters little in determining whether Sunderland can improve on that sorry record.
Yes, SAFC finished 10th, thanks to a decent end to an unconvincing second half of the season, while Newcastle, only two places behind but a club in apparent turmoil, might be viewed by some as logical 2011-2012 relegation candidates. But we all know that even in another Toon Doon season, which is frankly unlikely in any case, they could raise their game in the two encounters with Sunderland. Because they – the club, as well as the fans – do care.
Derby days are exciting, inspirational … and sometimes excruciatingly painful. However nostalgic I feel about the North East, I am not sure I’d like to be permanently resident again during the derby periods. And I am not alone in finding the occasions too intense for comfort.
Before the massacre of St James’ Park last year, our Mag “Who Are You?” volunteer, the writer and broadcaster Keith Topping said: “I work in an office three-quarters full of Macks, I know the true cost of defeat on a highly personal level. I tend to have the attitude of just wanting to get them out of the way, have two 1-1 draws and then get on the rest of the season. Because, as we all know, our players are complete gits and never do what we expect of them.”
Now, I wouldn’t suggest for a second that Keith would later have been willing to trade in 5-1 for a draw. But I bet he feels essentially the same today.
And our own Jeremy Robson, who hardly adopts a -“ha’way, we’re all north-easterners after all” approach to Wear/Tyne rivalries, said in response: “I can relate very much to what Keith says about not liking derby games. You are dead right, mate; there’s far too much riding on it to actually enjoy them.”
Though yes, Jeremy did add: “When Richardson’s free kick went in, it was canny mind!”
All of which goes to illustrate the mixed feelings many of us have about the process. We all desperately want to win, but the three points irrationally take second place to the desire for moral ascendancy during the ensuing work/college/school days in mixed R&W/B&W environments.
Buy me at the Salut! Sunderland Shop
If I look back over derbies I have attended, watched on TV, heard on the radio or – worst of all – heard about later, I can remember few really happy days.
The Rowell hat-trick, the playoff second leg, the successive 2-1 wins at St James’ Park and, yes, that Richardson free kick … each gave a memorable glow. The Mag would recall the 4-1 win at the SoL, far too many easy wins at SJP even before the Oct 31 mauling. But wouldn’t we both also struggle to forget all the turgid games, including scraped or badly conceded draws? Among those, I certainly wouldn’t minimise how painful almost every second of last season’s equivalent of Saturday’s game was until Gyan’s lucky late equaliser.
I watched that last one in a Malaysian bar; I was virtually alone but still felt embarrassed at my club’s display.
How many Sunderland supporters were left, last October, feeling like Claire? “We sloped away disappointed and just wanted to get home,” she wrote. “And as soon as I got in the house, it was completely in the past … I got stuck into Halloween stuff with the bairn and I couldn’t have give a monkey’s jumper. It just doesn’t matter that much to me. Of course, it matters a lot to others, but this time not me.”
Not many, I suspect. However turbulent derby days may be, most of us will continue to get wound up by them.
And if only we were all a bit older. If the present age of both sets of fans was 110+, we’d have different reasons to brag about the 1908-1909 season.
Who ran away with the Division One title? Newcastle United, seven points ahead of Everton and nine ahead of us. But what happened in the derbies? As every Mackem schoolboy should know and every Mag should be made to repeat 100 times daily, we beat ’em 3-1 at home and, er, 9-1 away.
But then you’d have to be obsessed to remember that.
* Maybe we should all go out and buy Ian Black’s book Geordies Vs Mackems and Mackems Vs Geordies: Why Tyneside is Better Than Wearside and Why Wearside is Better Than Tyneside. Get it dirt cheap at Amazon