Chris Weatherspoon: The Wear-Tyne Derby IS the biggest in Britain
It was Arthur Hopcraft, in his wonderful book The Football Man, who described football in Britain as a sport whereby 'there is more eccentricity in deliberately disregarding it than in devoting a life to it.' Nowhere is that statement more true than in the north-east.
Tussles between Sunderland and Newcastle are all-encompassing matters. For a week either side of the fixture (even longer, in this case, given the past weekend's international break), the entire region is enveloped in a wild, passionate world of mocking and jeering, chest-thumping and taunting.
It would be wrong to say that, in the wider scheme of things, this derby has a great impact on the footballing world. It has never - and probably will never - come close to the Manchester derby back in April, one which swung the Premier League pendulum firmly into the blue half of the city.
Yet, that is not what derbies are necessarily about. True derbies are ferocious meetings between two sides whose opposition does not come but two times a year; Sunderland and Newcastle fans alike actively hope their rivals lose every week of the season, never mind just when the two come into direct competition.
Nowhere is the derby more anticipated than up here. In this post-Thatcher world (sorry for the politics, but it's true), it consumes lives in such a way that is arguably unhealthy. Indeed, following a 2-1 victory across the Tyne in 2000, one ardent Sunderland fan worked himself into such a frenzy that he promptly dropped down dead. His wife's response? "I'm just glad he died happy."
Other derbies are passionate, of course they are, but none quite match this. Rangers-Celtic perhaps comes closest - but the sheer amount of times those two play one another has dampened the affair. Meanwhile, in the north-east, the contest is arguably getting fiercer by the year. Newcastle's relegation saw tensions grow as Sunderland enjoyed a rare period of supremacy over their neighbours; the recent black and white revival has only intensified ill feeling between the two.
This Sunday's fixture is unlikely to be one for football purists, but the passion and will from each side - both in the stands and on the pitch - will be unmatched anywhere else. Put simply, this is Britain's biggest derby.
PS. Even if you don't fully agree with me, simply vote for my choice after Michael's sheer audacity to erroneously claim Liverpool vs Manchester United is a derby...
Michael Graham: The Wear-Tyne Derby is NOT the biggest in Britain
I must admit I have never really understood the need to try and glorify our derby and attempt to elevate it to this kind of level of importance within the wider footballing world. I can say without reservation that to me the Wear-Tyne derby is the biggest, but when I remove that subjective element from it and approach the question from a purely objective point of view, I struggle to see any reason for a neutral to share my sentiments.
A game between Sunderland and Newcastle does not determine where the Premier League title ends up like, for example, the Manchester derby did at the Etihad last season, and nor does it have a past history of doing so. Neither club ever really contests for s prize worthy of any kind of an added edge at all.
The Wear-Tyne derby is rich in passion, admittedly, but so what? What derby isn't? The Old Firm certainly evokes that emotion, as does the Black Country derby. A Stoke v Port Vale clash wouldn't exactly get me excited, but you could bet your bottom dollar it would be a passionate affair.
What about bragging rights? Yes, they are up for grabs in our region every time Sunderland and Newcastle meet. We work together and socialize together, and some families are even divided between the two camps. The best man at my wedding and the godfather of my son is a black and white, so I know the value of bragging rights only too well.
Although we are both big clubs, however, we are still only regional ones. Beyond our doorsteps there is not a huge following. Compare that to a derby like Liverpool v Manchester United. The local bragging rights up for grabs are plenty precious there too, but there is also a global reach to it with fans all over the world.
No matter which way you want to measure size, the Tyne-Wear derby does not stand alone as unique. Plenty of other derbies in Britain can make similar claims and a few of those can make claims that we can not.
I would consider our derby to be an elite derby due to the size of the clubs, the intimacy of them within a small region, and all the history that is attached to it.
In fact I think our derby is absolutely brilliant. It is cinder pot of partisan passion and pride and the stakes that are being played for feel massive to us. They are massive to us. But the biggest in Britain? What justifies the arrogance to make such a claim?
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