Captain's Blog: Wear-Tyne Derby Press Coverage - A Savage Hypocrisy

Michael Regan

Apparently, and in true Mr Mackey style, 'Sunderland are bad'. That is the general consensus from the allegedly impartial local press this week. Well, I won't disagree. But if Sunderland are to be condemned for derby-day antics, they should not be the only ones.

It hasn't really been a good week to be a Sunderland fan. The derby draw was frustrating and a little disappointing, but that isn't the reason.

Lets not beat around the bush here. Since Sunday, Sunderland AFC and their fans have had their name dragged needlessly through the mud. If you believe what you read and hear, the home crowd issued entirely unprovoked death threats to a rival player as an act of mindless barbarity, threw golf balls (not just the odd one of the 50,000 pieces of paper in the ground crunched up - it was that thing none of us ever contemplate attending football without - golf balls) as missiles, and sneaked a lucky draw having being dominated by 10-men, all as the innocent and jovial away fans looked on in horror. All very dramatic and definitive.

The reality, of course, is quite different, but it seems that no one is allowed to say it. Or perhaps they just don't want to say it. I'm not entirely clear on that part.

This week's Captain's Blog was supposed to be looking forward, not back. Examining some possible tactical tweaks or looking at the options in the central midfield area. I hadn't actually decided. But in all honesty I am a cantankerous and opinionated so-and-so and frankly if people decide to form potentially damaging arguments that I find, at best, fundamentally flawed, then I just can't resist having my say on it.

Naturally, I am fully aware of the pitfalls of coming on a Sunderland website as a Sunderland fan and preaching impartiality. I know I am in no position for that. All I offer is an alternative viewpoint for consideration. People can take it how they wish.

Let me start by saying I won't sit here and condone the Steven Taylor chants. They disappointed me at the time and nothing has changed since. It is not something I enjoyed hearing.

But lets put it in a little perspective here. It was distasteful and unnecessary, but it wasn't genuine. It wasn't as some, Simon Bird of the Mirror most notably, have described as 'wishing death' on someone. Sunderland fans were no more wishing death on Steven Taylor as Newcastle fans were wishing child abuse had befallen Lee Cattermole with their equally distasteful Jimmy Savile chant.

Neither chant was in good taste and were both filled with very poorly chosen words, but words were all they were at the end of the day. Both unpleasant, and in no way condonable, but one and the same and nothing to really get your knickers in a twist over. Right?

Wrong. Whilst condemning Sunderland fans in the strongest possible terms as sinking to 'a new low' for their part, in the same article Bird implored us to dismiss the reciprocal chants from the away section as 'bawdy and topical humour' and 'no more offensive and sick than you get from some comedians'.

Well, how about that for double-standard! Two distasteful chants, from two sets of fans from the same region with a largely shared sense of humour, both born from impaired judgement by the emotion of the occasion and probably a little alcohol - but take one strictly on face value and engage your disgust into overdrive accordingly whilst trivializing the other as a poorly-judged attempt at jovial humour.

And since when is Mr Bird in a position to lay down such condemnation? He was happy enough to publish (in the journalist's own words) a 'belligerent' and 'mischievous' interview with Steven Taylor that 'stoked a rivalry that needs no stoking'. The description of that piece had changed in his post-derby thoughts, however, to the expressing of 'an honest opinion that cut through the usual interview platitudes - credit to him'.

So that's established then? The expression of hatred and inflammatory sentiments about the utter disgust he has for 'that shirt', the one closely and proudly attached to the sense of identity of a huge number of people, are seemingly acceptable and even a credit to him if they are 'honest' - and if they sell papers, I assume.

I understand that the role of the press is to publish such interviews. It is their job after all. But they have to pick a position here. They can't willfully spread the bait that they openly admit will cause a frenzy, reap the benefits of that with hit and attention grabbing bylines, and then condemn those silly enough to bite. It can't work like that. They are like that friend who stirs things up in a group with tales of 'he said, she said' and then sits back, watches the fireworks, then self-righteously complains to people about senseless bickering.

Before someone tries to twist my words, I would like to stress that I am not trying to blame the press for the chanting. Absolutely not. But whether they like it or not, they are locked into the process. The chants didn't just pop out of the air. They were provoked by the player's insults and it was the press who circulated them en-mass.

Sky Sports News, meanwhile, led with a big story of how 'Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was forced to condemn his own fans for sick chants'. Was he? He wasn't forced to do anything. Those of us who were not involved with the chants were not forced to condemn them either. The reason we have is because it is the right thing to do. Even though it gave the story a little more substance that has proven to be to our detriment, and even though he didn't hear them personally, it was the right thing for O'Neill to do.

Alan Pardew was given the same opportunity to condemn the chants from the away end and declined to do so on the grounds that he, like his opposite number, had not heard them. I saw no 'Pardew refuses to condemn his own fans for sick chants' headlines, though. No quotes, no substance to the story. But certainly no moral high ground to be afforded for brushing an unwelcome issue under the carpet rather than confronting it either.

The way in which the actual football was covered wasn't much better. There is a general consensus from the reports that is just packed full of juicy contradictions; Coloccini was brilliant, but Sunderland toothless; Newcastle dominated, but had to defend for the most part; Newcastle drew a game in which they were comfortable against a desperately poor team, but it is Sunderland who missed an opportunity.

Luke Edwards of The Telegraph even went so far as to suggest that Steven Fletcher got Cheik Tiote sent off by 'proving that foreign players are not the only ones who make a meal of hefty challenges'. A remark that unquestionably would have been the most stupid of any other journalist's career, but remember we are talking about someone who once tried to credibly link Sunderland with Fernando Llorente here.

Obviously, Sunderland didn't play very well on the day. That much is annoyingly obvious. We were all disappointed with that and we are all happy to acknowledge it. Lets not go overboard, though.

I am pretty much a central defender fetishist. I love watching quality defending more than quality attacking. So I am perfectly happy to acknowledge the outstanding performance from Coloccini. He was a genuine colossus back there. But in anything you do you can't be brilliant without being challenged. If he stood out as being superb on the day, it is because the home side made it necessary for him to do so.

Dominant? Newcastle were not dominant, they were defensive. Obviously circumstances played a big part in that through the combination of Tiote's red card and having an early lead to protect, but that doesn't make them dominant by assumption. If Newcastle dominated this game then England dominated Italy in the European Championships last summer, Sunderland dominated Arsenal at the Emirates on the opening day of the season, and Celtic dominated Barcelona last night.

There are plenty members of the north east football press-pack for whom I have a lot of respect. I understand the local lot have a tough task in trying to satisfy the demands of both sets of fans. It's important to stress that I'm not suggesting some kind of agenda or conspiracy. Well, certainly not a mass one. At the end of the day they are just people with opinions and a platform upon which it can be voiced.

But I have an opinion and a platform too, and what I am saying is that I think that the majority have got their post-derby coverage badly wrong.

Sunderland fans have seen themselves vilified and condemned whilst Newcastle fans guilty of essentially the same thing are granted the benefit of the doubt. They have seen the Newcastle player who incited the situation hailed and commended for his 'honesty'. Regarding events on the pitch, they have had the double whammy of seeing the weird contradiction of Newcastle being glorified in the strongest terms whilst Sunderland are ripped to shreds in the most damning. Oh, and apparently Fletcher got Tiote sent off.

Is it really any wonder why such a sense of inequality and resentment has been harboured on Wearside since Sunday? When all that frustration is poured into the next derby, Sunderland fans will probably be vilified for that too.

There will be some reading, I'm sure, dismissing this as a simple case of Sunderland not wanting to have to admit they were poor on the pitch. Throwing a tantrum at an unwelcome truth. To those people I would say that you wouldn't believe the amount of my life that is spent trying to persuade Sunderland fans to actually stop moaning! If there is one thing we excel at, almost to a fault, it is self-depreciation.

But anyway, the verdict has apparently been delivered. Despite there being nothing between the two clubs on the day either in terms of number of goals scored on the pitch or number of distasteful chants in the stands, it has been deemed that Sunderland are bad and Newcastle are good. That's it - the reality we are asked to accept. The only actual difference was in the number of players left on the pitch, and, according to one prominent journalist, that was Sunderland's fault too.

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