The derby day nerves woke me up long before my 8am alarm. I hadn't planned on drinking but a shower, some breakfast and a bus ride into Sunderland city centre later and I was calming the nerves with my first beer in Gatsby's. Many others were probably already onto their fifth or sixth by that point, trying to unravel the all too familiar knot of derby tension in their guts.
A bout of tonsillitis and antibiotics had me contemplating a sober derby but with the game getting closer there was no chance I wasn't having at least a couple of nerve settlers. My mate turned up as I cleaned the first off, we grabbed a quick second and then headed down for the metro to Newcastle.
The police presence was large but passive, as the queue built up in anticipation of the first metro that would take us to Central Station. As we piled on, the sardine can conditions of last season were not in evidence, while the police on board shared rather than dampened our good spirits. A lad sat in the seats behind me even managed to have a quick slash without getting so much as a slap on the wrist. Despite the bubble trip being burst, the police were seemingly happy to let minor indiscretions slip by.
With the beer taking hold, the chanting began, classics being joined by a couple of new ones specially designed for the occasion; "cheesy chips on Wembley Way" got its first airing but it would be belted out a lot louder later. As we pulled into Central Station, the unbearable derby day tension began to reach its peak. The pressure was relieved as we exited the metro, with noise and excitement taking its place.
A brief sojourn through the station and a pause for breath later, the escort began. It was a far less eventful than the previous season's troop through the city centre. Although the majority of the aggression came in the wake of last year's derby, there were also minor clashes prior to it. Not so this time around. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise really; after all, it is difficult to do anything but howl with laughter when you're faced with grown men clad in either black and white onesies or "Whey Aye Man" suits. Hilarity, it seemed, was to be the order of the day.
After an endless stream of laugther, countless renditions of "this is your Wembley", "que sera" and the like, we were finally at the turnstiles. We were greeted by more Mags, this time eager to tell us how shit our support is. If I wasn't grinning so much in the 80th minute, the memory of this chant would've given rise to a wry smile. Finally we were in the ground, though not before a hike up the endless staircase; ha'way Mike, invest in some of that Cabaye money in some away end escalators please.
After another quick beer in a claustrophobic concourse, it was out to the seats with a cheese and onion pie in hand. Not a patch on cheesy chips, by the way. Newcastle has a long way to go to catch up to the more refined tastes of Sunderland and it's people.
Pie demolished and it was back to the chanting. As we got louder and louder, singing "things can only get better", the stadium announcer started shouting "TOON" over the tannoy to try and drown out our "SUNDERLANDs". Funnily enough, come half time, he was a lot more subdued.
The teams were announced and "52,000 screaming Geordies" - best said in a Cockney accent - were delighted to hear the name of their "Mackem Slayer" announced. Shola Ameobi, bestowed with the sort of name reserved for a comic book hero, would end up the Cartoon Army's villain by the end of the 90 minutes. He'd not be the only one.
Before kick-off, I found my dad and then our seats after another climb to even higher altitude. We spotted ex Sunderland heroes Jody Craddock and Craig Russell along the way. This club gets its claws into you and never lets go.
The game kicked off to a roar from both sets of supporters but it would be us lot who would win the day on the pitch as well as in the stands. I lost my dad, who I met in the ground, in a sea of bodies and limbs as Borini's penalty hit the net. From then on in, it was all Sunderland.
Things really could only get better; Johnson soon added a second and we were in dreamland." Que sera", more "cheesy chips on Wembley Way" and a warning to the police to "lock up your horses, there's gonna be hell" were sang alongside classics old and new. Just to rub it in, there were a few cheeky renditions of "don't sell Cabaye" whenever Newcastle had a set piece; I struggled to get the words out through the laughter.
After half time, Newcastle rallied and the tension returned; 2-0 is a healthy lead, but if the Mags were able to make their pressure count then things could easily turn on their head. We resisted their long balls, the "Mackem Slayer" failed to convert a couple of decent chances and such was the torment Adam Johnson was dishing out to Davide Santon, Pardew took pity and took the Italian off.
His replacement fared little better and was soon left for dead by our magician, who was unlucky to see an effort hit the post after dancing past what seemed like the entire Mag defence. His hard work also saw him dispossess Cheik Tiote in a dangerous area. The ball ran through to Jozy Altidore and all of Sunderland was willing the big American to finish his big chance and the game off with it. It wasn't to be but that aberration aside, he was simply magnificent, giving Geordie wannabe Steven Taylor an absolutely torrid time.
The third was to come anyway - as if it was ever in doubt, we always win three nil, aye? - confirming the season's double, three wins against them on the trot and consecutive 3-0 wins on their patch. Jack Colback was the deserving scorer, sending us into ecstasy. A lad I know from one of the South Shields' supporters branches randomly appeared next to me from God knows where, red in the face, bursting with sheer delight. His face was a mirror for how I felt and his emergence summed up the chaotic joy of the day.
I can't remember whether the pitch invaders came before or after Colback's goal, but they added to the hilarity of the occasion, with stewards falling over themselves for a good minute or two chasing one of them down. That particular lad's slaloming run bettered anything the overhyped Hatem Ben Arfa managed all afternoon. He'd obviously had a close eye on the magnificent Adam Johnson and fancied a go himself.
By this point, any remaining tension had completely dissipated. We wanted four. It seemed our rival supporters didn't feel the same, with a fire drill leading to a mass exodus after the ginger genius had smashed the third home. Those shit support jibes rang in my ears, but this time it was us lot mocking their limp early exits.
There was to be no fourth goal as The Lads cruised through the remainder of the game with the partying in the stands continuing unabated. The final whistle led to jubilant celebrations in the stands as we were held back while buses were readied and preparations made for the return escort to Central Station. We hailed our heroes, with a huge chant of "one Phil Bardsley" reserved for the resurrection man; he has been nothing short of superb since returning from exile.
I returned to the concourse with a huge grin on my face and as we awaited our release, a lad not only unfortunate enough to be working for Newcastle United also managed to drop a crate of bottled lager he was shifting. Needless to say, there weren't many left when he finally managed to pick it back up. Celebratory beers were downed before the descent to ground level. The return journey to normal altitude, with three points in the bag, was as gleeful as the ascent had been arduous.
The return escort set off rapidly and went off without a hitch. Only a couple of "Whey Aye Man" clad characters were foolish enough to hang around and they were rewarded with plenty of gloating and grief from the marching red and white army. It went no further than that and again, commendations must go to the police, as the back alleys which had been so problematic the year before were left empty this time around. From my perspective, there wasn't a hint of trouble.
Before I knew it, we were back at Central Station awaiting the victorious train ride back to Sunderland. Before getting on board, we were treated to the tragic sight of a man on the opposite platform waving his keys. Only a 5-1 gesture would have been more pathetic. Needless to say he was greeted with various chants, jeers and the mockery he so richly deserved. The train journey itself was a fitting end to a glorious day, as videos of the goals did the rounds. Delightful.
Finally, a quick mention for my dad who I was lucky enough to share the day with and his derby day record; that's the fourth time he's seen us on Tyneside, three wins and a draw. One of those wins was the last time we recorded the double too. As for me, that's twice I've been and both times I've feasted my eyes on three nil wins. I'll certainly be making sure both he and I do the trip more often.