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Captain's Blog: Sunderland's Geordie Heritage Worthy Of Better Respect

We are forever being told by large sections of our support that the 'geordies' are the enemy. I disagree - vehemently.

Michael Regan

For all it can, and usually is, brilliant, modern football has become a veritable swamp of meaningless buzzwords. Terms like ‘Sky Sources', ‘tekkers', and ‘trequartistas' have infiltrated the football lexicon without actually adding anything to it.

At Sunderland, we have our own word that has lost all meaning and gets thrown around without thought or relevance. It is a word we used to embrace, even cherish, but has been mangled by time until now it is used as a callous spear of hatred. That word, is ‘geordie'.

Generally speaking, the implication these days when someone mentions geordies is that they are referring to a Newcastle United fan. It wasn't the place of Steve Bruce's birth that was the sentiment being expressed in the Stadium of Light following that calamitous last game, it was his admission that he ‘bled black and white'. But it wasn't ‘Mag', ‘barcode', or ‘skunk' that was arrowed at him, it was ‘geordie'.

It is the same regarding Sunderland's reported interest in Danny Graham. We have all, I am sure, seen the picture of the interview in which he professed his love for Newcastle United. I suspect we have all seen it enough times to make our eyes bleed. Yet once again, it is ‘geordie' this and ‘geordie' that.

I have to say, I am starting to get uncomfortable with the whole thing.

At some point along the line, the term geordie has become synonymous with Newcastle United. It seems to have all stemmed from Sir John Hall's (admittedly brilliant) propaganda and media onslaught in the early 90s. Suddenly there was a ‘Geordie Nation', with a black and white shirt its passport.

I suppose that if you wanted to look at it dispassionately, you'd have to credit Newcastle United with the creation of the geordie brand. The cards were stacked in their favour at that time, after all. They were on a huge high riding a wave of Keegan-inspired optimism and basking in the limelight that the newly-formed Premier League granted them. By comparison, Sunderland were languishing as a voiceless and mostly invisible struggling second tier team. The advantage was seized and fair play to them for doing so. Such is life.

But expertly executed and highly effective propaganda is still just that - propaganda. Just spin and smoke and mirrors. An illusion.

The reality is that there is a significant number of Sunderland supporters who consider themselves geordies. People who were born in Newcastle, brought up on the banks of the Tyne, and only ever migrate to the Wear on a match day. Usually just the latest generation in a long line of geordies. Try telling Steve Cram, for example, or any of the other devout Sunderland fans from areas such as Jarrow that they support the wrong club.

If you want to talk about on-pitch performers, then how about Gordon Armstrong? Newcastle born-and-bred but Sunderland through-and-through. Or perhaps another of Jarrow's sons, Craig Russell? Would Jack Colback not consider himself a geordie?

The fact of the matter is that many of the finest Sunderland fans I have ever known are not only geordies but incredibly proud ones at that. They live and work behind what most of us would consider enemy lines, yet they still passionately stick to their footballing guns. They deserve better than to have their heritage childishly and ignorantly twisted into a cheap insult.

Some would probably be surprised about how many of those who pile through the Stadium of Light turnstiles every other week were geordies, or how many of those who have travelled to support Sunderland so memorably at Southampton, Bolton, and Wigan in the last month or so hail from Tyneside. When Martin O'Neill stands before a TV camera and beams with pride whilst talking about the brilliant Sunderland support - and stressing how their undying dedication to the club singularly makes it deserving of success - he isn't just talking about the mackems within their number.

As I have mentioned in these blogs before, I was born in Sunderland but grew up in Newcastle, so I am well aware of the banter and rivalry that has always existed between the two clubs. But I just can't for the life of me ever remember such a big fuss surrounding the word ‘geordie'.

I remember my parents - both from Sunderland - teaching me the ‘Sunderland Aces' words to The Blaydon Races tune in my youth. In fact, I remember them freely referring to us as geordies ourselves. It was just a generic term for the whole north east region. We were mackems too, of course. It wasn't an either/or situation. I have spoken to at least half a dozen Sunderland fans who can remember singing about being geordies at the 1973 FA Cup final.

But these days it has seemingly just become such a big deal. When my son was born last year quite a few people were aghast that I could consider naming him George simply because he might someday come to be known as Geordie instead. That surprised me. We named him George anyway, of course. There was no reason not to.

May be those who continue to perpetuate this nonsense are merely a victim of the era in which they have been raised, I don't know. They should make no mistake about it, however, nonsense is precisely what it is.

In the end I suppose it is a case of to each their own, but the truth of the matter is that any Sunderland fan who insists the word ‘geordie' be thrown around as an indiscriminate expression of derision and hate-fuelled vitriol are simply having a go at their own whilst at the same time doing their rivals one massive favour. That is just the reality - whether they want to accept it or not.

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