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The Tyne And Wear Derby Is A Derby Worth Fixing

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The dreaded derby is almost upon us, but fans have the power to reclaim its identity.

Michael Regan

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By now I am sure that many people have noticed the 'derby to be proud of' banner at the top of all our pages this week. Most will, I hope, be aware of the wider campaign to which it refers.

For those who are not, allow me to catch you up a little. When the now burst 'bubble' match for the Tyne and Wear derby was announced, we joined a coalition of sorts with other fanzines and fan groups from both sides of the divide.

It's important to be honest here - our intention was to get our heads together and see what noise we could make to protest against it. We didn't expect to beat it, and nor did we. The credit for that remains firmly with the two clubs.

But the stand that was made was still one we are immensely proud to be a part of, and we believe it made a powerful statement.

We like to have a laugh about he who will forever now be known as 'the horse puncher'. He has an actual name too, I believe, and a prison number now, but the truth is that this one moronic individual has had a very real and hugely damaging effect on the perception of north east football.

It was the image that was broadcast around the world of our derby. The iconic snap which presumed to define us all.

The actual context was lost. The picture didn't capture the fact that he had came from a bar in the city centre and not the game itself. It didn't show the tens of thousands of fans who had behaved impeccably and drawn police praise for their conduct.

All it showed was an animal, with a scarf over his face like a criminal and adorned in his football colours, squaring up with his fists out-stretched veritably demanding a fight. Whether you like it or not, that image now stains our derby. If the Tyne and Wear derby is a portrait of football in our region, then that is the crude meat and two veg graffitied onto the forehead.

Undoing that act of vandalism is a responsibility that now falls to every fan, no matter your allegiance, who does not wish to be tarred by the same brush. It simply isn't enough to say it any more. Action is required. That is just the situation as it stands.

I can't speak for everyone, but it's not a brush that I want anywhere near me. In many ways, I am a child of both cities. I was born in Sunderland, I obviously support Sunderland, but the majority of my upbringing occurred in the Newcastle area.

I remember when we moved there as a very young child, I'd heard about the rivalry but never experienced it. I wasn't all that sure what to expect on my first day of school. I was cautious, and only told one person - a Newcastle fan who had simply been assigned to look after me on my first day - about my footballing love of Sunderland.

Five minutes later, everyone knew, and no one had any reason to learn my name any more. I was just 'Mackem'. To a lot of people, that is still how they know and remember me. I have no problem with it. I was proud of my team and heritage and hatred of any kind for another didn't factor into that. It wasn't - and never will be - part of the criteria.

And that Newcastle fan that I met on my first day of school? When I got married, he was my best man. He is the godfather of my first - and so far only - child.

I'm sure it is a story repeated up and down the region too. Fans of both clubs have peacefully interacted with each other for decades. That is how it should be, really. We share infinitely more similarities and hardships than we do differences.

Yet the modern, technological age has given a voice to the hate-filled minority. Sat anonymously from behind keyboards, they stoke the flames of division. They create an illusion that they speak on behalf of the majority, but it is an illusion that we only need buy into if we wish to.

Personally, I don't. I am reminded of the words of Plato, who said: "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men". Well I for one am sick of paying the penalty. I am sick of, well not 'evil' men, but stupid men ruling the perception of OUR derby.

It is time for us all to reclaim it and restore it to the passionate show-piece occasion that it so easily can be once again. It's not just a cry to those going to this particular game. Everyone has a role to play.

Our derby is a derby to be proud of, and you'd be amazed at just how far showing a little collective pride in it can take us.

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