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Unity Burst The Bubble, Now let It Redefine Derby

North East football feels more unified than ever, and that must not be allowed to be forgotten.

Richard Sellers

"Irony," the great French novelist Anatole France once wrote, "is the gaiety of reflection". How true.

And those reflecting upon the joint statement made by Sunderland and Newcastle United to reject obnoxiously inflexible policing policies for the Tyne and Wear derby would certainly find the irony of the situation especially satisfying.

After all, the police insisted that the two clubs' fans could not, under any circumstances, be trusted to mix. They lacked, so said Northumbria's finest, sufficient collective maturity for rational thought on emotive issues. So the Police's determination to keep everyone apart being the catalyst to bring everyone together to reject 'the bubble' and allow fans the freedom to determine their own conduct provides the most delicious of ironies.

Sunderland fans attending the game will now be able to make their way to St James' Park however they see fit. There will still be free buses provided and departing from a variety of pick-up points, though, and we would certainly back the clubs in strongly advising the vast majority of traveling fans to use them.

If this was about choice, and it was, the coaches remain a very good one.

There is a temptation here for fans to assume that the pressure of discontent that they exerted upon the club was the driving factor in the decision. That would be grossly unfair, however.

More than that, it would be missing the point and, given the strength and relevance of that point, that would be a disgraceful waste. Make no mistake about it, if pressure was the deciding factor then the outcome would have been very different.

Northumbria Police were in a far stronger position to assert both influence over the club's decision and pressure to ensure it was succumbed to. By comparison, fan sentiment - though evidently hugely important to the clubs - was far easier to resist.

So if you believe that threats of pressure have won the day and represent a model for the future, then I'd implore you in the strongest possible terms to think again.

That said, fans absolutely should feel proud of their role in what was achieved because it was pivotal. It was ultimately their show of, and plea for, unity which has prompted the positive response, and you can't possibly overstate the importance of stressing that.

It was two clubs and two groups of fans choosing to put the mutual respect and shared passions of the vast majority above the fear of the petty hatred of a minuscule minority - and a Police force intent on allowing that minority to define everyone.

To allow such a positive message to be buried would be an absolute travesty.

There may well be future ramifications for fans and their clubs. I'd love to think that we've witnessed a winning hand being played, but all of the cards probably haven't been shown yet. What will be, long term, remains very much to be seen.

However, what has been made abundantly clear now is that fans and clubs, in this region at least, will not stand aside and abandon each other to their fates - they will stand together, with rivalries put aside, and chose to create their own fate to share.

If our rivalry must be defined, then let it be defined by this rather than individuals acting independently of it.

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