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The Tyne Wear Derby: 'Friendly'? Never, But Famous Is Better Than Infamous

The Tyne Wear derby will never and should never be a 'friendly' occasion and words like 'truce' are have no place in it for me, but it's certainly worth protecting.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

As most will likely now be aware, the Football Supporters Federation are running a campaign in the build-up to the upcoming Tyne Wear derby, attempting to unite both sets of supporters under the banner of ‘passion, not poison'.

In all honesty, it's an ambitious project.

Whether it succeeds or not, time will tell, but I do worry that it's got off, not on a wrong foot, but a misunderstood one.

I am not personally involved in the campaign beyond offering it my own, not Roker Report's, support. If another of our writers - or even a fan utilising the Fanpost section of the site - wishes to write and publish a counter-argument, they will do so with my unreserved backing. I do, however, appreciate the FSF's sentiment.

I've seen talk of a ‘truce' or ‘friendly derby', and that's not something I can endorse. If it's friendly, it's not a derby. If it's a truce, it's not a football match period. I don't believe that's what is really being discussed, though.

I've also seen a lot of reference to the MH17 disaster and attempts to organise some kind of joint tribute or show of respect. I think that's a subjective call. Personally, I think Sunderland fans have done plenty with regard that already and moved on. If fans want to join in a round of applause, then fair enough, but there should be no implied moral obligation.

The core of the campaign, for me, doesn't involve any of those things. It is simply about restoring the game's reputation; making it once again known for the passion rather than the images of horse-punching, seat-throwing, riot-inducing poison that, sadly have hijacked the occasion.

No one is going to try and shame anyone into finding a Newcastle fan, holding their hand, embracing them as a soul-mate before heading off into the wilderness in a Volkswagon camper van to share a moonlit rendition of Kum Ba Yah and wistfully discuss how empty your lives were without each other.

It's not even about trying to tone down people's genuine passion for the game one iota, or attempting to sanitise anything. It's certainly not a Police-led initiative where they cleverly try to get fans to shame others into behaving like emotionless obedient robots.

It's really more of a matter of image. Both the passion and the poison will always be there. The first is a gimme, a prerequisite, an unconditional demand of heritage and identity. And, if we are being brutal about it, as long as there are idiots, and that's one resource this planet that appears to be inexhaustible, the poison will be a staple of the fixture too. We can't control either.

What we can control, however, is the perception of the game, because it's something that we create.

We can promote the passion whilst dismissing the poison. We can condemn the individuals who seek to ruin the region's reputation in our name rather than vindicate them with widespread hateful sentiments. We can make sure that the battle is confined to the pitch where it belongs.

The Tyne-Wear derby is never going to be about friendship and overt displays of affection. My Granda said that the north east is a region for handshakers, not huggers, and he's probably right. Not that derby day is a day for handshakes either, mind you.

But when you drill down to the nub of this campaign, what it's really about is an acknowledgement that things over the last few years have started to get a little out of hand, deep into insanity territory, and a collective commitment to dragging it back just a little closer to the border with sanity.

It's about doing something about it now, whilst we still can, before someone tars our heritage irreparably by something genuinely tragic happening in the names of hatred, tribalism, and football in our region.

It's about letting go of as much poison as we can before it contaminates the passion for good. I'm not sure that the poison can ever be removed, but that isn't a reason to abandon the derby to it - it's a reason to make sure we protect the passion from it.

More than anything else, though, it's about making sure we have a derby to be proud of - famous across the football globe, not infamous. That sounds like something worth being part of to me.

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