Rory - Yes, It's A Derby!
Sunderland and Middlesbrough are only 29 miles apart - of course it's a local derby.
It may not be a one of the same intensity of Sunderland against Newcastle but that doesn't mean it isn't a derby. There certainly isn't the same hatred as there is with our neighbours to the north, as I was fairly pleased to see Boro promoted. That was mainly because it would give us a bit of extra spice in our fixture list given that the mags were on the verge of plummeting, which is more appealing that someone like Derby County coming up.
That's not to say it's always been handshakes and wishing each other good luck against the Smoggies though. You often hear stories from the 1980's of fixtures between both sides being pretty nasty affairs in stands. Hooliganism was rife at the time, of course, so it should be of no surprise but it sounded like Ayresome Park was even more unwelcoming than St James Park for Sunderland fans in that era.
In more recent times though, there have been some great atmosphere's when the two sides have faced each other. In the FA Cup Fourth Round replay in 2012, the Riverside was a cauldron of noise from both the home and away supporters. I've seen many other so called "proper derbies" that haven't been as loud as passionate as that night. Under Roy Keane in April 2008 it was a similar affair, as a 3-2 win at the Stadium of Light guaranteed our Premier League status for another season. As the game swung back and forth both sets of fans were participating in the type of goading that is synonymous with local rivalry.
I can understand why people from Sunderland or further north don't consider Middlesbrough to be much worth bothering with, if I'm honest. It's not like they're from areas where both sets of fans mix together. Don't forget though, we have big fanbases in places like Billingham and Bishop Auckland - where the rivalry is very much real given it's proximity to both places. Even where I grew up in East Durham you would get a few Boro fans, despite the pit villages being Sunderland strong holds, so that always meant bragging rights were at stake when the two sides would meet.
So while it may not stir the same emotions as the games against our rivals on the Tyne, there's still North East pride on line when we meet the team on the Tees.
Karl - No, It Isn't A Derby!
To me, a derby game should inspire a range of emotions, from nervousness and anticipation beforehand, to jubilation and despair afterwards. Games against Boro just don’t do that for me. Sure, I’ll be delighted if we win on Sunday, naturally, and will be disappointed if we lose, like I would be for almost every other game.
But the feeling of winning will not match that of beating Newcastle six times in a row, nor will the feeling of losing match that of falling 5-1 to them. It won’t even get close. It just seems like another game.
Boro, to me, have always seemed like the bridesmaid, and never the bride. It seems that they consider us to be their big rivals, along with Newcastle, while for many of us in red and white and black and white, Boro just don’t mean that much. Sunderland vs Newcastle will always be the big one. Sunderland vs Boro just doesn’t have the same edge to it.
Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d grown up in a different era, where football had more of an ‘edge’ to it and things could get nasty between fans. But growing up, Middlesbrough seemed almost like an afterthought. The focus was always on Newcastle, and seems to have remained that way to the present day. When the fixtures were released, Newcastle was probably the first team you looked out for. I can’t say that I even bothered to see when we were playing Boro this season, and I’d guess that was the case for a lot of fans.
I don’t even dislike Boro. Their run to the 2006 UEFA Cup Final represented some of the most exciting games I’ve seen as a football fan, and I was happy for them to be promoted last season. Now that they’re back in the Premier League, and likely to be one our main relegation rivals, I hope they lose every game though, of course. But otherwise, I just don’t mind them, which is definitely not something I could say about Newcastle.
I guess that if you look at the definition of a derby, that being ‘a game between two teams of close geographical proximity’, then you could say that yes, Sunderland vs Middlesbrough is a derby. Only thirty miles separate the two, after all.
But a derby game is about more than just geography. It’s about the emotion, the agony and ecstasy, with maybe a bit of hatred thrown in to the equation, and for me, at least, games against Boro just don’t cut it.
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