For any fresher, starting university is a daunting experience. All of a sudden you’re fending for yourself, thrown into a world of heavily independent study and most importantly: trying to handle your alcohol properly.
As a fresher last year I faced all of these new ventures, and I was naïve to begin with as to how much bother this would cause me.
I thought the biggest issue would arise from being a female sports fan, but alas not. The oddest venture for me was defending my position as a Sunderland fan, as a student at a Newcastle based university, living in the centre of Newcastle with people from all across the country.
A couple of problems arose from the mates I’ve made. As soon as they sniff out that local accent and find out you’re a football fan, you’re hit with that killer question, “ah cool, so you’re a Newcastle fan then?” Instantly, their daft question is answered as a look of horror spreads across my face.
When you then explain that you’re a Sunderland fan, you’re usually greeted with a “oh… really?”, to which of course I always defend my club from the abuse it gets because of performances from recent seasons.
Additionally, there’s the clubs my pals support. Although a couple are Leeds fans, my mates at uni are mostly from Manchester, so there’s a mixture of United and City allegiance among the group (I know, I’m pretty shocked that there’s United and City fans who actually hail from Manchester, too, don’t worry).
This gives rise to feeling partially inferior around them, but ultimately I’m still incredibly proud to be a Mackem.
I mean, aye, so what if you won the Premier League last season with your over-priced and over-paid players - have you seen Lee Barry Cattermole score three worldie goals in League One this season? You may have won countless domestic and international cups over the years, but have you recently witnessed your club and fans uniting and working together to create a proper footballing community within your city, despite a treacherous double relegation?
Another issue is that when engaging in friendly argument and banter about football, you apparently can’t comment about footballing matters. If you make a comment about how badly another team are doing in the Premier League you’re usually met with a, “yeah, but they’re not as bad as Sunderland.”
I’ll be honest, I really enjoy living and attending university in Newcastle. Surprisingly the location hasn’t really bothered me too much being a massive Sunderland fan. I was very fortunate in first year to be living as far away from the Mags’ ground as possible in comparison to some of my pals who were situated right next to it and found match days to be a nightmare. That doesn’t mean to say it’s been plain sailing for me, though.
The Mags’ ground is one of my potential exam venues, and I had the pleasure of sitting a three hour exam there in January earlier this year. Truthfully, this didn’t really sit well with me, so that’s when I decided I’d hold my own protest.
Come exam day, I strolled into St James’ proudly wearing my retro 1984 Cowies shirt - much to a fair amount of dissatisfaction.
It’s not all bad being a Sunderland fan at uni though, in fact I may have gained a couple more poor sods to support us - although I use the term “support” very loosely.
My housemates have become accustomed to the ritual of Barnes and Benno’s commentary on BBC Newcastle being on in the kitchen whenever there’s a game on, even despite the fact that there was many a time last season that my housemates walked into the kitchen to hear me yelling at the radio or holding my head in my hands.
Granted, at first my friends were confused by my behaviour, but then after listening to the performances in some of our games last season they soon realised what was up. This led to my housemates becoming a tiny bit invested in Sunderland’s performances.
One of them even said that she wasn’t bothered about football before she came to university, but now she has a smidge of interest after listening to Sunderland’s dire Championship run last season.
It’s alright being a Sunderland supporter in a Newcastle-based university. Like any football fan, you’ve just got to learn how to take a bit of stick from other teams’ fans. It doesn’t really make any difference to me living in our rival’s city, although I do like to avoid town on a matchday when the masses mooch up to St James’ to witness the “Rafalution” or when they stand and shout at shops.
It’s just something you’ve got to deal with living in Newcastle.