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Roker Roundtable: ‘Derby or no derby?’ Discussing the significance of Sunderland vs Middlesbrough

The debate about the exact status of this game is one that continues to rage, so do our writers think it’s worthy of the title of a ‘derby’?

Tom Albrighton says…

Sunderland/Middlesbrough isn’t a derby and it never will be.

That said, the irony isn’t lost on the notion that the continued insistence it isn’t a derby would suggest to some that in fact it is.

For me, the most tedious tradition of being in the Championship is that of the twice-seasonal rebuttal of any idea that Sunderland vs Middlesbrough is anything other than a geographically convenient game.

The sooner the fans, media outlets and any other sources stop giving credence to the mere idea of a Wear-Tees derby, the better. Debating it is as much of a waste of time as me writing this out.

Sunderland have a series of genuine rivals, among them Newcastle, Leeds and Coventry.

These are rivalries borne out of decades of reticent dislike for one another, and they’re true footballing rivalries in every sense of the word. Middlesbrough, like Portsmouth before them, is too sanitised and trying too hard to be something it’s not.

The sooner we stop this noise, the better.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

It’s not a derby for me.

It’s a game against a team who aren’t too far away from Wearside, so it gets labelled as such by others who don’t get it.

This isn’t just about geography, and I’m not sure if it’s even about the history that underpins the rivalry in terms of the ‘real’ derby.

That match day has made more of an impact on me over time, and if I look at how the games and the build-up around them compare, it’s nothing like the same.

Whenever we play Newcastle, I’m in knots several days ahead of the game.

My nails are bitten to the quick in anticipation and nervousness, and I’m madly reading up on the form and fitness of both sides to see what advantage we might have. It’s frankly ridiculous that I care so much about those games, but I always have done and I always will.

When the Middlesbrough match comes around, it stands out as a game we want to win, but I don’t have the same emotions or nerves.

Yes, I’d love to beat them, especially as it will aid our chances of staying up or maybe even pushing for the top six. The banter between ourselves and Teesside is decent, but it’s just another game.

What I will say is that the whole of the North East loves its football and the passion and fan support on both sides is admired by numerous clubs around the country.

They can think whatever they want and if it fires them up, good luck to them, but it’s another game we want three points from, and maybe some bragging rights against the odd mate from down the A19.

We need to play our game, play to our strengths, take maximum points at home and move on.

If we do well enough for the remaining games this season, or maybe next season or the one after, the real derby will be back on the calendar.

Can’t wait!


Martin Wanless says…

Of course it’s a derby- of sorts, at least.

It’s ‘cool’ to say it’s not, but it has more edge than any other game we play apart from fixtures against Newcastle.

My first experience of a game against Middlesbrough was at Roker Park in 1989. It was Paul Bracewell’s first game back at Sunderland; we went 1-0 down but Gary Bennett scored and we won 2-1. It was a Sunday game with a 12:00pm kick off, and the atmosphere was white hot.

Since then, I’ve been chased around Ayresome Park by some rather irate Boro fans (long story), I’ve ran the gauntlet at the Riverside and I’ve felt the tension in the air at the Stadium of Light.

When the fixture list comes out, I always look at who we’re playing on the opening day, on Boxing Day and when we’re playing Newcastle and then Middlesbrough when we’re in the same division.

It’s diluted as a derby because you don’t encounter too many of their fans while growing up, but it’s still got more about it than most other fixtures we play.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Sunderland v Middlesbrough Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I do think of it as a derby, albeit a far less important one for us than any against Newcastle.

I don’t think many Sunderland fans think about this fixture outside of the week before it actually happens and in fairness, I don’t recall any Middlesbrough fans attending our games that they’re not involved in.

Nevertheless, there’s more of an atmosphere beforehand than at most other games, even if it’s driven more by one side than the other.

In part, I think our minds about this are slightly warped by the fact we’re involved in one of the most intense rivalries in British football. I think a lot of clubs have something akin to what we’ve got between ourselves and Boro, and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at calling it a derby.

As for whether it affects results, I’m slightly dubious about that, simply because whether or not they consider it a derby, our fans can give as good as they get at home and away.

We’ve had some shocking days against them over the last few years, but there’s nothing inevitable about it and I’m hoping for a good performance and result this weekend.


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