In a recent article on Roker Report about how we Sunderland fans don’t mind who beats Newcastle, the late, great Len Shackleton was paraphrased.
Ah, good old, Shack... it always makes me smile.
It happened to remind me of a conversation with a work colleague recently. He’s a Wrexham fan so doesn’t know the history of the Wear/Tyne rivalry. However, he’d been watching a re-run of the first series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and noticed the episode where all the Geordie lads (Dennis, Oz and Neville) are all desperate to get to the Sunderland match while they are working out in Germany.
So, my colleague asked the question that I’d personally wondered from first watching that same series... ‘when did that all change?’
For any football fan in the Northeast probably from their 50s or younger will struggle to remember a time when Sunderland and Newcastle fans were not bitter, bitter arch rivals.
Though we’ve heard from fathers, uncles, and grandparents how it was commonplace for some supporters to watch Sunderland one weekend and Newcastle the next... it appears incomprehensible now!
Those were fans wanting both clubs to do well. But that is not to be confused with the odd Geordies who continually appear at Sunderland away matches draped in their bar codes for comic effect, like some panto villain to be chanted at – as ‘Sad Geordie’ (you know the one) – for all of 10 minutes only to be kicked out by the home stewards for their stupidity.
Truly fans of both clubs, such a foreign concept now. But there were apparently plenty of Black & Whites cheering on the lads to cup victories in both 1937 & 1973... nowadays, there would probably be police horses assaulted on-mass, the Big Market smashed to bits and the Angel of the North toppled if Sunderland were to lift a major trophy ahead of them – watch this space.
Let’s not mistake those bygone days as an absolute ‘friendly rivalry’, the kind that Liverpool and Everton experience to this day. Or think perhaps there is only trouble in the modern era, there was once a pitch invasion at Roker Park during a Wear/Tyne Derby when a police horse was slashed with a knife over 100 years ago.
The best way to look at it, then, was a previous blurring of lines Red & White as well as Black & White for a past generation.
Maybe that partly explains how former Black Cats and Magpies boss, Steve Bruce, underestimated how important the Wear/Tyne Derby really is for Sunderland fans?
My own dad once said he wouldn’t mind seeing Newcastle doing well as they topped the Premier League back in 1995.
They were entertaining, they’d just signed David Ginola a modern, European style winger with a little of Cryuff (dad’s hero) about him.
Playing a brand of football that, at that time, brought a new fan base. Which included one or two brave individuals wearing the black & white stripes down Hendon, of all places, now famed for its iconic Raich Carter image (pictured below).
Keegan’s highflying Magpies were everything we weren’t, at that time, even having just demolished Millwall 6-0, my dad a Sunderland fan of nearly 40 years, declared that ‘the worst team’ to line-up in Red & White during his lifetime (bloody hell, he never saw some of our players in League One).
For the record, he was that contrary type of Mackem like so many of us. The kind that would really cheer a forward for scoring a hat-trick, then call him a useless t**t for missing his next chance.
So, when did it really change between the two clubs’ fans?
Was it a slow burner or flick of a switch? Looking into the matter in a bit more detail, it appears our neighbours up the road haven’t exactly adhered themselves to Wearsiders over the past 45 years. With residential windows smashed in 1978 and pitch battles outside Roker Park on New Year’s Day in 1980.
Then, there is my earliest memory of the two sets of fans.
It’s May 1987, Sunderland’s in the playoffs fighting to stay in the old Second Division.
Sunderland are at Gillingham, gone are those days when Newcastle fans are there to support those in Red & White. Instead, rather noisy, mischievous Magpies cram the motorways and A roads on the trip down south.
They pack the Gillingham side and cheer on as Sunderland get pummelled in the second half that notorious Thursday.
Not forgetting the invasion of the churned-up pitch when Sunderland scored the second goal at the frankly dilapidated St James’ Park in the Play-offs back in 1990.
I don’t think the bitterness we know now has come about suddenly, due to a singular event or that it is one hundred percent football related between the two cities.
Thankfully, we are no longer referred to as Geordies (as back in the 1970s) but there is a newfound arrogance about those that are and their so-called ‘Geordie Nation’, however plastic it may be.
We could spend days dissecting the two clubs, someone could even write an in-depth book on this subject – one day.
There is an unpleasant element to the rivalry, no doubt, but even more reason to bask in any Derby victory or any victory of sorts that leaves Ant and Dec ‘the nations favourite presenters’ – minus we Mackems, of course – crying in their Brown Ale with faces like slapped arses... now there’s a sight to make us all smile!