Somewhere on the coast road, heading out to Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, there is a pub that has long since shut down. By the front door there is a blackboard, scrawled almost hastily, and most certainly without fanfare, is “Newcastle v Sunderland 1pm.” It did not appear to be a message written in hope, nor expectation. It appeared more like a resigned statement. Newcastle. Versus Sunderland. 1pm.
They might as well have written beneath “Come, or don't come. Because we all know what’s going to happen next.”
Of course, given what we know about recent Wear-Tyne derbies, we can only assume the punters did not go home happy that day. Even if it had been one of the many 1-1 draws. Perhaps even, it was the reason the pub closed; the poor landlord - or landlady - just couldn’t handle the pain anymore. Too many pint glasses have died in the name of barcode frustration and inflated expectation.
However the times, they are-a-changing now. They, reborn, us relegated - twice. Not yet back to where we once were. As such, this was supposed to be a show of power. The nouveau riche Geordie glitterati, with their keys to their brand new sports car, seemingly desperate to do some doughnuts on the Stadium of Light turf.
The ultimate ignominy — that’s what it was meant to be wasn’t it? A chance to strut their stuff against the little club down the road they will swat away like an annoying fly.
Well, not this time. Seven defeats in eight has somewhat checked the gargantuan expectation of the Geordie faithful.
The call for Eddie Howe’s head grow louder. Never has a phrase been more apt.
This was supposed to be about them, not about whether they would win, but about by how much. A chance to rid themselves of 13 years of derby frustration. The truth is, they see this as their big chance to truly exorcise the final demons of the Ashley era.
But when you finally cut off the head of the serpent, it only grows another one. And that is why this weekend could be a watershed for Newcastle United.
Let’s be honest, this is massive. For both clubs. For different reasons. Not because we want to show we’re the better side, but rather in victory we have shown them for what they are: a club who has sold its soul to the devil for £400m pieces of silver and counting, to attain nothing more than mediocrity.
Let’s face it, they have a team that is closer in ability to the Bruce era than the one of last season. The 2022/23 season was the anomaly, not the norm. They should hold no fear. Their weaknesses are screaming louder by the game. We can all see that.
Don’t believe me? Well then, which Newcastle fan do you know that is looking forward to this? How many Newcastle fans do you know who have stealthily placed bets on a home win, in order to pre-emptively balm the burn which will sting the most?
I don’t want them to leave the SOL on Saturday angry necessarily, just hollow. Because this is what they have allowed themselves to become and a defeat will drive home the crashing, horrible realisation that no - this is not your club at all. You as fans have embraced oppression and this is what you get for it; and if we beat them and Howe is sacked, a great, gasping, yawning chasm will suddenly appear between the board and the fans because they do not want him to go, yet bin Salman will not set any store in their thoughts or wishes.
As such a fault line will be created that cannot be fixed, because as we all know, Geordies are not for turning. Sadly for them, neither are the Saudis.
And there we will sit on Wearside knowing it was Sunderland who have brought about a new era of misery for the moral vacuum that is Newcastle United Football Club. And I for one will laugh long. I will laugh hard. And if it doesn’t happen on Saturday, it will happen eventually.
The narrative always was that when Newcastle play Sunderland again, it’ll be a bloodbath. It will be an opportunity to put Wearside to the sword. Oh how the sweet irony of it all, is that it is us who holds the power to cut them down to size.
A loss would of course hurt, but can even before the event this can be explained away. How could you not, when we have spent a mere 3% they have since the takeover? This unlike prior matches against Newcastle, is not a level playing field. The gap between the two clubs has never been wider. The narrative in their city is that they have always been a huge club, but by all normal metrics there is no difference between the two.
However to them, to justify the handing of their club - including everything from their morals to their training cones - to a regime that will oppress you whether you are gay, female or politically misaligned, they must win convincingly. Because defeat to them is to not win well. Whereas victory to us would be a wonderful release - and sweet justice.
Then again, it’s only football.