The derby…a personal view on what it means
I’ve read a lot of articles recently, looked through a lot of Twitter feeds and a lot of forums in preparation for Sunday’s big Tyne-Wear derby, and it still makes me laugh when Sunderland fans feel the need to refer back to a game in 1908 to have a dig at Newcastle fans. Over 100 years ago, before the first of two world wars and before anyone could even envisage a television set, yet Sunderland fans still feel its necessary to chant the words, “we beat the scum 9-1″. I will point out that despite none of these fans (usually 13-16 year olds) will have witnessed the game, Newcastle fielded a reserve team after winning the league comfortably that season. Just a small pointer to get started.
With Sunderland hovering at the bottom end of the table, all their attention will be on Sunday’s crunch game, however for Newcastle it was all about Thursday night where they took on Benfica in the Europa League quarter-finals. Despite the bad timing of such a game I would be very surprised if any Newcastle fan wanted it any other way. To be back playing in Europe on the big stage is something we could only have dreamed about when we were in the Championship three seasons ago and to make the last eight, despite injuries and suspensions, is something to be very proud of. Just to compare the two teams in terms of European adventures Newcastle have played in Europe for 17 separate seasons playing over 120 competitive matches in cities such as Barcelona, Turin, Milan, Brugge, Moscow, Lisbon and Athens. Sunderland have played four games courtesy of an FA Cup win in 1973. And despite Newcastle’s hectic schedule this season, having to travel all over Europe clocking up thousands of air miles, they still find themselves above their rivals despite Sunderland’s longest European trip this season being away to Swansea City.
Back to Sunday’s game and despite some so-called pundits seemingly brushing our derby aside as a relatively small event in comparison to the so-called bigger derbies, it is without the question in my eyes the biggest and most fierce derby in the country. The passion that comes down from the stands onto the pitch is something the Manchester, North London, Midlands, and Merseyside derbies could only dream of having. As the famous saying goes, ‘you would have to see it to believe it’, and in this case that could not be more true. Having been to many derby games myself I can tell any neutral fan outside this forgotten part of the country that no matter how passionate you feel towards your own team, the passion your derby creates will never come close to what us north-east natives create.
The derby for us is not just a one-day event. When the fixtures are released in June that is when we start preparing for the two games and from then the countdown begins. As the game draws nearer the nerves become a little more increased and that is when you start getting the light-hearted banter between the two sets of fans, and as it gets closer and closer that banter more often then not turns a little bit more aggressive until you are so pumped up for the game it is the only thing that is keeping you awake. As a Newcastle fan I love both derbies, but nothing compares to a derby at the home of football, St James Park. The whole city is anticipating something special, and a lot of the time that is exactly what we get. The 5-1 demolition in 2010 instantly springs to mind as my best-ever derby experience. From waking up bright and early, from heading to the ground and to hearing the roar of the crowd as the players emerge to Local Hero. Nothing quite beats a derby day at Newcastle.
The word ‘obsessed’ is used all too often in this part of the world, when one of our teams get beat the fans find it comforting to label their rivals as obsessed with their club’s demise. I’ve done it after a defeat, as I am sure everyone who reads this will have done. It is a heat of the moment thing you feel obliged to do just because you cannot stand the thought of your rivals taunting you! For Sunderland though, it seems to come all too natural. With modern day technology I have seen NUFC Twitter feeds littered with Sunderland fans mocking us after a defeat, whether it is a friendly match or a massive European game. I would love to see the day when fans concentrate on their own team’s affairs without having to judge others. The derby is another matter. We live for day when we beat Sunderland and can label ourselves, as Sunderland fans call themselves ‘top dogs of the north-east’. The derby can either leave you feeling top of the world or literally rock bottom. After a defeat you do not want to show your face to anyone, let alone a rival fan. You log out of all social networking sites, switch off your mobile phones and lock yourselves away for a good two days. And when you decide to come back into the world, you turn your phone on to see missed calls and texts from the people you have been so keen to avoid.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness some great derby games. The 5-1 humiliation of 2010, the 3-2 win when Emre curled in that glorious free-kick past a helpless Kelvin Davies, the 4-1 win when Alan Shearer scored his last-ever competitive goal from the penalty spot in front of the travelling fans, and of course the memorable 1-0 away win when Ryan Taylor defied all the odds from the corner of the box. No matter what part of the country or the world you are from, if you support Newcastle United you know exactly what Sunday’s game means to us all. It simply means everything. So Paul Merson can take his beloved Midland Derby, Charlie Nicholas his Old Firm derby, Alan Smith his North London derby, Phil Thompson his Merseyside derby and Gary Neville his Manchester derby, put them all together and still not come anywhere near what our derby means. The Tyne-Wear derby is simply THE derby.