Sunderland and Newcastle fans agree on only two things. One, the Smogs don’t count, and two, this is the biggest derby in the country. Close up North’s “Two Tribes” programme, which went behind the scenes of football’s biggest fixture, superbly demonstrated this to anyone who disagrees. The BBC’s cameras travelled to Sid James’s Park to gather the opinions of both sets of fans, before, during and after what turned out to be another historic day for SAFC.
Like all good football events, the build up began in the pub, providing a hilarious opportunity to revel in the pre-match optimism of the Mags and relive the singing and chanting that accompanied the Lads to Skunkcastle and back. If the importance of the fixture hadn’t dawned on any neutrals watching, then the views of the match-goers must have surely hit home. We stole jobs on the Tyne, they stole the region’s money, we beat them in the Civil War, the term Mackem is derogatory. You shouldn’t shop in Newcastle, our bridge is older and bigger than the Toon’s and the county of Tyne and Wear is a complete myth. The exchange of insults could have filled the programme - and did. Some of the Sunderland fans’ opinions were a bit extreme, but they were equally matched by one Neanderthal beer-bellied bar code who grunted: "Arr dinna eeet bacon ‘cos its red!"
The sad fact that appeared to arise from the show was that we have too much in common with our Skunk neighbours. We are both as passionate about our sides as each other and our history is hard to separate, but most importantly we loathe each other. Freddy Shepherd’s previous comments that the Stadium of Light is a Mini compared to the Rolls Royce of Sid James’s were surely driven out of the jealousy of peering over his garden fence at the lush gardens of Sunderland, whilst his own patch withered and choked at the hands of a few powerful weeds.
Not that Sunderland hasn’t required the odd bout of Miracle Grow - both clubs have tasted the lows and highs of football, its just nice at the moment that Sunderland is riding higher than them up the road, and the result on November 18th only confirmed this.
Often the passion that makes this game so unique overspills into violence that, whilst unacceptable, gives the day an extra edge. Newcastle came out worst in these stakes, with a largely pro-Mag/Anti-Mackem TV company surprisingly showing these kitten loving Geordies in their truest form. Their premeditated invasion of the pitch when things went wrong in the Second Leg of the 1990 Play-off Semi did not escape attention - the footage showing the goals being torn down at St James’s as Sunderland took a two goal lead. Also included was that gang of reprobates that poured out of the back of a stopped furniture removal lorry, pulled by the police at last year’s fixture. The Boys in Blue were tipped off as to the planned invasion, by a hundred or so hooligans that were headed to the SoL.
Amazingly, I’ve made it this far without mentioning the score-line. Needless to say there was no such holding back from the Lads interviewed on the ALS coach who were only too happy to remind any Mags of the days events. The final words should, however, go to a Sunderland legend who was fortunate enough to see our victory in the last few days of his life - Len Shackleton. "Just because I played one season for Newcastle and countless games for Sunderland, people think I’m biased against Newcastle. I’m not, I don’t care who beats them."