The Fan In You: An Irishman on Tyneside Angst

In The Fan In You (TFIY) series, TSG explores how a fan became fanatical about their favorite team. We’re nowhere near derby time which makes this piece by Ronan Quinn not reduced to noise in a sea of…vile.

Early roots...Newcastle vs. Sunderland

Watching Manchester United and Manchester City battle it out at the top for the first time has given the derby games between the two a new dimension. Watching the recent North London derby was compelling given the recent closure of the gap between Tottenham and Arsenal. And watching Everton versus Liverpool at the weekend re-enforced the passion surrounding the game which continues to feature more red cards than any other Premier League game. Derbies are the order of the day.

So…what is the best local derby in England’s Premier League? Let this unbiased Irishman decide: Newcastle versus Sunderland.

…Okay so I am biased. Despite growing up in Ireland I’ve been a Newcastle fan as long as I can remember and now I live in the area. As a football fan in general, it is impossible not to feel a sense of awe towards a city where the football stadium dominates the skyline. This emotion is replicated when walking through the streets, viewing hoards of black and white shirts. Walking through the streets today is no different

Quinn for Sunderland...

You may argue that to truly understand a local rivalry you have to be from the area, which to a certain extent is true. In fact, until a certain point my real issue with Sunderland was based on my brother’s following of them. In our house, and in my eyes the Tyne-Wear rivalry had started when Sunderland beat Newcastle 2-1 in Ruud Gullit’s last game and I was relentlessly teased ­­into a mad rage topped off by the fact Niall Quinn had scored, who happens to share my brother’s name. To me, Newcastle had a near equal rivalry with Aston Villa as they were supported by my other brother.

Unsurprisingly, the North-East doesn’t come to a standstill because of feuding siblings. Believe it or not, there is more to it than that.

The two places are divided by about 12 miles geographically, but the historic divide dates back to the English civil war with the Geordies in support of King George while Sunderland backed the House of Stuart. And a different chasm exists to this day still, which separates the two cities. There is a fierce pride in each respective local area from the native North-Easterners perfectly personified in football.

Each is a one-club city, and each is devoted to football much more than any other sport. There is a certain amount of isolation from any other major footballing city/town other than the aforementioned rival. (Feel free to debate the merits of Middlesborough.) The two teams are so close they are almost “in it together” in terms of representing the North East of England.

On top of this, city pride is something that Manchester United/City, Liverpool/Everton can neither completely defend nor achieve as the footballing communities are split within each. Many of these clubs have become massive global brands also, and encompass a massively cosmopolitan fan base. It is rare to find teams at the highest level in England who truly represent a whole community.

The rivalry is intensified as well by representatives from both areas on the pitch even in recent times, although both fans were let down by the lack of loyalty from Gateshead Geordie Andy Carroll and the hard working Jordan Henderson following their respective moves to Liverpool. However, Steven Taylor and Shola Ameobi among others still represent their part of the North East with fiery determination.

As it happens, Ameobi may be the perfect enigma to explain the derby. Quite frankly, his goal scoring record over his career as he approaches thirty is awful. And yet his popularity in some quarters of the Newcastle fan base is staggering. It is mainly built on consistent, passionate and indeed goal-capped performances against Sunderland. Not just this, but he is a local boy having grown up in Newcastle and for the Geordies to have “one of them” scoring against Sunderland adds new levels of ecstasy and elation.

So when Nikos Dabizas scored his iconic winning goal in 2002 I was celebrating as passionately as most Newcastle fans but for different reasons. As my understanding of the area and the rivalry grew as I got older, I realised that this was a special game, one unlike any other in England. This suspicion was confirmed when I went to my first derby game between the two at St James’ Park last year…

…and what a game.

The River Tyne

For the sake of Sunderland fans who may be reading I will avoid mentioning the score on that day, or indeed the most recent derby at the Stadium of Light, as I am sure you do not need reminding. For me, the spectacle was unlike anything I had ever seen. Both sets of supporters were deafening (some more so than others come the end of the match). Not even the building crescendo of Newcastle’s famous 4-4 draw with Arsenal the following February, which culminated in Tiote’s stunning volley could compete with this. And it was constant. A cacophony of sound the whole way through the match, 50,000 screams. Newcastle’s official club shop has since released a DVD of the game, with most fans split on whether that or the 4-4 with Arsenal was the highlight of the season.

And looking back at the highlights of previous seasons, wins over Sunderland feature prominently at the top. And I’m sure most Sunderland fans still remember with crude pleasure defeating Newcastle in the Magpies relegation season. For both teams it’s the biggest game. Regardless of position.

Can you honestly say that about Manchester City and Manchester United, or Everton versus Liverpool? I don’t think so.

When Sunderland was bouncing between divisions the Premier League was a weaker product without the Tyne-Wear derby in my opinion, the same obviously applies to Newcastle’s relegation. Yet if these two met outside the Premier League it wouldn’t be a weaker occasion. Either team’s stadium would be packed as the game would still mean as much.

To me, that is why it is a rivalry which stands out in England’s top division…also my brother is still an insufferable git when Sunderland win.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by johnbhoy on 2011/10/15 at 10:37 AM

    nice one


  2. Posted by Rich on 2011/10/15 at 12:31 PM

    Howay the lads!


  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/10/17 at 8:36 AM

    Great read. Thank you.

    I remember that game, Gullit’s last in charge; didn’t he leave Shearer on the bench or something? (I also loved Albert’s chip vs. Man Utd – he made Schmeichel, who was probably the best keeper in the world at the time, look foolish!).

    I do agree about your “passion” aspect. The only thing I can say is that the City v United, Arsenal v Spurs and Everton v Liverpool have potentially been watered down because there are so many non-locals attending these games where it doesn’t matter as much. Plus the Prawn Sandwich Brigade…

    I always wonder what Newcastle United’s trajectory would have been if Keegan didn’t lose his bottle in the 95/96 season.


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