There are many rivalries in sport: England and Australia, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Brazil and Argentina. But arguably the fiercest of all rivalries occurs in the north-east – a rivalry that pits the black and white of Newcastle against the red and white of Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear Derby. The history of this rivalry stretches back many, many years, since the two sides first met in 1883, with many different flashpoints along the way.
Why Such a Rivalry?
As with many rivalries in sport, the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland stems from events outside of sport. This is because the two areas have been at loggerheads well before football was even invented. The main reason why such a schism was drawn between the two towns? The English Civil War. Royalist Newcastle was seen to have many unfair advantages over the merchants of Sunderland, causing Sunderland to become a major stronghold for Parliamentarians in the north-east. This opposition to each other continued into the Jacobite Rebellions and the rest, as they say, is history…
Tyne-Wear Derby: From 1883 to Present
The two clubs first met in 1883, in a friendly game, however the first competitive match came in 1887 – a match that Sunderland won 2-0. During these early days though, there really wasn’t much of a rivalry between the two clubs…
Perhaps the starting point for the Newcastle/Sunderland football rivalry came in 1901, when 120,000 fans turned up to watch an encounter at St James’ Park between the two teams. The problem? The capacity of the stadium was just 30,000, and even in the days of limited health and safety, this was clearly not something that would work. So the game was abandoned, and fans were really not happy. Rioting followed and many fans were injured – although this rioting was not directed towards each other, but towards the situation as a whole.
In 1908, one of the most remarkable results was to occur, as Sunderland beat Newcastle (who would later go on to win the title) 9-1, which is a still the record score for this fixture. You might think that this caused outrage and strong tensions, but it really didn’t. Until after the war, fans were generally respectful to each other. Just imagine what would happen nowadays if Newcastle shipped 9 goals to their fiercest rivals?
It would take decades for the rivalry to really explode – decades that saw numerous match-ups and great games. 1990 saw perhaps the biggest derby ever, as both sides met in the playoffs to decide who would have the chance to go on to the highest echelon of English football (at that time simply referred to as the First Division). Sunderland won, despite a pitch invasion by Newcastle fans looking to get the game abandoned.
Then, in 1996, Newcastle and Sunderland both found themselves in the Premier League, and this could possibly be where the roots of the modern rivalry emerged. In this very first season concerns about the safety of Roker Park meant that only 1000 Newcastle fans were able to attend the game. In response to this, the chief executive of Newcastle United, Freddie Fletcher, said: “Don’t blame Newcastle. Don’t blame Northumbria Police. Blame Sunderland!” As you might imagine, this really wasn’t something that endeared him or Newcastle United as a whole to Sunderland supporters. To further rub salt into the wounds, Newcastle then placed similar restrictions on Sunderland fans for the return trip.
Over the years, the rivalry between the two teams threatened to become too much, until in 2001 it did: 160 people were arrested in 2001 at just one matchup between the two sides. 2008 saw a pitch invasion by Sunderland fans, as well as missiles being hurled at Joey Barton, the Newcastle midfielder. Then 2013 saw rioting in Newcastle after the team lost to Sunderland, with many arrests.
The Rivalry Today
For many years, the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland was a strong one, however it was also good-natured and healthy for the game. In recent years though, it has become more heated than ever. Instead of chants and gentle terrace-based abuse, it’s transcended into violence and vitriol. And this can’t be good for the game.
The fact that both Sunderland and Newcastle have been struggling as late probably hasn’t helped the situation. Both teams were competing against each other in the most recent season to avoid the drop, and this made the rivalry even more direct. Perhaps if one of the two teams were to start performing better, the fans would find something else to be concerned with instead…
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About this blog
An exploration of the world of Ingrid Hall - book reviews and a little bit of Newcastle history. They do say variety is the spice of life!