Tyne-Wear derbies are emotional and rousing encounters that can take it out of us, the fans, almost as much as it can do the players. Newcastle v Sunderland games are always ferocious and unruly affairs at the best of times, but given both sides current proximately to the relegation zone however, Sunday’s encounter at St James’ was truly do or die.
As a long suffering Newcastle fan, I’ve enjoyed and suffered my way through my fair share of derbies over the years; Sunday’s was easily the worst I can remember for many, many years.
This year, as if it were needed, extra spice was added little over a week ago when Martin O’Neill was shown the door by Sunderland and replaced by Paolo Di Canio, or, the ‘Mackem Mussolini’ as he is now known on Tyneside. Now, I’m not going to pretend I know enough about politics and fascism to comment on Di Canio’s beliefs; what I do know is that all the media uproar regarding Paolo’s views certainly gave the St James’ faithful more than enough ammunition to fire at the new Sunderland boss. Given Di Canio’s notoriety for volatile and temperamental behaviour, Newcastle fans smelt blood, unfortunately for us though, it was the Italian who had the last laugh.
Due to this frenzied backdrop of animosity and mayhem, the games themselves are sometimes lacking in quality, the fundamental requirement of just giving absolutely bloody everything to prevent defeat being the overriding factor. This is the usual order of business on derby day; this time however, one team didn’t show up.
Make no mistake about it, Newcastle were abject and awful, and as much as it pains me to say it, Sunderland were the better side. There was a desire about Sunderland, they never stopped running, there was a hunger there and it was them who wanted it more. There was an arrogance about Newcastle, a feeling that they just had to turn up to win. Even when we went behind there was a feeling of ‘get Ben Arfa and Shola on’, ‘Shola always scores against the Mackems’. Due to his scoring prowess against Sunderland and his newly evolved ‘Mackem Slayer’ persona, it seems to have been forgotten that by and large Shola is utterly useless.
We could argue that had Papiss Cisse’s goal not been wrongly called offside then it could have been a very different match. That goal would have changed the game, drawn the sides’ level and maybe given the home side the momentum for the last half hour. We didn’t get the decision, there’s no point crying about it now; overall we were second best all over the park on Sunday.
Predictably Alan Pardew blamed tiredness after Thursday night’s Europa League exertions. While this might be true to a certain extent and may well wash as an excuse after any other defeat, on derby day it does not. You can’t be tired in these matches, there’s too much riding on them. These matches mean more to us than any other, we can take getting beat, what we can’t take is our team displaying a lack of fight against our bitterest of rivals.
What sets our derby apart from many others like Liverpool/Everton or City/United is the sheer tribal-ness of it. It’s not two sets of fans living alongside each other in the one city coming head to head twice a year. Its civic rivalry. Separated by just ten miles, its city versus city, our people versus their people, our team versus their team. They don’t like us, we don’t like them. However, while we might not like each other, we love our derby games. Once a year we unleash our grounds full potential, turning them into the overawing and intimidating bear pits that they can truly be in pursuit of victory, and in turn, the civic pride that comes with it. The stage was set, this year, our side let us down.
Although we as fans are frustrated, there is no excuse for the scenes outside St James’ Park after the game. There seems to be an evolving ‘Derby Drinking Day’ culture in Newcastle whereby every muppet and moron who thinks they ‘support’ Newcastle, descends into the city centre with the sole objective of getting mortal drunk in the name of ‘supporting their team’. It’s always been a manic day in Newcastle, but lately it seems to becoming something akin to a really ugly New Years Eve or St Patrick's Day. Strangely enough, these ‘fans’ are no where to be seen at all the other home games during the season. These people are not fans and I, along with many others, am ashamed to have these idiots associated with our club.
The defeat has marked the end of a monster week at St James’ Park. Firstly there was the sheer ecstasy of Papiss Cisse’s massive 94th minute winner against Fulham which nearly took the roof off; then came the disappointment as Newcastle’s valiant efforts to overcome a 3-1 deficit against Benfica fell agonisingly short last Thursday. It has now become the job of staying in the league which is the only objective for the Toon. It is an objective that can not be underestimated because, be under no illusions, Newcastle are far from safe.
Thanks to this most dismal of derby displays, Newcastle continue to sit on 36 points. Without the demands and distractions of the European adventure, Alan Pardew and his men must now focus on picking up the needed points to secure safety. With the teams below continuing to pick up points, along with the rabble from down the road now looking as if they’re heading in the right direction, if the points are not picked up in the next five games, then Newcastle’s only derby next season will be against the smog monsters from Middlesbrough.