You know when somebody is so wrong, so deluded, but yet so positive that they’re in the right that it almost becomes endearing? Well that’s how I, a Newcastle United fan, feel about Sunderland fans.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those bile-spitting Newcastle supporters who detest everything red and white. I kind of like having them around, and the football season is undoubtedly a darker place without the north-east derby. However, as a lad from Durham they’re a cautionary tale, a what-might-have-been had my father shown considerably less sense and taken the A183 to Sunderland instead of the road to salvation and St James’ Park.
Friends would always claim that as I probably lived a little bit closer to Wearside than I actually did Tyneside, that I really should have followed them instead, but to me that seemed crazy. It was almost like telling a long-distance lorry driver – who also happened to own a hammer – that he really should have become the Yorkshire Ripper.
Despite my black and white allegiance guaranteeing me a regular kicking at school, my geographical misfortune did allow me a unique insight into the Sunderland fans psyche. Without doubt they’re a passionate bunch, some of the best fans in the country when you consider the meager rations they’ve been doled out by way of success over the years. However one fixture in particular just seems to give rise to the grandest of delusions. Going way past pre-match banter, it’s the type of bat-s*** crazy optimism that makes the musings of Muammar Gaddafi appear balanced and well-thought through. Namely: the Newcastle Sunderland derby.
Now this rivalry goes way past football and right up to the English Civil War, ignited when sea merchants in Sunderland protested over the advantages given to their counterparts in Newcastle (good to know that even in 1642 they had a chip on their shoulder about us).
Of course Newcastle has more than its fair share of lunatics who, fuelled by the riches of the Keegan era, feel that the minimum we should expect from a season is to sign a 20m striker and qualify for the Champion’s League.
When it comes to football, Newcastle holds the edge overall and has an emphatic record of only five defeats in the last 44 years. However despite that recent power imbalance, I generally go to pieces around 24 hours before a derby match; a shadow of my former self and riddled with self doubt and worry. Meanwhile over in Sunderland they’re presumably all out doing congas around the Stadium of Light drinking over-elaborate cocktails, slapping each other on the back and congratulating themselves on the victory that is all but assured. It’s mental.
The weeks that preceded this season’s win at Sunderland were no different from the other games I’ve witnessed in my 35 years. The only thing that changed was the way they communicated their message of unwavering self belief. When I was younger it was the simplistic beauty of an abusive phone call telling us we were going to get our head’s kicked in, or bus stop banter regarding the cricket score they were going to run up. Now it’s a barrage of Facebook braggadocio, and crudely put together photoshop jobs featuring beloved chairman, Mike Ashley (actually, some of them were pretty good).
Then of course you have the lobotomy effect, whereby previously intelligent, sensible human beings lose all cohesion of thought. A general conversation regarding the match will go something like this:
“So what do you fancy for the weekend?”
“We’re going to turn you over.”
“Really, but the sides are pretty well matched though, aye?”
“Not really, there’s not one player of yours I’d rather have in our team.”
“Fair enough mate.”
Of course Newcastle has more than its fair share of lunatics who, fuelled by the riches of the Keegan era, feel that the minimum we should expect from a season is to sign a 20m striker and qualify for the Champion’s League, but I’d like to think that the majority accept our current position in life, and when it comes to the derby games we have a slightly more realistic outlook, that being: We’ve got a decent chance, but as always it’s going to be close.
Research tells us that high levels of optimism can be hereditary, but that it can also be imbibed through our environment as we’re growing up. The current generation of Sunderland fan has had precious little success to allow for this type of subconscious learning, so we can only assume that their parents have been reading the works of German philosopher Gottfreid Leibniz to their children in lieu of a bedtime story, engraining his ‘best of all worlds’ concept on their little brains. How else do you account for such startling confidence?
Unless of course I’ve got it all wrong. Perhaps it isn’t confidence at all, perhaps it’s simply opportunistic celebration. Let’s face it they’ve have had so few chances to gloat after victory over the last half century, so maybe they’ve just decided that the best course of action is to get it all out of their system pre-match? In which case I think it’s a recent tradition worth building on. You have pre-match, lads, we’ll have the actual victory afterwards. Makes sense really.
See, who said that bitter rivals weren’t able to occasionally reach a compromise?
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