Newcastle and Sunderland have been backed to bring the joy back to their long-suffering fans by a man who has represented both clubs.
In the build up to derby day – which he calls a ‘unique week’ – former defender Steven Caldwell believes that, over time, the two teams can turn their current misery into glory.
The Scotsman played in four Tyne-Wear derbies – two for either club – and knows you can’t afford to shy away from the build up.
“The week before derby day brings tension and excitement at all times and you can’t escape it. When you understand the rivalry and the importance of this match for most people, then you are ready to perform and try to do what’s needed to win.”
The Stirling-born stopper was first involved in the fierce fixture in 2000 when, then wearing black and white, he was disappointingly on the losing side.
He went on to taste the sweetness of a Magpies victory in 2003 thanks to a Nolberto Solano penalty at the Stadium of Light before switching his allegiances and being on the end of two defeats in the Black Cats’ relegation season in 2005/6.
In the latter, Alan Shearer scored his final goal for his hometown club and the 35 year old believes local heroes like the former number nine are crucial for both sides.
“Alan and Sir Bobby Robson were absolutely crucial during my time at St James’ Park. Bobby was a local guy who had travelled the world and found his way home, while Alan is, and always will be, Newcastle’s favourite son.
“There are no two greater icons for the magnificent club and I put them up there with Jackie Milburn as the three best.”
Caldwell would also love to see both clubs bring in more people who understand what it means to wear the shirts, saying it’s not just about football.
He believes Sunderland’s appointment of Sam Allardyce is a shrewd move, calling him the ‘perfect man’ to get them out of their current predicament.
“Sam knows the club and is aware of what it means to play and coach up there.
“I think the recruitment has affected both sides in recent seasons. There has been a lot of turnover and the attitude from the terraces has been very negative. To be good in the North East you have to understand the people and love the club. It can be taught, but you better learn quick!
“But when you have the infrastructure that these clubs possess, and the fan base, anything is possible with the right person. It can absolutely return to its glory days.”
On his controversial switch to Wearside, the former Scotland international admits it was difficult to walk away from the club with whom he started his professional career, but is proud to have represented both sides.
“For me, there was no better area to play than the North East so it seemed a logical choice, even though I knew I’d receive some criticism. The passion is very similar and they are both proud and historic clubs who have fans that have supported them from birth.
“It was an amazing experience to play for both and I’m in a small and unique club to do so. The thing that makes me different is that I love both equally.”
When asked about the game on Sunday, he added:
“Newcastle go into the game with some confidence having won and scored six last week, but all form in these games goes out of the window when the whistle blows. This may be the game Sunderland are waiting for to kick-start their season.”
And when pushed on the result? The fence is a safe place to be as Caldwell has his hopes pinned on a draw, praying for both sides to soon find the spark that ignites the crowd’s passion again.
If you missed Jamie’s excellent piece with Sunderland fan and former Newcastle striker Paul Robinson, make sure you catch it HERE.
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