What Derby Nerves?
Having valiantly given our all against Benefica on Thursday night, Newcastle fans were again left to wonder what might have been, as cup winning dreams were once more snatched from our grasp. However, the perfect remedy for the disappointment felt will of course come in the form of a delicious three points, against relegation strugglers Sunderland on Sunday.
A lot of people have said to me ‘it was too much of an ask, we shouldn’t have played our best players with the derby coming up, we were already out’, whilst I’ve also heard people say ‘we’ll struggle in the derby now, the players won’t have anything left to give’. Well to that I say one thing – nonsense! I’m proud Pardew and the lads did their utmost to win for us and I still firmly believe we will beat 5under1and this weekend.
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In my 22 years as a black and white, which for all you oldies out there I’ll describe as our ‘modern history’, one thing has always been the same. One variable has remained constant in the sense that the toon have always been superior to the mackems. Now that’s not arrogance or a bit of persuasive rhetoric for you here – it’s fact.
Looking at this ‘modern history’ Newcastle have enjoyed overwhelming success when it comes to local derbies. In my lifetime, we’ve come up against our fiercest rivals 25 times. Out of those 25 duels, Sunderland have won three games. They beat us at St. James’ in consecutive seasons 1999 and 2000 (cheers Ruud Gullit), courtesy of 2-1 wins and with their most recent derby triumph coming from another 2-1 win, thanks to a Kieran Richardson free-kick.
Now I don’t want to dwell on red and white triumphs (not that there are a lot to choose from mind you) and instead I wanted to share some of my greatest memories of modern era derbies, to inspire anybody who is a bit pessimistic of our chances against our little town neighbours.
The first time I can honestly remember Newcastle beating Sunderland was as a bright eyed and football mad 11 year old, way back in 2002, when Nikos Dabizas was the right man in the right place, heading in at the back post following an Alan Shearer flick on. 1-0, euphoria. Roger Tames was commentating that day and I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing a stunned Stadium of Light on TV, with the words ‘Dabizas, he’s scored against Sunderland…instant hero!’ ringing around my living room. Not only that but the celebration was just as epic as the crazy Greek defender, pulled off his shirt, revealing a hairier chest than a mackem granny and giving it the massive one in front of the travelling support. And so I realised why they call it ‘the beautiful game’!
That day Newcastle had my favourite partnership of Shearer/Bellamy up front, while Sunderland had a terrific strike force themselves on show in the form of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips. After that Dabizas delight however, Newcastle went on a local derby winning streak, beating Sunderland for the next 4 games in a row. In the following campaign (02/03) Newcastle took Sunderland apart 2-0 thanks to the Shearer/Bellamy partnership and in fact managed to do a season double when Nobby Solano sealed another 1-0 at the stadium of light the following April. I grew up watching Newcastle play under Sir Bobby and believe me, there has been no greater time since.
But despite my awe of Bobby and the strikers he had at his disposal in that era, the games I better remember were as a season ticket holder. October 23rd 2005, a day I’ll never forget. Yep, you know it – THAT Emre free-kick. I also think it was in that game that the Shola adoration on Tyneside really began, as the big, bumptious number 23 showed his worth with two vital goals in a 3-2 win. Apart from the testimonial and when Shearer broke the goal record, I don’t think I’ve ever heard St. James’ boom so loudly as when Emre’s free-kick went in.
Although, whilst that derby win was massive for Graeme Souness and his new signings, I then began to realise what it was to be a Newcastle fan. That season we struggled and we were a far cry from the Sir Bobby side which inspired Europe. Going to the Stadium of Light for the second derby of the season we were out of form and disappointing in the league, a lot of us feared the worst in fact. However, things weren’t so bad… 4-1 (even Luque scored)! 1 nil down at half time, only to storm the second ’45 and claim a 4-1 win. N’zogbia, Shearer, Chopra and Luque all found the net, with Shearer scoring his final professional goal from the spot. You simply couldn’t make it up. Their fans must have been sickened!
Since that famous day in 2006, Sunderland have beaten Newcastle as previously mentioned but a lot of the games have ended in 1-1 draws, as typical in any local derby, they’re cagey affairs of course. However, we’ve also had the Michael Owen brace at St. James’ and the brilliant Ryan Taylor over the wall at the Stadium of Light but one result, one result in particular, must take centre stage when we think about recent derby history.
THAT Ameobi goal, THAT Nolan hat-trick, THAT day when they were supposedly going to come and beat us in our own backyard. Halloween 2010, Newcastle 5 (yes FIVE) Sunderland 1. By now I’m a student (forgive me, I know), sitting in prime position in the student union, surrounded by mancs, cockneys and even a few mackems. What a day though to don my black and white, Ameobi 23 branded, sacred shirt! Nobody expected that result, Sunderland were coming in good form, Bent was particularly dangerous and all we had was a fat, chicken dancing, Kevin Nolan who was apparently too slow to get into the England squad. Whilst our former captain still never got his call up, he certainly got his chicken dance that day. I could not believe what I was seeing, we simply blew them away.
The point I wanted to make here was that we have no reason not to be confident. Of course we’re a little nervous, yes we played on Thursday and ok you know Di Canio will be giving his players a kick up the backside but I cannot see us losing this game. I’m even considering Sunderland to have an inferiority complex when it comes to their big day out against the boys from the big city.
3 wins in 22 years, one when Gullit dropped the best strikers around and one from a free-kick when we were at our worst. Now I know Sunderland fans can read this and say (between mouthfuls of cheesy chips) ‘well we beat you 9-1 once!’, yes you did… over 100 years ago! Newcastle however have enjoyed a great dominance in ‘modern history’ and I can only see that trend continuing this weekend.
Plus, if all else fails, we do have the mackem slayer ready to be unleashed…
Keep the faith!
New issue of The Mag out today in newsagents and on sale outside St.James’ Park before the Sunderland match, order online below.
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