If you’re honest, are you starting to miss Sunderland and the derbies?
My first memory of a Tyne – Wear derby was when I was aged just eight, it was the game where Emre Belozoglu put that free-kick winner into the top corner as Newcastle emerged victorious 3-2 at St James Park (in October 2005).
I remember watching that goal on TV and immediately asked my dad if I could get Emre’s name and number to be printed on the back of my Newcastle top.
Newcastle had bragging rights, as they so often did back then (that 3-2 game was the fourth in a run of five derby wins in a row).
However, in more recent memory, Newcastle have a dreadful record when it comes to the derby.
Our last win in this fixture was 1-0 at the Stadium of Light thanks to a Ryan Taylor freekick in the 2011-12 season (August 2011) when we finished fifth. Since that game we have drawn three and lost six.
Despite this awful statistic, each time the fixture list was released, me and my mates would look for this game first. It was the highlight of the season and created the greatest atmospheres I have ever experienced at Newcastle games.
Even in the most recent game (1-1 draw) against Sunderland in March 2016, I can remember the exact moment that Mitrovic scored, sending me and my mates down four rows in front of our seats in the pandemonium.
Derby day is special. I got my own season ticket in level seven as a 14-year-old, the season after we had finished fifth.
I had never before felt the tension of derby day in the centre of Newcastle and in St. James Park itself. I remember emerging out of Haymarket metro station and immediately being taken aback by how big the police presence was. All of this for a football game?
As we made our way up the hill to St James Park the city felt different, as though it was geared for war. Chants echoed through the streets and my anticipation grew.
The anticipation and excitement of my first derby at St James Park ended sourly, not helped by the sight of Paulo Di Canio doing his infamous knee slide. Since that day, the emotion I most commonly associate with this fixture is disappointment.
In the four derbies I have been to at St James Park, we have drawn one and lost the other three. I have never experienced Newcastle winning one of these games whilst at the stadium, a common thread among many younger supporters who have grown up watching Newcastle during the Ashley era (October 2010, eleven years ago, when Newcastle last beat Sunderland at St James Park).
It pains so many younger supporters to hear older fans reminisce about the days when NUFC were so dominant in this fixture. In 33 years, in between Sunderland victories in April 1980 and April 2013, Newcastle only lost three derbies in regular league matches to the Mackems, 30 games with 13 Newcastle wins, 14 draws and just those three Sunderland victories. We were dominant, I wish I had been old enough to experience this domination.
At present, we take great pleasure in Sunderland’s catastrophic decline as they continue to suffer in League 1. It is enjoyable to see them suffer, after they revelled in our relegation and the ‘6 in a row.’
However, is it perhaps reasonable to suggest that now we are coming up next month to five years without a match against Sunderland, the anticipation of the derby each season is something that Newcastle fans miss?
Yes, our record in the fixture during the Mike Ashley era isn’t great (16 games and only three Newcastle wins, whilst seven for Sunderland, six draws) but wouldn’t you like to have these derby matches in your football calendar that motivates and gives you something to shout about?
Under Ashley the club lacks ambition and the only ‘achievement’ is when Newcastle are avoiding relegation.
At least if Sunderland were in the Premier League, Newcastle fans would have a fixture where they feel motivated, where they really cared, despite the ownership issues.
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