Having a nervous buzz in your belly all week ahead of our biggest game of the season. Cracking open a can of lager for breakfast at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. Riot police lining the streets as the North East is brought to a standstill. Downing your sorrows or drinking in pure celebration after the game, depending on how the result went. I am, of course, talking about Derby Day and our fiercest rivals Sunderland.
It is hard to believe that it has been four and a half years since a bare-chested Aleksandr Mitrovic celebrated wildly with a Toon fan after he scored a dramatic late equaliser to stop the ‘six in a row’ rot back in March 2016 – the last time the two sides faced off.
We ultimately succumbed to relegation after that season but managed to rebuild in the Championship under Rafa Benitez, with the Spaniard laying down the foundations for the mid table Premier League side that we have been ever since. The same can not be said of our nearest and not so dearest arch enemies – who are rotting away as a laughing stock in the third tier of English football.
Remember when both sides would be playing at the same time and it was a normal part of our weekend to be looking out for their result? It wasn’t so long ago that there was a team in the Premier League whose league position we would keep an eye on that wasn’t called Newcastle United. Both sets of fan bases would make fun of the other when they lost and be filled with a little bit of resentment when they won. Now, in 2020, there is none of that at all.
I say this because on Sunday night Sunderland sacked their manager Phil Parkinson (who?) and there was barely a whisper on NUFC Twitter at all. The Mackems sit 8th in League One and parted ways with the former Bolton boss in a bid to relaunch their mission of getting back to the Championship. It was barely even a talking point among our supporters and when Geordies headed into work yesterday morning, I bet the fact that Sunderland are looking for another new manager didn’t even spring up in conversation with their peers.
Can you remember when the Mackems sacked Di Canio? Or Poyet? Or O’Neill? Or Roy Keane? And so on…
There was a genuine interest from both sets of supporters as to who they were going to bring in. The harsh reality is that we simply do not care about their fortunes any longer. This is the closest our club has ever been to having no rival side whatsoever. Sunderland are currently a forgotten club that are teetering on the brink of obscurity, and they now stand a million miles away from reaching the promised land of the Premier League.
Am I saddened by the situation they find themselves in? Absolutely not. As a fiercely proud and passionate Geordie, I often wish nothing but the worst for our Mackem counterparts. But I do understand the argument for those that wish to see them back in the big time sooner rather than later.
For Newcastle fans that are perhaps unaware as to how bad things actually are down the A1, check out this tweet from North East journalist Ross Gregory.
Sunderland are a club in a perilous state of turmoil and their owners’ decision making has been so bad that he makes Mike Ashley’s handling of our own affairs look like every football fan’s wet dream.
They are a club with no money, no ambition, and no hope of improving the position they find themselves in. Their current owner is a chancer, who gambled on the club getting promoted at the first time of asking in the hope that he could make a quick buck when he sold it on. It was shockingly revealed in the summer that skint Stewart Donald had borrowed future Premier League parachute payments to help fund the club’s finances. He inherited a team in ruin, and somehow made it worse. Anybody who watched the deadline day episode of their Netflix documentary could see how inept he was at running the day-to-day business of a football club.
I appreciate that a NUFC Blog seems like no place to be discussing how Sunderland are doing. This is the first piece I have written on the unwashed down the road, and I hope for it to be my last. But the blissful ignorance of our fan base on Sunday was striking as it proved just how far they have fallen.
As a Newcastle fan, how do you feel? Are you in the same boat as me? A proud member of the Toon Army who thinks that it is hilarious to watch them suffer in League One, and hopes that their plight will continue until they are forced to line up against Spennymoor Town in the National League. Or are you perhaps sympathetic towards the state they find themselves in? Still a loyal follower of all things black and white, but one who craves the return of that derby day emotion and wants to bring back the days of rivalry and competition.
Those are the two stances that you can take on the Sunderland situation, and I find whichever one you choose to take as plausible. It has been almost five years since there was a Tyne-Wear Derby, and we may have to wait many more yet for there to be another one…