Go to any football ground in the country and the chances are you’ll find a bunch of people who hate the team next door.
That’s inherent in the sport, and certainly no different when it comes to the rivalry between Newcastle United and Sunderland, two clubs that come from neighbouring cities with a bitter relationship that stretches back to the English Civil War.
While animosity may be rife between supporters, it’s largely good-natured. Well, it is between me and my England team-mate Paul Collingwood — we’ve always had a bit of banter when on cricket tours together. Just after Colly’s new baby arrived, I got my wife to send his wife a little Newcastle bib with ‘Toon’s Best Dribbler’ written on it. He knew nothing about it until his missus texted a picture to him. He was genuinely p*ssed off about it, because his wife and in-laws are all Newcastle fans too.
A bonus of being a Newcastle fan is that we tend to do better in the derbies. During the usual pantomime stuff that goes on at St James’ Park, a good performance against Sunderland is the one thing you can rely on. And the 5-1 drubbing we gave our rivals last year was one of the best.
As expected, it was feisty. One tackle in particular, by Lee Cattermole on Jonas Gutierrez, should have warranted a straight red card. If there’s ever been a case of someone trying to take another player’s leg off at the hip then that was it. Conversely, we actually played some nice football, typified by a great Kevin Nolan hat-trick.
The only downside to his three goals was the accompanying celebratory chicken dance [pictured]. Irish bowler Trent Johnston does the same thing when he gets a wicket, and I can’t stand that celebration. I was a big fan of Nolan and the steel he used to add to our midfield but, honestly, snipers should have taken him out as he was performing that dance.
Titus Bramble — a howler-prone defender who used to play for Newcastle, and someone I’d always stick up for because his gaffes only came in televised games — was playing for Sunderland that day. And being a TV fixture, he was inevitably sent off.
The goal that sticks out for me, however, is Shola Ameobi’s, where he jumped and volleyed it in. He can get a lot of stick at times, but he always comes alive in the derbies.
Lee Clark, who is now manager of Huddersfield, is one of the few men who has left United to cross the divide and remained a fan favourite. During his playing days on Wearside, he was pictured before 1999’s FA Cup final cheering Newcastle (who were playing Manchester United) while wearing a T-shirt that had ‘Sad Mackem Bastards’ emblazoned on it — in reference to the Sunderland team he played for at the time. This instantly reinstated him as a hero on Tyneside.
The Breaks Are Off: My Autobiography is out now, priced £20 (Hodder & Stoughton)