Let’s just enjoy the football

DARK DAY: Hopefully, Sunderland can avoid repeating these scenes from Hallowe’en, where the Black Cats were beaten 5-1 at St James’ Park

DARK DAY: Hopefully, Sunderland can avoid repeating these scenes from Hallowe’en, where the Black Cats were beaten 5-1 at St James’ Park

First published in The Roker Report

FOR the first time in a North- East derby, Sunday’s game features metal barriers designed to segregate the two sets of supporters.

That, combined with in-built ‘digital signage’ and PA loudhailers, should ensure fans don’t accidentally mix and even more accidentally start kicking seven shades of brickdust out of each other.

For the majority of us going to the game, all we want to do is to go to a game of football. The thought of being kettled into a metal pen and transported into the ground all in the name of safety, frankly, alarms me greatly.

Is a ring of steel around the stadium necessary? Is it a step too far?

Most days of the year, I work with a number of Newcastle fans. By and large we rarely come to blows. We’ve never needed police intervention, and never has it been necessary to separate us with metal barriers.

The risk the police pose with this tactic is simple – if you treat supporters like animals, some of them will act like animals.

I’m not saying that both sets of supporters will treat each other in a cordial manner, sharing a pint, having a laugh, but the idea that every single fan will be there to tear shreds off their opponent is risible.

Look at the stats for football violence. On the whole, it is down. The dark days of hooliganism have gone. There are hooligan factions to every club, but to treat both sets of supporters as such is a crime in itself.

I’d like to walk to the match, as I usually do, without fear of violence or intimidation. Metal fences or not, I’m only going there for the football.

AH YES, the football. The oftforgotten inbetweeny bit between being marched into the stadium and marched out.

On paper, both teams go into Sunday’s match in their best comparative positions in the Premier League table, and their best league positions in any division since the 1990 play-off semi-final, when Newcastle were third and Sunderland sixth.

Sunderland are, quite legitimately, challenging for Europe, while Newcastle have surprised many with their start to the season.

Compared to 2008-9, when Newcastle were the only club to hold a Manager of the Year awards ceremony, 2010-11 has been pretty settled so far.

Of course, they couldn’t have gone a season without inexplicably dismissing one manager and even more inexplicably plucking another out of obscurity, but on the pitch, in the big games – as Sunderland have seen to their great expense – Newcastle turn it on.

Alan Pardew predicted that, due to Newcastle and Sunderland’s league positions, this match would attract a bit more interest.

Hmm. It doesn’t really take a lot to pique your average supporter’s interest in these games.

Considering that the derby games are the first thing supporters of both clubs look for, I’m not quite sure there’d be a day where neither sets of supporters can’t be bothered with it.

Maybe if it was like it is in Scotland, where Celtic and Rangers play each other 15 times a season, but here, it’s two games. If you win them, it’s the best feeling in the world.

If you lose one, don’t come anywhere near me. If you win one and draw one, fair play.

If you lose one and draw one, the draw means nothing. It’s a defeat.

So for me, on Sunday, it’s all or nothing. Sunderland may as well go all out for a win.

Stick four up top.

Because if Sunderland don’t win tomorrow, any other result will feel like the end of the world.

Quote of the Week

“Why not? We could use a decent left-winger!”
Steve Bruce on the news that former Labour cabinet minister David Miliband could join the club as a vice-chairman

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