The Tyne-Wear derby is part of 90min’s 50 Biggest Derbies in the World Series.
It’s a well-known fact that England’s most passionate football fans come from the north. While the game is loved up and down the country, it’s certainly much more than just that when you venture up towards the border.
Football is a religion in the north, giving birth to some of the most raucous, passionate fanbases in the whole of the country. Equally passionate clubs facing off against each other always gives for an enthralling match, and the Tyne-Wear derby is a perfect example of that.
Newcastle United and Sunderland are separated by just 12 miles, and to say that they despise each other is an understatement. Currently two leagues apart, their meeting is even more of an occasion than before, last battling it out in March 2016 when Sunderland were still in the Premier League.
The Tyne-Wear derby is certainly one of the best of its kind in England – and one of the most unique.
While most derbies are simply based on geographical terms, this rivalry precedes even the beautiful game. Newcastle and Sunderland’s rivalry extends past their clubs and to the cities themselves, who have shared a rivalry based on their traditions and political differences.
Today, both cities are left-wing Labour strongholds, but the situation was completely different 378 years ago.
Understanding this derby requires some knowledge of English history, specifically the English Civil War. When the war began in 1642, Newcastle pledged their allegiance to King Charles I’s Royalists – also known as Cavaliers – because the king had awarded coal trading rights to them.
Meanwhile, Sunderland chose to support Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians – or Roundheads – having been snubbed for the trading rights in favour of Newcastle.
On opposing sides of a gruesome nine-year war, a rivalry was born.
Their political differences transferred onto the pitch, with Newcastle and Sunderland first playing each other in 1883, four years before the Black Cats won the first competitive meeting.
Like many English derbies, the clash has seen its fair share of hooliganism. Newcastle fans ran onto the pitch in a 1990 meeting hoping to get the match abandoned, as Sunderland were winning 2-0 in the Second Division play-off semi-final. They saw out the result before losing to Swindon Town in the final – to the delight of Newcastle fans.
In October 2008, Sunderland fans threw missiles at Newcastle player Joey Barton, having just won 2-1 in their first derby victory at the Stadium of Light in 28 years. Three years later, a Sunderland fan invaded the pitch and pushed goalkeeper Steve Harper to the floor, later banned for the foreseeable future.
Although you can’t really condone the hooliganism that has arisen from this clash, it goes to show just how passionate and divided both sets of fans are. Whether it’s fans from either side of the rivers fighting each other or attacking opposition players on the pitch, the madness of the Tyne-Wear derby says everything you need to know about it.
The fierceness and determination transfers from the stands onto the pitch, where the players know how much this derby means. The clashes always give for a cauldron of atmosphere, whether it’s at the towering stands of St. James’ Park or the electric sounds of the Stadium of Light.
For a football rivalry that has been played since the late 19th century, it’s remarkable that the head-to-head record is tied. Sunderland and Newcastle have each won 53 times against their arch rival, with their meetings ending all square on exactly 50 occasions.
Their last meeting proved to be a massive six-pointer, when Newcastle welcomed the Black Cats to St. James’ Park in March 2016. Jermain Defoe gave the visitors the lead before half time, before Aleksandar Mitrović snatched a late point for the Magpies, avoiding a seventh straight Tyne-Wear defeat.
Both sides were battling relegation that season, vying to remain in the Premier League. It went right down to the wire, as Newcastle went down just two points and one place behind Sunderland, who remarkably pulled off another great escape. They were eventually relegated the following season, while the Magpies came straight back up.
Four years without a Tyne-Wear derby has made Sunderland’s mission to return to the top flight even greater, though they currently languish down in League One. Newcastle continue to wait at the top for their rivals’ return, though that could be some while from now.
The absence of the north-east classic was somewhat replenished in January 2019, when Sunderland were drawn with Newcastle in the Checkatrade Trophy third round. Even if it was only the Magpies’ Under-21 side, the Black Cats refused to let the opportunity pass by, thrashing Newcastle 4-0 after a ruthless second-half performance in front of 16,654 fans.
We may be a few years off the Tyne-Wear derby, but when it returns it’ll be better than ever. The renewal of old foes – both in the world of football and Stuart politics – will be a feisty one, showing why Newcastle and Sunderland’s rivalry is one of the finest in world football.