The Sunderland “Derby”… Another Cultural Cocktail

Is the Sunderland game a derby? Only if we win.

A victory either way will prompt metaphorical jubilant hand gestures from an open – topped banter bus parade along the A19 on one side and furiously feigned *meh* “just another game” indifference on the other.

If either team take the three points it will spark either bouts of gleeful triumphalism or a series of history and geography lessons proving conclusively the result is irrelevant.

We all know the script, the scoreline just determines who plays which part.


        Boro fans celebrate yet another famous win in the ‘Doesn’t Matter To Us’ Derby

Of course this game is a “derby” … even though the build-up to the fixture every time sees overly emotive message board denunciations with some of our our striped cousins insisting at great length and with well rehearsed rhetoric that “it divvent matter t’ wheez” and that it is just another game ‘like Hull’.  Methinks they protesteth too much.

Denial by ideologues on both sides is just the dark arts of soccer spin doctors trying to distance themselves from the glaringly obvious fact : this is a match of paramount parochial importance. It matters. To deny it so stridently is just pre-emptive damage limitation aimed at reducing the pain should the unthinkable happen.

Derbies are not about distance. Not now anyway. Historically it was always taken to mean games within the same city: Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Milan, Rome, Glasgow all have derbies. Those games still have the power to divide families and communities and work-mates and still stand for local pride, intense passion and high-profile policing and  by those strict criteria Boro are from a one team town and have never had a true derby – unless you count a few Victorian skirmishes with the mighty Ironopolis.

Yet we all know there are teams it matters more we should win against. Or at least not lose.  When I was a kid it was Leeds. With Boro in Division Two, coachloads of Teessiders headed south wearing their smiley badge sock tags every other week, the glory hunting Man United fans of their day. Playground pride demanded we beat them above all.

Of course, that was when Middlesbrough was still very much politically and culturally part of Yorkshire. As we know the entire mental framework and municipal machinery of the town was moved several miles north in the 1960s in an act of bureaucratic feng shui to become part of a different entity and TV region and so new rivalries have been created. Or, at least, old ones have been recast and given added weight and intensity anyway.

Some may argue Boro have only ever played eight real league derby games, against Darlington in 1925-26, 26-27, 66-67 and 1986-87 (won seven, drawn one). Or the occasional outing against Hartlepool in the League Cup. These football fundamentalists with strict definitions are backward Luddites who need a sharp dose of modern reality.

The world is bigger now, our horizons wider and social mobility and transport links have blurred ancient loyalties that were once sharply defined by the city boundary. People no longer spend their entire lives in the street they were born, their horizons determined by the circulation area of the local paper.

Social and economic mobility  has stretched the boundaries.  It is not just on Teesside that people have upped sticks and moved for work or education or love.  There are plenty of Mackem fans living within the orbit of Teesside attracted first by ICI  and then by other industries. There  are plenty of Teessiders living and working on Wearside and Tyneside.

The layers of loyalties in the region look like a Venn diagram.


The modern concept of the derby game has been broadened. We have Thames Valley derbies, East Midlands derbies, South Coast derbies, Old Farm derbies, Black Country derbies, M62, M66, M69 and A500 derbies – and most definitely North-east derbies.

While the strict local element of this highly-charged fixture has faded, the other ingredients have increased in inverse proportion, especially the intense passion, the cost in social status of failure and the high-profile policing. At Sunderland over the years we have seen tooled up robo-cops, helicopters, armed convoys in and out of town and fans being kettled behind portable steel walls normally seen in Belfast, Beirut and Baghdad.

You’re not telling me that is normal matchday procedure also used when Swansea or Watford are in town. That is special policing for special fixtures: derby matches.

Modern derbies are now about municiple boundaries they are about shared accents, shared workplaces and shared transmitters.  It is no co-incidence Tyne-Tees derbies are named after the TV station that defines the area.

Our current mental universe has been shaped by Kenneth Wolstenholme on Shoot, Roger Tames’ late night commentaries and by the inane schoolboy banter of the regional playground on Three Legends, a shared experience for fans of all three clubs.

If we lost the semi-derby with Leeds now, it wouldn’t have too much cultural impact – unless you wandered into the no-man’s land of Whitby or Thirsk wearing a Boro top. For most fans there would be no long tail of taunting, no squirming and no need to listen to smug former Elland Road legends gloating about it on the Monday evening news.

But lose to Newcastle or Sunderland and there is a price of public humiliation, baiting and banter to be endured and harsh new political realities to adjust to. It’s a derby then.


               Shirt swap scrappers Grant and Lee discuss demographics and semantics

The games have weight beyond the 90 minutes. Every game is added to the common body of knowledge that determines the local pecking order, that informs the arguments in pubs and workplaces and underpins the sniping over the banter barricades, the chanting, the cyber-squabbling. It feeds into the folklore of a region fired by football.  Every key result is remembered and recycled and spun and shaped as a weapon.

That is what makes these games derbies. They are cultural public property shared with other people who also believe that they really matter. The sting of defeat is more painful than with other teams of similar status and the pain is dragged out for weeks – years – by the mischievous or maliciously minded neighbours.

It is inescapable because the victors live and work are in our orbit and in our face, rubbing it in and using it as a weapon to beat us and a tool that invalidates every other achievement for the foreseeable future.

Unless we lose of course. Then it is just another game.


101 thoughts on “The Sunderland “Derby”… Another Cultural Cocktail

  1. Rock and Roll!

    What a great result and a top team performance.

    I would have posted earlier but my hands were shaking so much if I had AV would have needed an Enigma machine to decypher it.

    I agree with SteveH the last 15 we were okay, but never the less I was pacing up and down desperate for it to finish.

    A solid start to the season, which will build confidence. I agree Forshaw played well, Stuani’s goal may be the best Boro goal this season. Negredo and Forshaw were superb in making the second.

    Up and running.

  2. Hi Richard

    It is wrong to jump to conclusions about Rhodes – or indeed, the “United outcasts” who have joined Boro, as you talked about in a past post – before stories of his departure and their qualities, respectively, are explicitly, concretely, officially proven.

    “United outcasts” such as Tom Heaton and Michael Keane are crucial cogs in the Burnley machine. Lest we forget that but for the latter’s untimely intervention the promotion procession may have been a little easier.

    Similarly, Jonny Evans was “worth every penny” to Sunderland as they went up and stayed up under Roy Keane.

    My point? Give AK – and the players he plays – a chance. They may pleasantly surprise you.

    Like, you know, Stuani did today.

    1. And not forgetting Forshaw who has taken a long time waiting to get a run of games and looks at home In the Premiership

  3. Those were two Premier League class goals today and I may not be being generous enough. Stuani’s strike was superb whilst had Fabregas, Silva or Ozil played the pass that Forshaw did today, the nation would have been drooling.

    Speaking of Forshaw, he was outstanding. I am a little biased towards him because I think, with his more forward-thinking instincts, he offers is a better balance in the deeper midfield roles but he was excellent and should retain his place for the games where the oppostion’s defence are there to be got at.

    I was surprised by Stuani’s inclusion but shouldn’t have been – Karanka always plays him in the more physical games and whilst I thought he was generally quiet, he was typically industrious and that strike was fantastic. I didn’t think he could score those kind of goals.

    Stuani’s lack of pace as well as the being a bit clumsy on the ball at times deny us a counter-attacking threat but he often makes up for it with clever movement and positioning, neat finishing and above all hard graft. I expect to him feature a fair bit and would pick him next Sunday when Pulis’ Baggies will give us a physical test and threaten from set pieces.

    Negredo played well for an hour but seemed to fall of cliff in the last thirty. Fitness work required there but you can see how much his natural game and skill suits AK’s approach.

    Equally good was Ben Gibson. The step up from The Championship doesn’t appear to have fazed him in the slightest though there are tougher tests to come.

    I thought Barragan alongside him also did well with a mix of aggression and good reading of the game. Not bad at all for a right back still settling in. That said, it was great to see Ayala come back and with Barragan moving to his natural position, you can see our defence improving over the next few weeks.

    Downsides? Not many. I felt very comfortable with Guzan barking out the orders and making one terrific save until he spilled a solid shot for Sunderland’s goal. With another fumble not long after things suddenly became a little nervy.

    I’m not sure what to think about the goalkeeping situation. Dimi has done nothing wrong and deserves a start (he may get one midweek) but I’m not totally convinced he’s good enough. Problem is the others have it all to prove too.

    But that can wait. Great win today.

    1. Thought Ben had a great game too but he should have been aware of the follow up for their goal and followed the player who was running instead of standing and watching. I’m sure AK will point it out also Albert who was neared just watched George racing back to try and intercept.

      I know it’s early days but I don’t think AA suits this Premiership and hope he proves me wrong

      1. AA did ok against Stoke, whilst he was something of a limp lettuce against the mackems coming onto the left side of the pitch as he did. Many have said before that he’s an emotive type of player. That doesn’t mean he’s a write off, far from it, but when he’s out of the groove for whatever reason, then the performance is going to be effected. Yet, when he’s up for the game he can be exciting and a game changer. IMHO


  4. I predicted or at least hoped pre season that we would have two points with the existing Championship squad after these two games but that I was expecting four points with the new arrivals on board so I should say so far so good but good right now that feels like an overstatement.

    Perhaps not such a great surprise that Albert was dropped after his explosive runs but no end product against the Potters such is AK’s expectations. Stuani’s introduction was a shock to some but in fairness he took his opportunity with a MOM performance aided and closely run for the MOM award by Nsue. Stuani is centrally more direct and forthright than Albert and today his first goal was an absolute firecracker. The second was a brilliant build up with Forshaw threading a perfect weighted pass through to Negredo who could have shot himself but selflessly poked it through to Stuani who in the middle of the 6 yard who blasted it home.

    2-0 and that should have been game over. Despite going in with two goals to the good at half time I felt we made damn hard work of that first half. Some fiddly inter-passing, in part forced by Sunderland closing down quickly but also in part due to our own seeming lack of an outlet made for frustrating spectating. Playing away from home and sitting back defending is fine but Ramirez and Negredo were almost onlookers in the first half and at times our keep ball mantra was very easily read and picked off. A sloppy back pass from Stuani forced Clayton into his second yellow of the season. In fairness to Martin Atkinson I thought overall he went some way to restoring my faith in Premiership referees.

    Brad in goal for the injured Valdes wasn’t a problem when he was collecting a series of routine back passes and hoofing downfield but to who exactly wasn’t clear. Every launch went straight to a candy striped shirt and put us on the back foot. For a side bereft of CB’s one of whom had gone off injured in the first half nothing was sticking up field and Negredo seemed unable to win the aerial duels or hold anything up. He was very good at clutching his head and rolling on the ground after being out muscled but apart from his set up for Stuani’s second his overall contribution was average at best but waned seriously after 60 minutes. Yet again AK waited until the dying embers of the game to replace the Beast. the substitutions today didn’t exactly have the desired effect, after Ramirez went off and Albert was introduced with Stewy going central we handed Sunderland the initiative.

    I felt Albert’s arrival with his languid style was in contrast to what was required at the time. Sunderland were chasing and harrying whilst Albert seemed to be in a relaxed almost chilled environment, totally at odds to what was happening all around him. Stewy had offered George some shelter from Januzaj who had tormented the Devon destroyer and I was surprised that AK thought that Albert would offer similar defensive cover.

    Albert unlike Brad eventually warmed to the game while Guzan started to show signs that were more reminiscent of Villa Park last season. A brilliant tipped save kept us a clean sheet but then what followed was like an advert for those non stick frying pans. As well as predicting four points from our first two games I also predicted that Dimi would regain his place between the sticks as the season wore on. From what I have seen of our two new Keepers my underpants and Mrs Red’s detergent definitely show a preference for Dimi to date.

    Three points are three points but I was disappointed today. I feel we are a much better side than the one I witnessed. Defensively we looked solid centrally and Barragan again looked formidable alongside Ben but George had probably his toughest game yet in a Boro shirt. Nsue was a constant outlet and supported Stuani down the right flank including a brilliant run to drag a defender wide for Stuani’s first.

    Negredo has undoubted skill and ability but considering today was the day after his 31st birthday at times it looked more like his 41st. He needs to up his fitness levels and provide an outlet. On todays showing for me I would be more inclined to pick Stuani as a central striker (bearing in mind I put £20 on him last Season to finish top scorer in the Championship). Whilst I would normally plump for Albert wide right his effort today I felt was below par so perhaps Fischer deserves his chance against the Baggies.

    I hope the Rhodes omission was down to squad rotation rather than interest from other clubs, as yet Negredo hasn’t shown me enough to jettison Rhodes. Worryingly Barragan apart the best performers today once again were our Championship stalwarts.

    Now I’m aware I sound miserable and ungrateful but the opposition today were continual relegation jugglers Sunderland and at times we did not look at all comfortable and controlled especially after our Substitutions. This was a team whose home support was truly abysmal, stunned into a Stuani induced silence and out sung by the travelling Teessiders. They were there for the taking and yet we ended up hanging on. Had it been the Emirates, the Etihad or OT I would have been waxing lyrical but the after match celebrations in the changing rooms were very deluded. Not good enough for the Premiership and must do better despite the three points.

    1. RR said: ‘Not good enough for the Premiership and must do better despite the three points.’

      Now there’s a contradiction in terms RR! Not good enough but three points. Regardez-vous! You sound like me a bit from last season and I know where you’re coming from but my expectations have changed.

      Boro are the new boys in town and were playing away. We got two, yes TWO goals at their ground and before you say they were crap I’ll strike back with the old cliche that you can only play those that are in front of you.

      Can the Boro do better? I think it has to be a big resounding YES they can. But for a second game, with AK penchant for throwing selection surprises around like they’re going outta fashion, it was very much job done.

      Do not be surprised by surprising selections (we know AK now from old) and realise that the tactical mantra will for the most part remain the same. I recall one A Ferguson saying that all opposition teams knew how Man U played, they simply had to stop them and that’s where the problem lay.

      There will be times Boro will be beaten but yesterday was not one of those times so credit to the players for the win and AK for getting it right.


  5. I am claiming total credit for the three points.

    Not only was I taking down a hedge, I had dropped my phone and it was out of service. Nipped in and it was 0-1, popped in later and it was 0-2, later again and it was 1-2. Made a strategy choice and continued helping, it stayed 1-2.

    You cant argue with that.

    1. Spot on Ian, glad to see you ‘hedging’ your bets.

      Redcar – I think you’re being a tad unfair on Negredo, having looked at the Sky graphic, he covered a huge amount of ground unlike Defoe who hardly moved. Negredo showed a touch of class to create the second goal, credit where it is due.

      1. Nigel

        Negredo is brilliant when he is presented with an opportunity. His careless first touch aside when he was put through for a chance himself his earlier set up for Stuani was sublime and unselfish.

        Unfortunately at present he is unfit at this level and needs to up his workrate, we can’t afford to play with 10 players and have the luxury of carrying a prima donna. Its questionable how a player can come through pre season and be so unfit compared to his peers.

        Defoe was dire today but in no small part to Barragan and Gibson who were excellent.

  6. I’m not sure Adomah was really ‘dropped’, it was more horses for courses wasn’t it? Stuani tends to play away from home under Karanka. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stuani play next week and then Adomah back in for the Palace game regardless of performance – although if Stuani bangs another 2 in next week he’ll be impossible to leave out. We might even see some further rotation – Downing might miss out next week with Adomah on the left (as we finished today).

    And of course we have Fulham in midweek – presumably Dimi, Baptiste, Ayala, de Sart, Fischer, Nugent will all play then. I like Rhodes but it looks like he is on his way out to me.

    1. If someone scores two goals then in my book he should keep his place, competition for places is great, snooze you lose. Likewise Forshaw, he has staked his claim and worthy of his start, its now up to de Roon, de Sart and Grant to unseat him.

      Stuani wide right and Albert left is not my preference but two goals to me means Stuani gets a starting spot. At whose expense and whereabouts on the pitch is up to AK.

      Hopefully at Fulham we will see a few of the peripheral squad players and subs get a game.

  7. Hey, lads. We won, 2-1 away, to one of the teams most people believe will be amongst those contesting the relegation spots this season. That’s fine by me. We need points in the bag to ensure continued Premier League status and this win got us three of those precious points. That will satisfy me. The fact it was against Sunderland is the icing on the cake.

    Both of Stuani’s goals were very enthusiastically greeted by the happy throng in the Battered Badger. Oh, how we sympathised with the Sunderland defence (or not…..).

  8. Was this an important victory?

    far too early but pre season were clear third favourites to go down, before the weekend we were joint third favourites, now we are tenth favourites for the top ten.

    All a bit daft but I will take tenth now!

  9. I always enjoy your posts, RR.

    But I have to say that the celebrations were not deluded one bit. Far from it.

    The significance of your first win in the Premier League in 7 – SEVEN – years cannot be underestimated.

    You will rightly downplay the quality of the opposition, but as both AK and I will tell you, the importance of getting off the mark and what it means to the unity and momentum of the team and the club transcends all else at times like this.

    You can only beat you who are playing against. We did.

    I will happily enjoy seeing Stuani’s goals again on MOTD2.

    And would I have been “waxing lyrical” over a win like this at the Emirates and Old Trafford? At this time? Perhaps not, actually. For a win that high profile might have raised the stakes and expectations too soon – a low profile win which shows we still have much to learn allows us to highlight both the positives (of which there are many – you *are* harsh on Negredo) and the negatives, and work on them, while there is still plenty of time to do so.

    Yes, your concerns are legit, but I am positive AK will address them. It is, as the saying goes, a marathon, not a sprint.

    1. Sorry, that should have been “you can only beat who you are playing against”.

      Much praise for our defence, Friend especially, from the MOTD2 panel.

  10. Whilst Australia is a long way away, it does have the advantage of all Premiership games being shown live and so I’ve seen both in full.

    Boro certainly look to have the quality to play at this level but, in both games we have relinquished control and dropped very deep. That left a big gap between the front man and the rest and the ball just kept on coming back. A better side than Sunderland would probably have equalised. We can’t give the opposition midfield so much easy possession twenty five yards out.

    I agree about the substitutions. Nugent could have come on ten or fifteen minutes earlier and been a more lively outlet. Having said that, I love watching Negredo. He is pure quality and the more that people learn to run off his first time flicks, the better we will do. Stuani may also prove to be a better partner because of his eye for a goal.

    Given the extra defender on the bench, it had to be a straight choice between Nugent and Rhodes for the bench and he probably went with Nugent for his running. I hope that Rhodes gets a chance soon and I’d love to see him in a two man front line with Negredo at least for part of a game. We can’t afford to sell him because a better replacement will cost a fortune.

    Forshaw looks to be growing into the role and, as everyone else has said, that was a beautiful reverse ball. I did feel that Clayton had one of his quieter games. It will be interesting to see how the midfield lines up when everyone is fit. What odds Forshaw and De Sart against Fulham?

    I’m a little surprised that RR was so impressed by Nsue. He still seems to be vulnerable and I sense that Barragan will become the regular right back. He and Gibson looked excellent and Ayala always looks dominant so that seems a natural triple.

    Friend had a torrid start with Januzaj giving him real problems. However, they worked it out and he and Downing quietened things down a bit. George still looks very good going forward.

    Downing looks so much better this year. Maybe he isn’t getting the close attention that he received last year but he looks to be back to the quality player that we all knew.

    What was the deal with Ramirez. He never really got into the game. Was he injured?

    Finally, Guzan didn’t inspire me with confidence. He’s a good shot stopper but he did drop those two balls.

    Anyway, great to get the win and I’m not sure that it’s now a question of bringing in more players but rather improving the way that we hold onto games.

    A lot to look forward to.

    Two points a game. I’ll take that for the season 😀


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s