In modern times, it is seen as a fierce local footballing rivalry; the fixture Mackems and Geordies look out for at the start of the season. But like all great derbies, the Tyne and Wear divide has a historical conflict at its core.
The rivalry between the two cities, just 12 miles apart, predates football by over 400 years. It is a conflict with roots in kings and coal.
In the early 1600s, Charles I consistently awarded Newcastle the East of England coal trading rights, which rendered the Sunderland coal trades redundant. This monopoly effectively stunted the growth of the (then) town – with coal and ships the very reason for its existence – and caused hardship to those who lived and worked by the River Wear.
But the division widened in 1642 when the English Civil War began. Newcastle – naturally – supported the Crown, and Sunderland, because of the trading inequalities, sided with Oliver Cromwell’s rebel Parliamentarians.
In March 1644, the Royalist army based in Newcastle clashed with an anti-monarchist force from Sunderland at Boldon Hill, South Tyneside; roughly halfway between the Tyne and the Wear.
Bolstered by 20,000 soldiers from Scotland under the command of Alexander Leslie, the Parliamentarian army were victorious and went on to siege, and eventually capture, Newcastle which became a republican military base for rest of the war.
However, following the Restoration of the monarchy which began in 1660, a number of Royal Charters restricted Sunderland’s growth as a trade centre.
During the Jacobite Rebellions, the population of Tyne and Wear were on opposing sides once again, with Newcastle in support of the Hanoverian monarch King George II and Sunderland siding with the ‘Stuarts’ who represented British claims for the throne.
Following the industrial revolution, heavy manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding on both rivers, began to boom. In a reverse of the coal trading rights issue which had blighted Sunderland centuries earlier, during the Commonwealth, Sunderland grew rapidly after being given preferred status over the ports on the River Tyne.
As time passed, the old political allegiances became diluted, the areas became friendlier, and the differences switched to those of civic pride. But during the late 19th century, a football rivalry between the two cities began to emerge.
The first meeting between Sunderland and Newcastle United took place in 1883 but held extra significance due to the fact both clubs’ previous arch-enemies – Newcastle West End and Sunderland Albion – had folded. The first competitive fixture, a 2-0 victory for Sunderland in an FA Cup tie, came five years later in 1888.
Newcastle claimed the honours in the first league fixture between the two sides, claiming a 3-2 victory at Roker Park on Christmas Eve 1898. The Red and Whites would gain revenge four months later, winning a 1-0 on Tyneside.
However, the bitter animosity first boiled over off the pitch during the 1901 Good Friday “Derby That Never Was” at St James’ Park, which had to be abandoned as up to 70,000 fans made their way into a ground which then only had a capacity of 30,000.
Shortly before 3pm, with the ground full to capacity, all the gates were locked, with thousands still trying to gain admission. The news of the lock-out was met with anger, resulting in a full-scale riot, as fans stormed the entrances with police struggling to hold them back.
Tyne and Wear derby facts
This Sunday’s fixture will be the 145th encounter between the two sides. Newcastle have won 53 derbies, while Sunderland have come out on top in 44 and 47 have ended in draws.
The two clubs have met in the league 134 times, Newcastle winning 51 games, compared to 41 for Sunderland. The two clubs have never played out a goalless draw since the inception of the Premier League, with 51 goals being scored in 19 games, an average of 2.68 goals per match.
At St James’ Park
NUFC won: 31
SAFC won: 18
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