THE Christmas truce police had been hoping for held fast as Newcastle and Sunderland fans united at yesterday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
Officers had opted for a softly-softly approach to this year’s fixture in the hope that the bonds forged between the two sets of supporters in the wake of the deaths of Liam Sweeney and John Alder would create a more relaxed atmosphere than in previous years.
And their decision was vindicated, there being little sign of the vitriol that has marred the fixture in recent years.
Sunderland fans high in the stands at St James’s Park joined in the now-traditional round of applause on 17 minutes, in memory of the two North East men killed when flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in July.
Magpies fans returned the favour, applauding on 33 minutes to show their gratitude for the £33,000 Sunderland fans raised for charity as a tribute to the two men.
Despite the game being staged on the last weekend shopping day before Christmas, with more than 200,000 people crowding into Newcastle city centre to watch the match or hit the shops, there was little trouble.
Police made just 17 arrests for public order offences, assault, breach of banning orders and drug offences.
Operations commander Chief Superintendent Steve Neill said: “I want to thank the public for their patience and co-operation.
“It has been a very busy day, but we are pleased that it has passed without any significant disruption or major incident.
“We have worked very closely with our partners to help keep both Newcastle and Sunderland city centres running as smoothly as possible.
“The vast majority of football fans were well behaved today, and the Tyne-Wear derby was celebrated for the fantastic sporting event that it is.
“I’d like to praise supporters from both clubs. They worked well with officers on the ground, were extremely patient and good-natured and treated the day in the best spirit.
“At the current time, there have been 17 arrests out of a capacity crowd of more than 50,000 people.
“Public safety is always our number one priority during any football match, and the few people who chose to pose a threat to public safety were dealt with swiftly.” Stephen Savage, Newcastle city centre’s director of public safety and regulation, said “Apart from some minor incidents, the day appears to have passed successfully.
“It has been a great example of partnership working between the council, the police and other partners.
“I would like to pay tribute to both sets of fans, who have supported their teams with passion and respect for each other.”