David Preece: Why I’m scarred by Newcastle-Sunderland derbies

Paul Hardyman in derby action. Is he looking for John Burridge?
Paul Hardyman in derby action. Is he looking for John Burridge?
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This week is one which has been marked in my diary for months now.

Embarrassingly though, I’ll be sat amongst thousands of squealing Geordies, wetting themselves with excitement, and I’m sure it’s going to be an experience I will never forget.

The anxiety across the region would be off the scale.

Then, after I’ve taken my daughter to see Little Mix at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle tonight, there’s the small business of the derby on Sunday, of course.

It’s not that my eight-year-old isn’t interested in what happens at St James’s on Sunday. She’s very interested, but I have to confess, like Anakin Skywalker, she has turned to the dark side, despite my best efforts to wrestle her allegiance from her mother’s heritage.

Sadly though, there is no turning back, she is lost to evil forever. This story is destined to end with a twist in the plot of Sixth Sense proportions as she will no doubt now go on to marry a Middlesborough fan and muddy the waters even further.

Despite her tender age of eight, she has already picked up on the significance of the fixture, as she’s noted that every time there has been a derby game over the last three seasons, she has been on enemy territory with my parents at their home in Millfield and forced to witness the ensuing celebrations of this remarkable run we’re on. The taste of defeat lingers long, obviously.

You’ll be comforted to know, due to my insanely superstitious streak, I have arranged for her to be there once again, just to assure another win for us.

My daughter - a lucky charm pawn in the battle of Wear versus Tyne!

It is children like my daughter who we really must think about at times such as these. The unfortunate Geordie souls who are growing up, not yet knowing victory, scarred by six defeats in a row.

There’s a masochist in me that wishes Sunday was the last game of the season and everything was being laid on the line. Imagine it; both teams needing a win to assure Premier League survival.

The anxiety across the region would be off the scale. With only nine games to go, this is as good a decider as you’re going to get, perhaps even more significant than the play-off semi-final of 1990.

With a win for either team going a long way to condemning the other, you wouldn’t be surprised if it turns into a heavyweight boxing match where both fighters just dance around the ring, reluctant to risk throwing a punch in fear of being knocked out.

You just know that won’t happen though. The atmosphere alone won’t allow that to happen. Something will happen, something will ignite the game and push it one way or the other.

I was 13 when I witnessed Paul Hardyman attempt to put John Burridge’s head into the back of the net in front of the Fulwell End, but by the time I was 16 I’d experienced the highest of highs and the depths of utter devastation in derby games.

As a 15-year-old, I signed my first contract with Sunderland on the Roker Park pitch before a 1-1 draw, which was most notable for John Kay welcoming Lee Makel onto the pitch as a second-half substitute with one of the finest man-and-ball tackles I’ve ever witnessed. I’d like to add here that I do not condone the use in violence on the football pitch but something about that tackle was beautiful; the timing, the sound of the crowd, the look of “What just hit me?” on Makel’s face.

Remarkable.

And then, a year later, the tragedy, the humiliation of a crushing defeat at the hands of the Black and Whites in my very first derby game for the youth team.

I still get a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach every time the name “Alan Thompson” is mentioned, as I’m pulled back to the very moment I watched his 40-yard effort sail over my head into the net behind me. Did I mention it was also my 16th birthday too? Yeah, it was that bad.

I can testify that the pain of derby defeats run very deep.

Even at the age of 39, I can honestly say, every birthday between then and the last, and most probably every one in the future too, is tainted by the memory of that defeat.