3,000 Sunderland fans expected to attend ‘best derby in the world’

Can Sunderland make it seven?
Can Sunderland make it seven?
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Police chiefs will be keeping a close eye on pubs and clubs across Sunderland as the Tyne-Wear derby battle is played out.

Tomorrow sees Newcastle United host the Black Cats at St James’s Park, with both sides desperate for points to avoid relegation.

Chief Superintendant Steve Neill.

Chief Superintendant Steve Neill.

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In fact, the stakes have never been higher – certainly in financial terms.

With the Premier League set to begin a new £5billion TV deal next season, even next term’s bottom club will net about £100million, meaning it’s never been more crucial for clubs to preserve their top-flight status.

A capacity crowd of 52,000 is expected, with almost 3,000 Black Cats fans making the trip.

More than 25 coaches will start boarding at the Stadium of Light at 10.30am, but for the first time fans have the opportunity of being picked up from Sunderland city centre.

Fans travelling from the stadium will be prioritised but any coaches left empty following the 11.15am departure will then travel to Station Street to transport any away fans with a ticket to the game.

Match commander and chief superintendent at Northumbria Police, Steve Neill, said four different convoys will transport fans from Wearside through to Newcastle.

“My message to fans is come and enjoy what I think is the best derby in the world,” said the officer.

“We’re going to have four different coach convoys as a result of discussions with fan groups.

“We are not treating everybody as one entity, though.

“For the first time ever, there will be some fans coming without an escort. Coach drivers will ring when they are to close to Newcastle and officers will respond.”

Officers will also be on patrol in Sunderland to make sure that fans, as well as those not watching the game, are safe.

“We want to make sure that people are safe to go about their business if they are going to other events,” Chief Supt Neill added.

“In 2013 (when there was widespread disorder in Newcastle city centre), I think we had a watershed moment which, of course, was followed by the MH17 tragedy.

“I think now there is a lot more confidence and understanding from fans about how they want to be policed.”

The Stadium of Light’s Fan Zone area will be open from 9am for fans wishing to soak up the pre-derby atmosphere before boarding coaches to the game. Last orders at the bars will be 10.45am and supporters will not be allowed to take drinks onto coaches.