Sunderland v Newcastle U21 derby is unique - but nobody wanted it
When Sunderland were drawn to play Newcastle United's Under-21s at home in the Checkatrade Trophy, my first thought was 'I bet Northumbria Police are delighted'.
This unique, curiosity of a fixture presents a potentially costly, logistical nightmare for both clubs, and the local constabulary.
Not only will all three parties have viewed the fixture with some dread, it is worth noting the game is not even a proper derby.
It is without question a competitive fixture, but it is not between Sunderland and Newcastle United.
As such, it won’t be counted on the overall record between the two sides. Instead, the record books will show what is hopefully the only ever victory for Sunderland over Newcastle United’s Under-21s. God forbid the result goes the other way.
This fixture should never be played again for two reasons; Sunderland will hopefully have escaped the third tier of English football, never to return, and, just as importantly, the Football League will return the competition to its original format, removing academy sides altogether.
In the meantime, the fixture nobody wanted is here and must be dealt with. The primary concern of those responsible for putting the fixture on and policing it will be to avoid a repeat of scenes in the Potteries, where a similar fixture between Port Vale and Stoke City’s U21s turned ugly and got out of hand.
Bearing in mind the Stadium of Light is a much bigger venue than Vale Park, and both Sunderland and Newcastle United are much bigger clubs, with far larger fanbases, the potential for trouble is obvious.
With that in mind, the authorities will no doubt be plotting ways to defuse what could be a volatile evening on Wearside.
One way which has been addressed is that Sunderland fans wanting tickets must have a valid customer number and purchasing history recorded on the club’s database. That stops any opposition fans trying to get into the home end, should they try to do so. There is also a purchase limit of four tickets per supporter in place.
There was a thought that away fans could be barred from entry – their removal from the equation would make the event more manageable and, crucially, a lot cheaper to police. It would have been unfair on Newcastle fans however, punishing them for something they might do wrong, rather than have done wrong.
Taking things a step further, the game could have been played behind closed doors. This would have removed the unfairness factor associated with an away fan ban and would have allowed Sunderland to reduce costs to as close to zero as possible. However, this is a competitive game on the road to a potential Wembley final, and having no supporters at the game would have a negative impact.
It would also have been an exceptionally draconian move, based on the precedence of one game played at Vale Park.
I ran a poll prior to writing this article and, while far from representative of all supporters, the most popular option by some distance was to play the game as if it was any other fixture. It seems that is the decision taken by all parties, although it will be interesting to see the away allocation Newcastle bring after Stewart Donald’s comments.
Whatever decisions are taken, it is a fixture everyone could have done without.