BY MAT GUY
With the one hundred year anniversary of the Christmas Day truce – a match played out between the German and British trenches that would become the graves for countless soldiers during the horrors of World War One – it seems apt that a smaller, modern day truce of sorts is being planned by the supporters clubs of Newcastle United and Sunderland ahead of this weekends’ Tyne-Wear derby.
Dismayed by the stringent rules put in place by both clubs, whereby a visiting supporter to a derby match will only get their match ticket once on a supporter bus that will transport them right to the away end and back again, fan groups from both sides of the North East divide began a campaign calling for fans of both clubs to ‘Keep the passion, but lose the poison’ that had seemed to have overtaken all other emotions come derby day.
Near riots at recent matches had led police and clubs alike to determine that the only safe way for visiting fans to get to St James’ Park or The Stadium of Light would be under these draconian measures.
It was these measures, however, that made both supporter groups take stock, and realise that hate had hijacked the dedication and fervour that has over the years made the Tyne-Wear clash one of the great derbies in world football.
This fan led initiative to keep what makes a derby match so special, but to jettison the vitriol that has, in recent years, overshadowed anything that might take place on the pitch is a breath of fresh air, and hopefully more programmes like it can be rolled out across the country.
The south coast derby between Southampton and Portsmouth has used the same method of transport that both Geordies and Mackems are railing against for the last two clashes. It seemed the only option after the two matches before them descended into running riots and pitch battles.
It made my wife’s grandfather despair; a man who had grown up during the Second World War, and who used to attend matches at Portsmouth’s Fratton Park in the years after the war to watch a higher standard of football when Saints were playing away. He wasn’t the only one; plenty of Southampton fans would go to watch first division football and Portsmouth battling to win titles, standing openly and side-by-side with Pompey supporters.
With the horrors of the war still fresh in everyone’s mind, the perspective that is being called for this weekend was by far and away the norm; when the thought of your neighbour being your enemy was as abstract as it still is in countries such as The Faroe Islands, countries that never imported the hooliganism of the seventies and eighties that swept across most of Europe.
On a weekend trip to catch some Faroese football I met Hannis and Jacob, two lifelong friends, and lifelong supporters of the capital Torshavn’s two big rivals: HB and B36.
When talking about the violence and hate that still seems to persist and even thrive around our big derby matches, neither could grasp the concept.
‘But surely’, Hannis had said ‘If you live near one another, then you have more in common. You have more reason to be friends?’
In the cold light of reason it is a compelling argument, and quite possibly a damning indictment of what our derby days have become. Maybe with fan run initiatives like this weekend’s ‘keep the passion, lose the hate’ campaign, then possibly we can reclaim some of that perspective that the one hundred year anniversary of rival armies coming together to play a simple game of football demands.