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The tense pre-match atmosphere of an English football rivalry

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2016

In Twelfth Man, a short film by Duane Hopkins, you’ll witness the chaotic and occasionally ugly run-up to a football match in one of the most heated rivalries in England, the Tyne-Wear derby pitting Sunderland against Newcastle United. Watching it, I was reminded of the rhetoric and confrontations happening around the US in the presidential primaries. Turns out, equating politics with sports is not far off the mark in this case.

Sunderland and Newcastle are situated 12 miles apart in North East England. After first meeting in 1883, the teams have played a total of 155 matches, with each winning 53 matches (with 49 draws). According to Wikipedia (and ultimately sourced from a pair of texts on the two cities), the rivalry between the two cities dates back to the English Civil War in the 17th century:

The history of the Wear-Tyne derby is a modern-day extension of a rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle that dates back to the English Civil War when protestations over advantages that merchants in Royalist Newcastle had over their Wearside counterparts led to Sunderland becoming a Parliamentarian stronghold.

Sunderland and Newcastle again found themselves on opposite sides during the Jacobite Rebellions, with Newcastle in support of the Hanoverians with the German King George, and Sunderland siding with the Scottish Stuarts.

If you’re unfamiliar with English football, the entire entry is worth a read, particularly the sections on policing and banning fans during away games and hooliganism. There’s even an entire section on players (and a couple of managers) who have played for both teams, a reminder that although rivalries may stretch back centuries and be rooted in deep political differences, money holds a powerful attraction. (Which brings us right back to the US presidential primaries…)

Update: Matches between the two teams may be hard to come by next year. With a 3-0 win over Everton on May 11, Sunderland secured a place in the Premier League next year and caused Newcastle to be relegated to the Championship, the league below the Premier League. The bitter rivalry rolls on.

Update: See also Viceland’s The Eternal Derby about a football rivalry in Serbia. Here’s the trailer for the episode:

And some footage of a pre-match riot. Intense.

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