From the moment Dennis Wise teamed up with Mike Ashley’s merry band of southern stooges, it always seemed destined that one of his closest comrades from his Stamford Bridge days would have a significant role to play in antagonising Newcastle United. Now, nearly five years after Wise’s swift departure from St James’ Park, it has finally come to pass. Step forward, Gustavo Poyet.
While many Newcastle fans would probably not have been averse to the idea of Poyet following in Alan Pardew’s footsteps, the Uruguayan has decided to take on the challenge of keeping Wearside’s finest in the top flight. His prickly predecessor was tasked with the very same thing last season and he somehow succeeded – largely in spite of himself, it would now seem, with the gift of hindsight.
I have always taken a strong dislike to the zany and unconventional ‘characters’ that the media fawn over and I never liked Di Canio – as a player, manager, or, indeed, as a person – but that’s exactly why he was such a perfect antagonist to have over at the Stadium of Light. I was sorry to see him go. His histrionics kept Sunderland in the media spotlight and took some of the focus off the circus at St James’ Park, while his militant and confrontational management style made a nice change from the insipid nonsense that managers reel out week after week.
While Poyet seems an eminently more likeable character, it is entirely fitting that he should take the reins on Wearside. Here is a man who Sir Bobby Robson once described as “the bane of my life” because of his uncanny knack of scoring almost every time he faced Newcastle in his playing days. More recently, he masterminded two consecutive FA Cup victories over Pardew’s men whilst in the Brighton hotseat, so, it’s safe to say that Poyet has form when it comes to ruffling The Magpies’ feathers.
It seems that some Newcastle fans would be happy to see Sunderland crash and burn but I, for one, wish them well.
Modern football is a multinational money-spinning industry and fans from the other side of the globe pledge allegiance to clubs seemingly at random. I was coerced into going to Old Trafford a couple of years ago and encountered a vast and impressive stadium but it was one that was filled with tourists and fans visiting from overseas. As we have seen from Man Utd’s dominance over the past 20 years or so, success wins fans from far and wide, which in turn will increase revenue and create a cycle of investment and further glory. Sure, we’d all love to be see Champions League football return to St James’ Park and for Newcastle to be competing with Europe’s elite but, unfortunately, we’re a million miles from that at the moment.
It’s a sad fact but it’s one which makes local rivalry all the more important and lends it an extra edge. If we can’t win the league or one of the cups or even put up a good fight, then what have we got to play for? Well, as meagre and miserable as it might sound, local bragging rights mean a lot. Especially in a city like Newcastle where the club is so closely connected to the people’s hearts and minds. If Sunderland go down, it may be a long time before they come back up and then we will lose two of our most eagerly-anticipated fixtures of the season.
Local rivalry is what it’s all about. Without Tom, there is no Jerry; without Itchy, there is no Scratchy – Newcastle United need Sunderland.