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It must be said that I am loathe to talk about Newcastle United in this feature but this is one week in which circumstance demand an exception. Like the rest of us, I watched on in horror last Halloween as an almost unforgivably meek Sunderland team surrendered our collective pride at St James Park. Amidst my general malaise of befuddlement and embarrassment that night as I was sat in silence wrestling with the torment of a day that has probably redefined the term 'derby day nightmare' forever, there was one thing of which I was steadfastly certain – Sunderland AFC will always have the last laugh over Newcastle United.
Admittedly it was little consolation at the time. But events up the road since, culminating in Joey Barton's latest flagrant disregard of common decency with a Newcastle United badge upon his chest last Saturday evening followed by Alan Pardew's equally disgraceful support of what amounted to common thuggery has certainly justified my view.
I'll cut right to the chase here. Newcastle United is a vile, festering moral black hole of a football club with a long and sordid recent history of condoning criminals and criminal behaviour. It's not something I say just because I am a Sunderland fan, although that obviously makes it more enjoyable to point it out. No, it is just what they are and it isn't a difficult conclusion to reach when presented with the facts.
When Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer openly brawled with each other in the middle of the St James Park pitch, the club continued to validate and condone their behaviour by brushing it under the carpet and continuing to employ them. Although if they had been bothered about potential thugs representing their club then they would have surely not signed Bowyer in the first place after his involvement in a high profile trial during his Leeds days. Granted, Bowyer was acquitted of the charges, but the fact they also happily signed Jonathan Woodgate, who was convicted for affray in the same incident, suggests it wouldn't have bothered them had Bowyer also been convicted. Joey Barton arrived at the club shortly afterwards with a fresh charge of assault hanging over him which would later become a conviction, but not before he was convicted of another assault. Barton remained in the club's employ. When Nile Ranger returned to football following a spell in a young offender's institute for armed robbery, which club were waiting for him with a nice juicy contract? When Steven Taylor and Andy Carroll came to blows on the training ground, which one did the club back? The one with the broken jaw or the one with the bandaged fists? Carroll was "a vital player" according to Chris Hughton following their very next game. Ah well, all if forgiven, then. Clobber who you want.
Still, according to Chris Hughton, the kind of mindless brutality that we witnessed when Joey Barton attacked Morten Gamst Pedersen last year was something that "goes on in football matches in every game". A previously dignified and admirable man like Chris Hughton reduced to lying on television to defend and try and justify the actions of a convicted thug. Very sad state of affairs indeed. He wasn't the first though and he won't be the last either. When I got married, my best man was a Newcastle fan. He is one of a number of fine individuals I have been lucky enough to know and speak to who happen to follow the club. Frankly, they deserve better than being asked to associate themselves and their support with criminals.
Of course, bad eggs and unsavoury incidents will always crop up in football, and Sunderland are no different. Where Sunderland have been very much different, however, is their treatment of those involved. When El Hadj Diouf pulled a knife on a team mate in the dressing room, he was unceremoniously shipped out of the club within 48 hours, despite only arriving a few months before. Similarly, Chris Byrne had only recently arrived from Macclesfield when he was found to be harbouring a murder suspect in his hotel room before finding himself no longer welcome at the club. That meant that when he received his own conviction a few years later for burglary he did so whilst associated with another club. When Kenwyne Jones raised his hands to Herita Ilunga in a Sunderland shirt against West Ham, Steve Bruce offered no "it happens every week" or "he was just expressing himself". His message was clear - "I can't defend Kenwyne".
No one is saying that Sunderland are whiter than white. Mistakes will always be made, but it is an incontrovertible fact that they are a club ran by decent people who understand the responsibility they have to their community. A football club will always exert influence over its fans because of the passion and raw emotion they provoke. It is their greatest gift but also their greatest responsibility. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Earlier this summer when hundreds of Newcastle fans were needlessly invading the pitch and Darlington, Sunderland fans receiving acclaim for being named the best behaved in the Premier League. Yes, we've had our own occasional pitch invader but when one misguided youth collided with Steve Harper on the Stadium of Light pitch, Sunderland fans handed him over to the police and the young man's father marched him to Newcastle United's training ground to apologise for his actions. Certainly a far cry from the coordinated act of stupidity witnessed at the Reynolds Arena. It certainly didn't come as any surprise when last Saturday the St James park crowd roared a rousing welcome to a returning violent criminal with multiple convictions whilst embracing him as their knight in shining armour against the the evils of a man who has saved their club from bankruptcy through sensible financial prudence.
The bookies and the most recent league tables will suggest there is very little between the two clubs this season on the pitch. Certainly, in terms of the likely starting 11s this weekend, there seems to be little between the teams on paper. Our recent record against them on the pitch isn't nice reading for Sunderland fans and it is time we put it right and transform our recent superiority in the league table over them into derby day superiority too, and I see absolutely no reason why the current team can't do it. But regardless of the result, we will always have the last laugh because we can always watch our club with genuine pride at knowing that the ideals we share with our club, and the ideals with which our club represent us, are decent and honourable whilst endorsing and supporting violent criminality will seemingly always be intrinsic to loving Newcastle United.