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Local Derbies: Bigger Than Winning Trophies?

When the fixture list was announced on June 19th for the 2013/14 Premier League season, fans across the country went into overdrive and scrambled to see it for themselves. Eyes everywhere flew down the list in search of the biggest fixture of the campaign – the derby. However, just how important are local derbies and are they as important as winning a trophy?

This round of Premier League fixtures saw the fiercely contested Tyne-Wear derby take place between Sunderland and Newcastle at the Stadium of Light. It was dubbed the “desperation derby” by the local media as both clubs are struggling domestically in the league. When all was said and done, it was Sunderland, under new boss Gus Poyet, who prevailed with a 2-1 victory in dramatic fashion after Fabio Borini fired in an 85th minute winner.

The win was the first time in 47 years that the Black Cats have won back-to-back league games against their near rivals. With both clubs involved in the recent derby unlikely to challenge for any silverware this season, based on their start to the campaign, does this make the matches with each other more important?

In my opinion, yes it does. These games are like cup finals for the teams and fans in the North East. If both clubs finished the season poorly, then one or the other could say, “well at least we won the derby.” In some fans’ eyes that would make up for a lacklustre season and I’m certain this recent win will have done wonders for Poyet in the eyes of the fans. But things can change quickly in football. Just ask Paolo Di Canio who led the Black Cats to a 3-0 win at St. James’ Park at the end of last season.

I’m not saying derby day victories are necessarily bigger than winning trophies, of course they aren’t, but when clubs are unlikely to lift said trophies, then the derby triumph is the next best thing. There’s just something about getting one over on your closest enemy and having the chance to rip into the opposing team with claims that you are the best club in the area. Fans sing that extra bit louder and players fight that extra bit more for the ball as the atmosphere reaches fever pitch. The passion is so raw that even before kick-off seven fans were arrested without stepping a foot inside the Stadium of Light.

In recent years, the emergence of Manchester City and their wealthy new owners has given rise to a power struggle between the Citizens and their red cross-city neighbours. Manchester United, under the new regime of David Moyes, are struggling and there is no question about it. Now, it would be naïve of me to disregard a club such as the Red Devils in the title race with the season still in its early stages, but if United don’t push for the title and fail to record a victory over Man City, I fear for the reaction Moyes will get. Having already been turned over 4-1 at the Etihad, the stage is set for a feisty encounter at Old Trafford later in the season.

Published on October 29 2013 for The Huffington Post.

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