September 01, 2022 5 min read
The city on the Tees and the city on the Wear, so often in the shadow of the industrial heartland of the river Tyne, both boast fine football clubs and enormous local support. In one of those twists football throws up, the second game in the dugout for new Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray is on Monday night against Middlesbrough, the club he both captained during a difficult period in the 1980s and managed in the 2010s. Mogga, who used to be a Smoggie, is now in charge of the Mackems.
Middlesbrough fan Daniel Gray has written several books on football including the forthcoming The Silence of the Stands, the third in a trilogy of beautiful books which make excellent gifts, even for Mackems, to read while having a drink on a chilly evening. Danny will ‘love him wherever he goes’, as will his fellow Boro fan Harry Pearson, whose Twitter handle references the great George Camsell! Harry wrote the definitive book on football in the North-East, called The Far Corner. He followed this up in 2020 with his ‘sentimental return’ to the region, naturally titled The Farther Corner.
Legendary Players and Enthusiastic Fanbase
After five-and-a-half days of toil in the ironworks or the coalpit, Saturday afternoon was leisure time for the folk of Middlesbrough and Sunderland to see the likes of Wilf Mannion, George Camsell or Brian Clough, who represented both clubs. Pearson noted that in the 1960s, when they were a middling top-tier side, their attendance was bettered by only three sides in the division.
The teams first played one another in the 1887/88 FA Cup, which Sunderland won on a replay. They were league opponents from 1902 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914/15, with the Mackems winning most battles thanks to the presence of Charles Buchan, who moved up from London in 1911 and stayed in the North-East until 1925. This was the same Charles Buchan who co-founded the Football Writers’ Association, of which both Gray and Pearson are members, 75 years ago.
After the war, the two clubs were regular opponents, sharing ten goals in a 5-5 draw at Ayresome Park in October 1936 with Camsell scoring three for Boro. Having been in the First Division in every league meeting until 1958, Sunderland were relegated for the first time ever and they found themselves playing Boro in the second tier. They shared two goalless draws in 1958/59 then a 3-3 draw in December 1962. Sunderland climbed back into the top division in 1964, falling back down in 1970 and meeting the red shirts of Boro once again.
By this time Sunderland had promoted several young talents to the first team, including Dave Watson and Bobby Kerr, who would win the FA Cup in 1973. Boro were managed by Jack Charlton, who put in motion an effective tactic involving midfielder Alan Foggon and were back in the First Division by 1976/77. Boro and Sunderland both won their respective home fixtures, but the Mackems were dumped straight back into the second tier, bouncing back three seasons later.
In 1980/81, the Boro XI for whom Pearson cheered included the Yugoslav striker Bozo Jankovic, while young Chris Turner kept goal for a Sunderland side which included local lad Colin West upfront, proving the pipeline of talent hadn’t dried up in the North-East. A decade later, only six years after they almost went out of business and spent a season in the Third Division with Mowbray playing every game as club captain, Boro fans were delighted to see their boys gain promotion to the inaugural Premier League. Talent included Stuart Ripley, John Hendrie and striker Paul Wilkinson. Following the liquidation of the previous business, local lad Steve Gibson took over the club, forming a new company which still runs Boro today.
Sunderland, for their part, reached the FA Cup final in 1992 with a team containing captain Paul Bracewell (in his second spell as a Mackem) and ex-Boro striker Peter Davenport. Gary Bennett and Kevin Ball would play over 700 times between them for Sunderland. In consecutive seasons, both sides played in both the top two divisions: 1996/97’s matches included Emerson, Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli all playing for Boro and Chris Waddle for Sunderland.
For much of the first decade of the 21st century, Middlesbrough v Sunderland was a top-division fixture full of international talent. No longer were the line-ups made up of Scots and Englishmen but Argentineans (Julio Arca), Danes (Thomas Sorensen), Egyptians (Mido), Australian goalkeepers (Brad Jones and Mark Schwarzer), Italians (Gianluca Festa), Senegalese (Ed Hadji Diouf) and, in Claudio Reyna, Americans. Future England manager Gareth Southgate enjoyed the fixture, as did Paul Ince, Stewart Downing and Kieran Richardson, all capped for England.
It was also a Premier League fixture as recently as 2016/17 where Jermain Defoe started for the Mackems and Alvaro Negredo partnered two Uruguayans upfront (Ramirez and Stuani, Boro fans will recall). Both sides were relegated and, because Sunderland then spent four seasons in League One, this will be the first derby between them since the 3-3 draw in February 2018. Patrick Bamford, now at Leeds, scored two for Boro that day against a Sunderland side reduced to ten men before half an hour had elapsed.
The 2022/23 season has started steadily for Boro, with defeats against QPR, Watford and Reading and a win against Swansea, along with a 1-1 draw against West Brom and 2-2 draws against Sheffield United and Stoke City. Key players include loanees Ryan Giles, Zack Steffen, Alex Mowatt and Rodrigo Muniz, three of whom drop down from Premier League clubs to join new signings Tommy Smith, Marcus Forss, Matthew Clarke and Darragh Lenihan in a typical matchday squad.
Sunderland, who have just lost manager Alex Neil to Stoke City, took their tally to three wins Rotherham United, Bristol City and, ironically enough, Stoke), two draws (QPR and Coventry City) and two defeats (Sheffield United and Norwich City). They are hoping to consolidate their place in the second tier and have signed 13 players, converting Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts into permanent signings after initial loan deals.
Through it all, they still give fans some local lads to cheer, including goalkeeper Anthony Patterson and midfielder Elliot Embleton. They will be prepared to meet their rivals in the full knowledge of the fixture’s importance. Mackem fans can order one of two bottles of vodka, including this Strawberry & Rhubarb flavoured one, here in advance of Monday night’s fixture. Perhaps Tony Mowbray will need a stiff one if he puts one in the eye of the club where he remains fondly thought of.