No lie in today. You’re up, heading for the shower. You need to be ready. Your legs are like jelly but that’s nothing a warm shower won’t sort out. There’s a warm feeling in your stomach that’s slowly dancing round your body. Strange. You catch yourself in the bathroom mirror. Something is different this morning, there’s no heaviness from a deep kip in your eyes, but there is something. Something you can’t quite put your finger on. Better get washed quick so that you can knock a bacon sarnie up, your stomach is screaming at you. Bubbling away. Christ, you need some food.
Shower on and you’re squeezing the last remnants of Lynx Africa shower gel into your hand. Good thing it’s Christmas soon, Auntie Linda is always good for the gift sets. Your stomach is still going. It’s getting faster now, as if something is wriggling inside of you, trying to escape. It’s not heartburn is it? You dodged having a takeaway last night, meant to be trimming down if you’re going to have a crack at the blonde out of the finance department at the office party. Fuck, you’re going to aren’t you? You’re going to be sick. Aye, there it is. A burning rush that causes you to keel over. Nothing is coming up though. This is fucking grim. You’re shaking. Slowly, you manage to compose yourself. Getting to your feet, you look into the bathroom mirror again and there it is. You know why you’re feeling like a 16 year old heading to his first job interview, like the first time you took a girl out on a “proper” date.
It’s derby day.
Derby days are an odd thing. They’re the biggest games of the season. Winning them can be more important than going on a cup run or finishing high up in the league. Losing them can feel worse than a 5-0 spanking. The cocktail of excitement and fear, dreams and dread can change people. Your average fan, decked out in the years latest replica top, becomes imbibed with the geezer spirit of Danny Dyer; goading their opposite number from behind lines of riot police and steel fences.
Vicious, deep hatred is manifested in vile chants about another club’s tragedies, glass bottles being rained down on police escorts, a sea of middle fingers and wanker gestures and occasionally, a descent into the “dark days” of English football as groups of blokes punch seven shades out of each other. Why? Well, usually, it’s because the opposition team is closer to you than the rest. If you can get there via your local bus provider, fuck them. Build a bonfire, put them in the middle and burn the fucking lot.
Promotions and silverware aside, derby wins and moments are the best part of being a football fan. They’re the ones that you’ll always remember, long after the memories of smash and grab wins against the superpower clubs have died. Barry Robson sending a high ball crashing into the bottom corner of the next at the Stadium of Light in the league cup, Marten De Roon stretching to score in front of the Boys End and Christian Stuani having a proper good go at being his Uruguay mate Luis Suarez to twat one into the top corner to secure a first Premier League victory of the season. It’s videos of Emerson being dead Brazilian and Franck Quedrue writing fairy tales. Those feelings you get, just from remembering those moments, that wave of pride is what makes a derby special.
Sunderland fans like to crack on that tomorrow “isn’t a derby”. There’s Boro fans that will tell you the same. Give over. Have you ever seen someone cutting about Middlesbrough in a Sunderland shirt or trackie? If you have, I bet you’ve felt that white hot burn in your chest and felt your face cringe up. It IS a derby. A sizeable chunk of Mackem mutants will be led down Sheperdson way tomorrow, flanked by British Transport Police and tooled up coppers chanting in their bastardised Geordie-lite accent “We hate Burra”. They’ll spit at young kids and act the hard men with all the protection offered to them by Cleveland police. They’ll sing about us being “paedos” despite the fact they harboured and supported a known child molester because he could hit a half decent cross. Don’t tell me this isn’t a derby.
Teessiders will go to bed tonight dreaming of Lee Cattermole being stretchered off from a two-footed Grant Leadbitter challenge. When the battle lines are drawn at 12.15pm, after Mark Page has stopped stranglewanking himself to the strains of Bastille and hamfisting his way through a “light show”, a sold out Riverside stadium will drown out that lot with a Teesside sonic boom. A war cry that will put chills up the spine of the travelling Wearside support and ignite a fire in eleven men in red on the pitch. “WE HATE SUNDERLAND, SAY WE HATE SUNDERLAND” will be roared with a ferocity, with a feeling deeper than hatred. Don’t tell me this isn’t a derby.
Tomorrow is a chance, on and off the pitch, to show that it isn’t just geographically where we’re miles apart. Tomorrow is a chance to firmly put another nail in the liquidation threatened coffin of a rotten football club that would take the chance to do so to us with both grimy hands. Tomorrow is a chance for Britt Assombalonga or Martin Braithwaite to truly begin their legacy at Boro with a winning goal or moment of magic. Tomorrow is a chance to embarrass one of our biggest rivals in front of the nation.
Tomorrow is derby day.