Is Middlesbrough vs Sunderland a derby or just a match between teams not that far apart geographically?

Monsieur Salut writes: it is a simple enough if inconsequential issue. I think it is a derby, Bill Harris – an SAFC stalwart, Salut! Sunderland reader and occasional Guess the Score winner – is adamant it is not.


Before giving the platform to Bill – this poll was his idea – I shall try to reproduce the debate as it proceeded on the imperfect debating ground of Twitter.

It started like this:


And then

M Salut: tell that to fans of Lyon and St Etienne, or Southampton/Pompey/ countless others … your definition also rules out several of the games between London clubs

Bill: they are close rivalries, but they can’t be local derbies unless their fans live, work and socialise with each other, concept of local derby

M Salut: a short hop along the A19, in a region where a whole county’s historically SAFC catchment, & no one meets oppo fans at work or socially?

Bill: fans don’t call Boro v Sunderland a derby, just the media.

M Salut: yes let’s blame the media for pretty much everything, including dictionary definitions (“two teams from the same area” – argue against that)

Bill: they are not the same area, they even have different local radio stations.

M Salut: that’s the narrowest notion of ‘same area’ I’ve come across. The French definition is ‘towns under 100km apart’. Doubtless the media’s fault … not to mention that you’ve now excluded Wear-Tyne as a derby

Bill: this isn’t France, most people in the NE consider anywhere below Scotch Corner to be the Deep South. Let fans decide

Ending like this:

That’s our exchange in a nutshell. I say the (English as well as French) dictionary definitions make it clear a derby is between clubs based fairly close to each other. Sunderland and Middlesbrough are just under 30 miles apart. Sunderland and Newcastle are under 11 miles apart. But, to take another of Bill’s criteria, there are different radio stations for each side of the Wear-Tyne divide. Not caring as much about playing Boro is not the same as saying it’s not a derby.

Here is how Bill sees it:

Many Sunderland and Newcastle fans live in the same area, town, village even street as each other, they work for the same companies.

People from Sunderland work in Newcastle and vice versa. People from Sunderland will often go for a night out in Newcastle.

This everyday interaction is a vital component of a local derby. This does not happen between Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Very few Boro fans, if any, work in Sunderland and vice versa. People from Sunderland do not routinely go to Middlesbrough for a night out – it’s too far away.

Nobody considers Liverpool or Everton versus Man City or United as local derbies, yet the distance between Liverpool and Manchester is roughly the same as the distance to Middlesbrough.

Radio Newcastle extensively covers, and provides live commentary on, all Sunderland and Newcastle matches, but not Middlesbrough. Why? Because Middlesbrough are covered by a different local radio station as they are in a different local radio area.

The term Derby is shortened from Local Derby and there is a limit to how far “local” can be stretched otherwise we will be including Leeds, Hull Carlisle etc as derbies and derbies will cease to be something special.

Over to the Salut! Sunderland jury. Vote above … you can write in your own alternative answer but unfortunately, this doesn’t show when readers check the results. I will publish them here in due course. And do bear in mind that the results include the votes of any Boro fans or neutrals who participate.

Great to see Jake back in action. When can we hope to see SAFC back in action?


* and while you’re on, here is the Salut! Sunderland build-up to derby – or mere encounter between teams with close rivalries

Prize Guess the Score – Boro fans welcome to enter

Who are You? interview with a Boro fan

Pete Sixsmith’s terrific series, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground(s)

Sunderland in crisis: Ellis some way Short of convincing

Or just use this look to the home page and browse at leisure …

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by – and principally for – supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

11 Responses to “The great debate: Newcastle-SAFC is a derby, Middlesbrough’s not’. You decide” Subscribe

  1. malcolm November 4, 2017 at 7:29 am #

    I’m with Bill I’m afraid Colin. When I was growing up my local area was very much defined by where we could get to on the bus. The north/south route ran from Newcastle to Hartlepool and the North East/South West ran from South Shields to Durham via Sunderland.

    Places like Billingham, Middlesbrough, Stockton were just too much faff to get to, involving a change of bus and there was nothing there that we really needed to get to anyway, though I think I once went to Billingham Forum.

    So while the match v the Mags was always classed as a derby the game with Boro wasn’t. Was probably different for you growing up in Shildon where the logistics are different.

    In east Durham people were almost all Sunderland supporters with the odd black and white and there were plenty of us who went to both grounds on alternate weeks. I never met anyone who supported the Boro when I was growing up. I’d be surprised if anyone who was brought up north of Easington Village and East of Durham city thinks of the Boro game as a derby

    Our perceptions are often defined in childhood and by your own admission you have relatives who live on Teeside.

  2. Alan J November 4, 2017 at 8:48 am #

    An interesting debate with good arguements on each side, but it will probably be irrelevant next season. Bradford, anyone? Carlisle?

  3. John Mac November 4, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    We were promoted in 1964 and ‘Boro remained behind. We didn’t play them again until our next relegation. That period encompasses my formative years as a Sunderland supporter, more or less from the time I began to go independently until I left the North East. So for me it’s personal as much as anything:

    We never had a derby against ‘Boro. Furthermore, I never grew up to feel any rivalry or argue with ‘Boro fans. Therefore there’s no derby with them as far as I’m concerned, they are just another club, albeit a bit nearer

  4. BoroMac November 4, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    It’s a regional derby game (North East). Of course, it doesn’t have the same meaning as a true derby game; Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Nottingham etc. These cities have more than one team, and are the only real derby games, the rest are just regional derby/rivalry games (one town or city in close proximity to another; Notts Forest – Derby, Newcastle – Sunderland etc). There are derby games, and then there are rivalries, the meanings have blurred over the years. Boro have Yorkshire derby/rivalry games, and I’d rather have multiple teams as rivals, than just one, which is all Newcastle and Sunderland have.

    • Geoff Bethell November 4, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

      Isn’t that more or less what Ruud Guillit said when managing Newcastle. He said Newcastle – Sunderland wasn’t a real derby because they weren’t from the same city.

      • John Mac November 4, 2017 at 7:21 pm #

        Did he say that before the game or after he’d seen us celebrate?

        • Geoff Bethell November 5, 2017 at 3:17 am #

          Give you just one guess

          • Drummer November 5, 2017 at 10:41 am #

            After he got the sack ?

  5. KevS November 4, 2017 at 8:19 pm #

    As a Sunderland fan growing up in Stockton it’s definitely a derby for me, nearly as important as the Mags game to me. It was always referred to in the 1960’s & 70’s as the “Wear-Tees Derby” so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be now. When I was growing up it was usually said that the football support in Billingham (3 miles from Boro, 22 from Sland) was pretty much split 50/50 between the two clubs. It is a Derby and always has been. ( Try telling Darlo & Hartlepool fans that their game is not a derby ….. and they are 20 miles apart !)

    • malcolm November 5, 2017 at 10:03 am #

      This is where you and M Salut are in agreement Kev and goes along with what I said about childhood perceptions. For you Teeside was your local area. Nearest we got was when we were staying in a caravan at Crimdon and went to the shows at Seaton Carew.

  6. Drummer November 5, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    It’s a derby if we win or score an injury time equaliser, it’s just another defeat if we lose !

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