Boro The Cling-ons On The Starboard Bow
Like it or not, Sunderland are back in the big time, and my phone didn't stop ringing yesterday as the fixtures for next season hit the TV screen.
Forget your Manchester United's and your Liverpool's ... the one EVERYONE wanted to know was "when do we play the Mackems". There is only ONE North-East derby ... period!
When the county boundaries were first drawn up in the 1860's, Middlesbrough was actually in Durham, and the county went as far south as Whitby. But since then ICI City has been in more counties than we care to remember. Currently they are allegedly in one between Kent and Devon.
The truth of the matter is ... we couldn't give a toss about them ... and neither could the Mackems.
Sam Allardyce was also quick to look for his first Tyne-Wear derby, with United travelling to the Stadium of Shite on the weekend of November 10.
Allardyce: "I'm aware of what the Sunderland-Newcastle game means to the region. The Middlesbrough one is earlier, which is another local derby, but it's not as close. When we get to that fixture we need to make sure we've already had a very good start to the season. We don't want to be under any more pressure than we will be anyway to win a local derby.
"The fans will expect it will be a victory because they're our local rivals, but it doesn't always work out like that. The players will know what sort of pressure they will be under in that game. Nobody wants to be on the losing side in a local derby.
"It will be good to see Niall Quinn, knowing him as well as I do. Obviously I also know Roy Keane, I tried to sign him when he went to Celtic after leaving Manchester United, but I've not spoken to him since I came up here.
"I've not had the opportunity to speak to him because my time is not spent talking to other managers at the moment. He'll be more than welcome for a cup of tea, it will be nice to see him. Our paths will cross somewhere down the line."
Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn believes the club's "colossal" derby clash with Newcastle could become the north-east's biggest sporting event. The Mackems visit St James' Park on April 19 next year.
Quinn: "I played a lot of derbies in Manchester and had not much luck in those ones at all, and I played in Arsenal v Spurs derbies as a younger player.
"But the Newcastle v Sunderland derby, the place goes ga-ga for about three weeks beforehand and then, depending on how you have done, if you have been lucky enough to win, your place stays ga-ga and the other place goes a little bit depressed.
"It is just colossal. To me, the first time we beat Newcastle over there and Ruud Gullit was the manager, we did not have many fans in the stadium that night, but I just could not believe the aftermath days later.
"People were writing songs about it here in Sunderland, it was amazing. You just feel this is so important to the people.
"Regardless of the outcome, the rivalry now that we have with Newcastle is a different kind of rivalry these days.
"Football has changed, there are new people involved at both clubs and I think it can become the leading sporting event of the region.
"Maybe the Great North Run organisers might not agree with that, but I just think it might be an opportunity for us now to make this derby bigger to everybody else.
"We all know what it's like in this region but, perhaps with Sam Allardyce and Roy Keane involved, we will hopefully show the rest of the footballing world how big it actually is. It is something colossal to look forward to."