Many associate the heyday of football hooliganism with the latter decades of last century but turns out it started long before that. On this day in 1901, during one of the early Tyne-Wear Derbies, the 'Good Friday Riot" occurred.
By 1901, Sunderland had already won 3 league titles, whilst Newcastle were the up and coming team of the era, although it would be four more seasons before they eventually ended up lifting the First Division title, having only been promoted from the second tier 3 years before.
At this time, back when Edward was on the throne, it was common for fans to go to both Sunderland and Newcastle games, as I’m sure many of you are aware. My on Grandad has talked on numerous occasions about going to games at both Roker Park and St. James' some 60/70 years after this! So before today, I hadn’t heard of much bother at ‘derbies' before this time, never mind one so major as the Good Friday riots.
So, on the 5th of April, 1901, the teams met for just the 6th time, on a mild afternoon much like today’s. During the early years of the 20th century, St James' Park held 30,000 fans, which , for most areas, would be more than sufficient - but not for the North East! As kick off approached, it was apparent that the crowds were multitudes larger than initially expected. A fact best highlighted by the fact that there were just 25 Police officers on duty at the game that day! In the end, due to the magnitude of the game approximately 70,000 fans turned up preparing to see one of the biggest games of the season for the region.
As expected, anarchy ensued. According to sources, in order for fans to enter, walls were climbed and gates were broken down; much like a scene from Green Street. Ironically, fans of the Black Cats were said to have ‘clambered like cats' to enter.
Inside the ground, this madness became dangerous. Fans swarmed onto the pitch and filled the terraces, with reportedly hundreds of fans choosing to watch the game from the roof of the West Stand. Newcastle historian Paul Joannou wrote: “The goal timbers and nets were torn down. The club flag was torn to shreds. Barriers and fencing were uprooted and used as weapons, and missiles, bottles and stones flew through the air.”
Scenes like this carried out by mostly young men in flat caps as I’m sure we have all seen in pictures from back in the day, must be hard to imagine. The result was a cancelled game at 3:30pm and re-enforcements being sent to clear off the pitch, reports stating this took a whole two hours.
Luckily, only 12 people were injured, a quite amazing statistic. The FA ended up blaming the Police for the accident and the match was replayed 20 days later, where we won 2-0. Newcastle’s £650 earnings from gate receipts went to charity: not something you would catch Mike Ashley doing these days.
It seems like our ferocious derby has always been that way, ever since the beginnings of it, a whole 120 years ago. Now, with Newcastle relying on Fulham throwing away the 3 points this afternoon and Sunderland potentially going top tomorrow, assuming we win 3-0, it looks like the Tyne-Wear Derby could be returning very soon. If so, hopefully we will have a crowd there to see it, although this time the main danger will be a global pandemic, not too many people catching ‘matchday fever’.