Newcastle United and Sunderland both play in the English Premier League. The two soccer clubs are separated by 15 miles and the rivers Tyne and Wear. They are the two biggest teams in the northeast of England.
And they hate each other.
Fan bases are born to either love Newcastle and loathe Sunderland or vice versa. Each season the teams play a home-and-home series, which can only be described as epic. Opposing fans need a police escort to go to the other’s home stadium.
Skirmishes are few, but tension is always ratcheted up to the max when either the Tyne-Wear or Wear-Tyne derby (home team listed first with Newcastle for Tyne or Sunderland for Wear) day arrives on the calendar.
The only comparison I can make is Auburn-Alabama or Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees.
So, now we’ve established how much these fan bases loathe the other one.
A miracle of sorts has happened and it has been berthed out of tragedy. This is the kind of thing ESPN 30 for 30 or HBO Real Sports needs to jump on.
On Thursday, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 crashed while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it was targeted by a rocket blast while flying over Ukraine.
Everyone on board perished.
It was soon revealed that two of the deceased passengers were John Alder and Liam Sweeney. These two gentleman were superfans of Newcastle United — the kind of supporters who would never miss a match home or away regardless of where on the globe their team played.
Alder, who had been going to Newcastle matches since 1973, was known by his customary suit that he wore. Even in the summer of 2013 when Newcastle played Sporting KC on a scorching afternoon at Sporting Park, Alder was decked out in his suit. Sweeney was much younger, but seemingly just as dedicated.
These two were on their way to New Zealand to support Newcastle, which was playing preseason games down there against the likes of Sydney FC and Wellington.
When the news reached the Northeast of England, Newcastle fans were devastated. One Sunderland supporter, Gary Ferguson, was moved to try and do something nice for the family of the deceased.
Ferguson set up a fundraising page on the Sunderland site asking simply for ﾣ5 donations.
“I was just literally trying to get money for flowers,” Ferguson said on a BBC Radio 5 interview. “It started out as 90 percent Sunderland for the first few hours, but then it went sort of viral.”
Ferguson’s initial target was 100 pounds, roughly 170 bucks.
Word soon spread on Twitter and Newcastle United websites that a Sunderland fan had set up a fundraiser for John and Liam.
By Tuesday when Newcastle kicked off in New Zealand against Sydney FC, Ferguson’s little attempt to get money for flowers had risen to more than $40,000.
On a memorial outside St. James Park in Newcastle, Sunderland and Newcastle jerseys lay side-by-side in solidarity for the tribute to the victims.
Ferguson told BBC that he plans on keeping his original plan of buying flowers with the rest of the money to be donated to two separate charities the families of the two deceased men chose.
A note on Sunderland’s site when asking for donations says, “We may be Sunderland fans, who traditionally have deep rivalry with Newcastle, but there are things far more important than any football games.”