Sunderland supporters have reacted angrily to pictures circulating on social media showing parts of the Stadium of Light which have undergone a makeover to welcome local rivals Newcastle United. A fearsome Tyne-Wear derby promises to be one of the highlights of this weekend’s FA Cup third-round action.
The Black Cats’ 2016 relegation to the EFL has seen them avoid bitter foes Newcastle for almost eight years. The last time the Magpies took to the Stadium of Light pitch was back in October 2015, when the hosts won 3-0.
Much has changed in the years since – with Newcastle now backed by the mega-rich Saudi PIF – and both sets of supporters will be counting down the hours until their hotly-anticipated FA Cup showdown kicks off on Saturday afternoon.
But alterations to the ground have sent Sunderland fans into a frenzy, with changes made to make those travelling from Newcastle feel more comfortable on enemy territory.
Thousands of Toon fans will fill up an entire end of the ground this weekend, and a popular bar has been redecorated with black and white signs. One of them shows the traditional Sunderland supporters’ greeting ‘Ha’way’ crossed out and replaced with the Geordie counterpart, ‘Howay’.
Another sign tweaked the Black Cats’ anthem ‘Keep the red flag flying high’ and made it ‘Keep the black and white flying high’. Newcastle have been allowed to bring 6,000 supporters to the FA Cup contest which is sure to be accompanied by a fiery atmosphere.
“When it’s derby day you want to win,” Beale said on Thursday. “Derbies are hugely important to the game, certainly the domestic game. When we are talking about the [European] Super League and things like that, the fear that we have as followers of the sport is that we’re washing down the derbies.
“These derby games, and this draw in particular, has got to everyone’s imagination. That’s why the focus should only be on the two football teams, the fans on the day and all the positive things.”