IT’S a game of two halves on the streets of South Tyneside.
Public opinion is divided over Northumbria Police’s claims about Tyne-Wear derby kick-off times.
Newcastle United and Sunderland say they will arrange future derbies at kick-off times to suit themselves, the Premier League and broadcasters after a falling-out with the police.
The clubs issued a joint statement this week questioning the force’s assertion that it had no say over direct changes to the times Tyne-Wear derbies are played at.
However, the clubs have highlighted several examples of the police rejecting starting times later than 1.30pm for derby games.
In response, Sunderland have scrapped proposals to make it compulsory for fans to travel on official club coaches on their next trip to Tyneside, on Saturday, February 1.
Trouble flared at the Tyne-Wear derby in April last year, with 29 arrests made following Newcastle’s 3-0 defeat to Sunderland at St James’s Park.
That game kicked off at midday, casting doubt on the theory that early kick-offs help to avert flare-ups between rival fans. Merchant Navy officer Stephen Kingdom, 59, of Jarrow, backed the clubs’ viewpoint.
The Newcastle United supporter said: “This should not be a police matter. The clubs should have the final say. There are just as big derby games which are held later in the day, including the Manchester and Liverpool derbies.
“I think Northumbria Police have too much influence these days.”
That was a feeling echoed by shop-worker Mark Liddle, 47, of Westoe Road, South Shields.
He said: “I think that any decision over kick-off time should reflect the views of the fans, not the police. They are the ones who pay for their season tickets and who pay fortunes travelling around the country supporting their club.
“This wasn’t an issue 20 years ago. The police didn’t have the power then to set times as they do now.”
Ian Sharp, 53, a volunteer at the British Heart Foundation charity shop in King Street, was more conciliatory.
He said: “Rather than the club or the police having the ultimate say, I can’t see why they can’t work together.
“You can’t be sure when there is going to be trouble. I can see the argument for holding the games earlier because there will be less time to get access to alcohol.
“On the other hand, if it is later in the day, some fans might not drink so fast.”
Retired binman Alfred Wells, 64, a Sunderland fan from West Boldon, said: “Whatever the time of the kick-off, you can be sure there is going to be trouble to some extent.
“Fans can start drinking in the house from nine o’clock in the morning if they want to, and there’s probably a hardcore of 300 fans from each club who are looking for trouble.
“The police need to have the ultimate say because they know the flashpoints and dangers.”
Albert Dunn, 81, a retired plumber from Whiteleas, said: “The police probably want the earlier times because they can get the day over and done with.
“With the later kick-off there’s more chance of trouble continuing into the evening.
“Football has all gone to pot anyway.”
David King, 31, a security guard at the Port of Tyne, said: “I can see both sides. There’s a family enclosure at Sunderland, and the earlier time is better for the young kids, but it also means less drinking time before the game for the adults.”