The Wear-Tyne derby is one of the fiercest rivalries in British football
Ahead of Sunday’s game between Newcastle and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, MILES STARFORTH talks to a veteran of the fixture, former United winger Nolberto Solano.
NOLBERTO Solano knows a thing or two about derbies.
After all, he’s played in one of British football’s fiercest rivalries, that between Newcastle United and Sunderland.
But the intensity of that fixture doesn’t match that of the Argentinian “Superclasico”, the Buenos Aires derby between Boca Juniors and River Plate.
It’s not a game for the faint-hearted. Players travel to the opposition stadium under heavy police protection, and violence inside and outside the ground is commonplace.
Solano played in the fixture earlier in his career, and his experiences in the Argentine capital prepared him well for the Tyne-Wear games he would later play in.
“Here, derbies are quite nice and pretty compared to Boca Juniors-River Plate,” Solano told the Gazette.
“It’s crazy over there. The fans tell you how important the derby is – you can’t lose it.
“So when I moved to Newcastle, I knew what derby games are all about. But they are different in South America.
“We had to go to the games in police cars! It was crazy at the River Plate stadium.”
Solano’s defining derby moment came at the Stadium of Light in April 2003.
Craig Bellamy was brought down by Kevin Kilbane late in the first half, and with captain Alan Shearer having already left the field because of an injury, Solano took the ball.
Solano admits to nerves, but he kept them in check and stroked the ball past Thomas Sorensen.
“I remember that game well,” he said.
“That era, under Sir Bobby, was different. Newcastle were in a great position. We were confident.
“Alan Shearer had come off with an injury. That is why I took the penalty.
“I used to take the penalties when Alan had gone off the pitch.
“If someone tells you they are not nervous when they take a penalty like that, it is not true.
“You feel the responsibility. But I was quite confident when I took the ball.
“I put it to the right side. Fortunately, it went in and we won the game 1-0. I remember that afternoon. People are always asking me about it. It’s a nice memory.”
Solano – who is looking to get back into management after a spell in charge of Lima club Universitario in his native Peru – says every player must know what the fixture means to the fans and the city before they take to the field.
“Every derby is really special,” said the 38-year-old, who hung up his boots last year.
“It’s special for the fans, and the players need to make them proud.
“You can play good football in a derby, but winning the game is the main thing.
“You can’t say it will be pretty, but it’s nice if you can win the game playing good football.
“If you can’t, you must still try to win the game. I know how much it means to Newcastle. You have to be strong.
“And all the players need to know how important the derby is to the fans and the city.”
Newcastle and Sunderland have had contrasting seasons so far.
United are 10th in the Premier League table after last weekend’s 2-2 home draw against Liverpool, while their rivals – under new management after a disastrous start to the season under Paolo Di Canio – are yet to win a game this term, and rooted to the bottom of the division.
Former Brighton and Hove Albion manager Gus Poyet, now Sunderland’s head coach, would be forgiven for wanting a lower-key start at the Stadium of Light after last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at Swansea City.
“Sunderland will maybe lack a bit of confidence after losing (to Swansea City), but the team will have to be prepared,” said Solano.
“Gus Poyet has just taken over Sunderland, and it’s a difficult situation.
“But it’s a great opportunity for him to manage in the Premier League.
“He did a great job at Brighton, and he needs time.
“I remember when Newcastle changed managers every five or six months. Sometimes that is not the best decision.
“If Newcastle can show what they did against Liverpool, they have a great chance to win the game. And to finish in the top eight would be great for the club.”
The game is unforgiving at the best of times, especially for managers.
But Solano would one day love to be on the touchline for such a fixture.
“I’m looking to do some coaching in Peru to get more experience,” he said.
“It’s hard to get a job in England without experience.
“My dream is to manage in England in the future. The Premier League is the best league in the world.”