Written by John Hird

NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing and others on Tyneside who show solidarity with the victims of the bloody, royal dictatorship which owns our football club are often accused of being Sunderland fans, as if only Sunderland care about human rights in the North East!

However, other Newcastle fans who have made their peace with the fact our owners are using the club to deflect attention away from their many crimes and human rights abuses resort to whataboutery when the prickly issue of our ownership is mentioned by our rivals. A True Faith contributor recently tweeted about a Sunderland banner which stated;: ‘NO BLOOD ON OUR HANDS.’

Instead of condemning the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia, the fanzine contributor insinuated that Sunderland fans have no right to comment on our owner’s human rights record because there is a BAE factory on Wearside, where the missiles that rain down on Yemen are made.

Do we really want to be dragged down into this cynical, lowest common denominator banter? Fact is, BAE Systems don’t own Sunderland Football Club. The Saudi royal dictatorship however, does own Newcastle United.

Former Sunderland and Inter Milan player Yann M'Vila has described the fixture as bigger than the Milan derby. The Tyne-Wear FA Cup Derby should be a magnificent sporting event but it carries a lot of baggage, both historically and present day.

The inter-city rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle dates back to the English Civil War when protestations over advantages that merchants in Royalist Newcastle had over their Wearside counterparts led to Sunderland becoming a Parliamentarian stronghold. A powerful family of Sunderland merchants called the Lilburnes were influential.

‘Freeborn’ John Lilburne, a close associate of Oliver Cromwell, was the founder of the radical Levellers movement who claimed everyone was born with “freeborn rights”. He would go on to write a suggested constitution for England in 1649. Lilburne later fell out with the despotic Cromwell and he bravely stood his ground when he was unjustly charged with treason. Lilburne's willingness in the cause of justice to face violence and death at the hands of a cruel and overwhelmingly powerful state was an inspiration and is echoed today in the brave stance of Saudi human rights activists facing execution and decades in prison.

In the Civil War, despite heavy resistance, the defences of Newcastle were eventually crushed by the constant bombardment of cannons from the Gateshead side of the river. Sunderland and Newcastle were again on opposite sides during the Jacobite risings, with Newcastle in support of the Hanoverians with the German King George, and Sunderland siding with the Scottish Stuarts.

Newcastle and Sunderland both became mighty industrial centres in the nineteenth century with shipbuilding, mining and engineering creating a numerous and strong working class with their unions and culture of solidarity.

By the end of the 19th century the political rivalry between the two cities was channelled along football lines. Richard Storehouse speculated that the term ‘Geordie’ originated from the Tyneside coal miners' preference for George Stephenson's 'Geordie' safety lamp over the more widely used Humphry Davy lamp. He added that ‘Mackem’ is derived from the phrase Mak(e)'em and Tak(e)'em, coined by Tyneside shipbuilders to insult their counterparts on the River Wear, who would build the ships and have them taken away by the richer classes.

Despite the efforts of the ‘richer classes’ to divide and rule, the people of the North East remained mostly united apart from when it came to football. The Great Miners strike of 1984/85 and the Poll Tax struggle are but two examples. The magnificent Big Meeting in Durham is a living example of that unity outside of football.

That’s not to say that Newcastle and Sunderland fans have not cooperated in common cause. Both sets of fans combined to oppose the ban on visiting supporters from what was the last derby at Roker Park in 1996. There have been other examples. As True Faith pointed out: The previous ill-fated move to implement bubble trip arrangements for derby matches was pulled apart by a collective of fans mainly comprising True Faith, NUFC.COM, The Mag, NUST on our side and A Love Supreme, Roker Roar, Wise Men Say on the Sunderland side.

There are examples of bitter football rivals coming together in support of a higher cause. When Thatcher was laying waste to Liverpool in the 1980s Everton and Liverpool fans turned up at Wembley with red and blue stickers declaring; ‘Merseyside United against the Tories,’ and of course there was unity across the city in support of justice for the Hillsborough 97.

Today, the travel bubble imposed by the authorities for the derby is a further erosion of the rights and freedoms of football fans and is another opportunity for both sets of fans to unite.

NUFCFAS recognises that the vast majority of Newcastle fans oppose the human rights abuses committed by the owners of our club. However, we also understand why fans of other clubs raise the issue. Tyneside MPs, Newcastle councillors, official NUFC fan groups and supporters around the fanzines have all been asked to show basic solidarity with the victims of the owners. Not much has been forthcoming. Generic ‘support for human rights’ is not enough.

As Ahmad al-Rabea, the brother of Hassan, who was deported from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, said in a letter to Eddie Howe and the Newcastle players:

You may think that in your position you cannot change the behaviour of governments. I don't believe this is true. The truth is that your club is owned by a repressive regime and you and your players are employed by them. If you say nothing about the gross human rights abuses and violations we are suffering then this is an acceptance of these violations. If you speak out against them you can save lives.

You can make a difference, Mr Howe. Newcastle United’s players and fans can, too. We know you don't support the atrocities carried out by the owners of the club. But if you spoke up for the young people on death row, and for my brother, you would be heard by the Saudi regime. It may be comforting to tell yourself there is nothing you can do, but it is not true.

If not now, then when?

Yours sincerely,


If Sunderland fans take the opportunity of the derby to say there is ‘NO BLOOD ON OUR HANDS’ they should go further and say the names of Saudi prisoners, many of whom are on death row. Their families are appealing for support, let’s give it to them. Enjoy the match but let’s rise above petty and negative rivalry and show some united North East solidarity in support of the many victims of the 80% owners of Newcastle United.

Obviously, it's not only Sunderland fans who care about human rights but we need, as NUFC fans, to say that loud and clear.

Solidarity with Saudi victims from both sets of fans would be a massive statement.

#StopTheSlaughter #SayTheirNames #NUFC #SUNNEW
















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