My first visit to Sunderland and Joker Park wasn’t for a derby – it was to see Chester-le-johnmcnameeStreet Boys play in the national under 15s final in 1963. Colins Suggett and Todd were in the Chester team but they still lost.

My first visit to Roker for a derby in 1967 coincided with the 3-3 draw in which Big John McNamee famously swung on the crossbar at the Fulwell End having scored a late equaliser. He was (and remains) a personal hero.  The game was a real end-to-end thriller. It was the second derby in four days, after we had beaten them 2-1 at St James with goals from the Mighty Wyn and ‘Ankles’ Bennett.

We took the Fulwell End but the mackems took the lead only for Ollie Burton to show nerves of steel in converting a penalty in the Roker end. The mackems came back, however, and a goal either side of half-time took them into a 3-1 lead. We were struggling until we were awarded another pen this time in the Fulwell End. Once again Ollie Burton kept his nerve, burying the pen in the bottom right hand corner. The roar that went up from the black and white horde galvanised the team into assault after assault on the home goal. Eventually the pressure told and Big John achieved immortality as he scored in the 88th minute, celebrating in front of the joyous Mags in the Fulwell end by swinging on the bar. Being a little lad I was treated to a front row seat – one of my greatest Mag memories.

As John said ‘I just threw myself at a corner. The ball flew into the net and I followed it, carried on by my momentum. I just grabbed the bar to save myself and ended up swinging. The Fulwell End where our supporters were gathered went light’. It felt like a victory going home on the train. The result put us 6th in the league. And we eventually finished 10th, enough to qualify for Europe through the strange and arcane rules surrounding the Fairs Cup. Just two points less would have meant we failed to qualify so the three points from our neighbours ( two points for a win in those days) were very helpful indeed.

Nowadays I am concerned about the importance sunderland seems to assume in the psyche of some Mags, even to the point of hatred of all things mackem. We should have our sights higher than beating a mediocre Premier team. I remember when Keegan and SBR were our managers. The local rivalry diminished in importance as we had other, more pressing concerns – Juve, Barca, Inter etc. That’s the way it should be. I am always happiest when the mackems are an irrelevance.

Unfortunately their importance increases as we drop down to their level and we had our own personal nightmare last season. It probably wasn’t the worst I’ve seen – losing 4-1 at home with Gary Rowell running riot still has me waking up in a cold sweat. We are nearly down to their level and I’m a bit worried about the impact the Uruguyan shit-shoveller will have – he has a good record against us a player and a manager. A second loss to the mackems could mean curtains for Pardew and the horrendous prospect of JFK taking over to finish the job.

My all-time loathed mackem is undoubtedly Charlie Hurley, one of the dirtiest players I’ve ever seen – up there with fellow Irishman Johnny Giles. He had a habit of catching an opposing players leg between both of his legs and twisting – result, ligament damage. It says everything you need to know about the mackems that they voted him their player of the century – this a club that was captained by Raich Carter (who could play) to a cup in in 1937.

My best ever moment at Roker Park came when I had a seat in the stand and was right behind Jinky Jim when he rifled a right footer into the Fulwell End. Jinky was always a favourite of mine, he could do stuff with a ball which mere mortals couldn’t even imagine but this was a ‘laces through the ball, pick that one out’ moment – although being Jinky it was done with an elegance close to beauty (Brokeback Mountain alert).

My biggest derby buzz was meeting up with mates in the pubs near Roker and feeling the sense of power there is in a crowd of inebriated blokes with a hard-on for football and a fight. Just being there and feeling part of that was a thrill and a memory which will stay with me forever.

This year a lot will depend on which NUFC turns up – surely there must be a reaction to last season’s disgrace? Di Canio was a catalyst for last year’s result  Let’s hope Poyet doesn’t have a similar effect. If we’re up for it we’ll win because player for player we are better than them. But we’ve seen already this season that doesn’t always work out. I think we’ll win 1-0 – and I think Remy will make the difference.