IT is one of the most divisive rivalries in European football but Sir Bobby Robson has argued that is only because there is so much which unites Newcastle and Sunderland.
Robson has been a regular visitor to the Stadium of Light since Niall Quinn became chairman, even though he is a former United manager.
And the 75-year-old, who is continuing his battle against a fifth outbreak of cancer, is full of praise for the former Sunderland striker and Black Cats manager Roy Keane.
“I go to Sunderland a lot and I must say they treat me very well,” said Robson. “They’re fantastic. Niall Quinn is an unbelievable guy. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Very sane, very responsible, intelligent.
“I was talking to him the last time I was there. We were in the boardroom. Someone asked him ‘what’s the team today, Niall?’. He said ‘I haven’t got a clue. Roy never tells me and I never ask. That’s up to him’.
“Niall’s representing an Irish consortium, but you can see what they’re doing and why they’re in it. Everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction, they’ve lifted the profile and the reputation of the club and, just as importantly, they’re letting Roy get on with the job.”
Robson admits he had reservations about Keane becoming a manager because of the combustible image he had as a player at Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. But the former England manager has been pleasantly surprised by the way he has conducted himself.
He said: “Roy has done brilliantly and better than I thought, to be honest. He’s kept his calm. I thought he’d be throwing bottles on the touchline, ranting and raving and swearing, but he hasn’t done any of that. So I was wrong.
“When he’s had disappointing results, he’s been very calm and assured, very sensible, he hasn’t spat his dummy out of the pram. And he’s done very well. He’s learning incredibly fast.
“Mind you, he’s been given a wonderful opportunity and all the tools to do the job. He’s had more money given to him than most managers who’ve only just come into the game. He’s had more money than the likes of David Moyes or Paul Ince. They’ve actually found a lot of money for him and he’s bought a lot of players.”
However, although Robson is an avid Newcastle supporter, he believes it is vital for the region as a whole that Sunderland are doing well in the Premier League.
He explained: “It’s been great for the North East to have Sunderland resurrected. Football is so much a part of the fabric of the region that there’s something lacking when the three big clubs are kept apart.
“Derbies are tense and can affect the mood at offices and factories the following week, but I prefer to look at them as an example of our shared passion, our shared love of football.
“Perhaps it’s to do with my Durham heritage and the split loyalties in Langley Park, but black and white or red and white, there’s far more to unite us than divide us.”
Sir Bobby Robson’s Newcastle: My Kind Of Toon is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Donations can be made to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation online at www.justgiving.com/thesirbobbyrobsonfoundation or by cheque sent to Sir Bobby Foundation, PO Box 307, Heaton, NE7 7QG.