Newcastle United have footed a £150,000 bill to bus 6,000 visiting supporters to the Stadium of Light amid tight security for the first Wear-Tyne derby in eight years.
i understands the six-figure sum is mostly to cover the 120 buses that will ferry fans to Sunderland as part of the agreement between the two clubs, local police, and safety groups that guaranteed Newcastle their allocation.
It is a significant logistical operation for Newcastle, with visiting fans required to be at St James’ Park at least two hours before kick-off to board one of the buses that will make the 13-mile trip. Police have instructed supporters not to use public transport and away fans will only be given their tickets when they arrive at the Stadium of Light.
i understands Newcastle’s owners were prepared to meet the “sizeable” costs of making it a “bubble game” to ensure as large an allocation as possible.
There has previously been a history of crowd trouble at the fixture and tensions are high after Sunderland were forced into an embarrassing climbdown after pictures emerged of the stadium’s Black Cats Bar decked in pro-Newcastle banners.
The bar is part of what will be the Newcastle end. A total of 750 tickets from their allocation are for the hospitality bar, costing £600-a-head, and Sunderland agreed to allow their visitors access to cover up red and white branding for fear of vandalism.
But there was a huge backlash among Sunderland fans after pictures emerged of signs emblazoned with slogans including “‘We Are United” and “Cheer Up Peter Reid”.
The club’s owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus said he was “disgusted” by the banners and they have now been taken down, with the club pledging an internal investigation.
Eddie Howe, wisely, refused to be drawn on the controversy. “These things can happen. It’s up to Sunderland what they do with their stadium, it’s nothing to do with us,” he said.
Howe did his best to avoid any blazing headlines, revealing that some of his crop of Geordie players had addressed the group after the draw was made.
Responding to opposite number Michael Beale’s comments that the two clubs have the same status barring the wealth disparity, Howe trod carefully – while suggesting Newcastle are on a steep upward trajectory.
“I’m not going to get into a war of words with any manager, I just don’t think it’s wise to make those comparisons or comments,” he said.
“We know who we are and what we are. I certainly know more about the size of this football club since managing it, and the future is very bright no matter what happens in the short term.”