Sunderland A.F.C was something I was baptized in from birth. I am a mackem and red and white runs through my blood. There can be no changing that. What is a sport for some, is for me an allegiance which in no circumstances can be shifted nor annulled no matter how bad the team might be. Yet also, I am in a broader sense a proud North Easterner with a deep abiding investment in my regional heritage, culture and people. In the light of petty football rivalries, this means that for me and for those on the banks of the river Tyne, we have ultimately more in common than what sets us apart.
Mackems and Magpies alike are both working class communities with an identical industrial heritage. Our local cultures and outlook to the world are pretty much the same in practice. The sporting rivalry has created an artificial rift in identity which makes us deliberately emphasize differences between us. That will continue. I want to see Sunderland rise as a city and better compete with Tyneside, but in the bigger picture nevertheless we are of a regional family.
On that note, I want to talk about a singer who has since long passed away. Ronnie Lambert (1949-2009) was a popular local folk singer known as the “Geordie Busker“. He is predominantly associated in people’s minds with Newcastle United. He was an unapologetic and devoted magpie. Born in Gateshead, he would later live in Washington, where he passed away in his sleep before even reaching the age of 60.
Ronnie was invested in creating a genre of music that reflected his local culture and identity. Whilst a lot of it was about NUFC inevitably, many of his tunes also embraced the North East as a whole of the extent which Sunderland people could listen to and identify with songs. Having listened to a great deal of his songs despite the footballing rift, I have felt his music is of prime cultural significance and connotations. What disappoints me is that very quickly, his legacy has been forgotten besides a small core following of Newcastle United fans.
Ronnie’s most famous tune was titled “Coming Home Newcastle“. I believe it was wrote sometime in the 1980s. The song is an unofficial anthem of the football club, but as I noted above its significance is broader. The tune details the story of a man whom with regional unemployment lingering high, is forced to move away to London but eventually aspires to return to his hometown, armed with savings and re-embrace his life there. This concept of having to leave Tyneside for work, but with the dream of returning is a recurrent theme in local discourse. It was notably applied to when Alan Shearer joined the club in 1997. It all falls about the theme of the region being hit by severe poverty and deprivation in these decades, but with the dream of revival.
More of Lambert’s songs follow on with this theme: “Geordie Land“ (something I cannot find the full version of) outlines in incredible iconography of looking back to childhood spent in the North East touching upon powerful themes such as: “Day trips out to Tynemouth, Shields and Whitley Bay, Chips with Sand and Vinegar, I miss those good old days.” and thus armed with the chorus “Geordie land, Geordie land, some day I will return, to backyards and the cobbled streets of home“. It is touching. Similarly, his song “River Tyne” details the account of a young man who sails the world yet depicts the region in the light of “Going to sail home to that love of mine“.
Other songs from Lambert covered things such as Newcastle Brown Ale, southerners encountering the local dialect and even a powerful history of the entire North East in the song “Northumbria“. What was remarkable about every single tune was that Lambert’s voice embodied a real, authentic and deeply sincere local spirit, truly reflecting the context of the lyrics. There was nothing superficial nor synthetic about it, you know fine well this man was embodying the soul of the region and in that light. On such a note, it is fair to say that Lambert’s work never received the coverage, credit or acclaim that it truly deserved whilst he was alive.
Therefore, we are giving a homage to the legacy of Ronnie Lambert and his music. It would be a tragic mistake to allow the pettiness and immediate gratification of football rivalries to cloud your judgment of a man who exemplified, embodied and portrayed a region in a beautifully nostalgic and poetic fashion. We urge you to listen to some of his songs and think about it in the context of you are, than the colour of your stripes.