Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Defeated, Red-Carded and Racially Abused by the Crowd; WEAR-TYNE DERBY SPECIAL Sunderland Hero Gary Bennett Tells of His First Derby Gary Bennett's First North-East Derby Turned into a Nightmare, but the Sunderland Centre-Back Still Remembers the Day He Got His Revenge. Luke Edwards Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Defeated, Red-Carded and Racially Abused by the Crowd; WEAR-TYNE DERBY SPECIAL Sunderland Hero Gary Bennett Tells of His First Derby Gary Bennett's First North-East Derby Turned into a Nightmare, but the Sunderland Centre-Back Still Remembers the Day He Got His Revenge. Luke Edwards Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Luke Edwards

GARY Bennett knew he was in for a rough afternoon the moment he stepped off Sunderland's team coach to walk through the players' entrance at St James's Park.

But even he could not imagine that his first taste of a North-East derby would leave such a bitter taste following a game which ranks as one of the most controversial in the long and bitter history between Newcastle and Sunderland.

It was January 1, 1985, when Bennett and the rest of the Sunderland players made the short trip to the home of their neighbours, but this was not an occasion to celebrate the start of a New Year.

Along with Howard Gayle, Bennett was one of the first black players to play for a North-East club and the pair quickly became an all too obvious target for the home team's fury.

"There were two clubs back then that had a really bad reputation for racism and they were Millwall and Newcastle," reflects Bennett, who made 296 appearances for Sunderland between 1984-1991 before a brief spell as manager of Darlington. "I can still remember the atmosphere at St James's Park and it wasn't a pleasant one for either Howard Gayle or myself. The whole occasion was a passionate one and the Newcastle fans were far from welcoming to any of the Sunderland players, but we received some special treatment because we were the only black players involved.

"We can't get away from the fact that the abuse was racial and it was from a large number of supporters. As a black player, you always knew you were going to get plenty of abuse when you went there, but this was really hostile. I can still remember the reception we got when we got off the team coach and during the warm-up. It started from the moment we arrived at St James's and didn't really stop all afternoon.

"There weren't many black players playing at that level at that stage and racism in football and society was more prevalent then. I wouldn't say the abuse soured the occasion for me as such, I think on the day it just made me stronger, but obviously it wasn't a nice experience and, thankfully, it's not one black players have to go through any more."

Whether the racial abuse played a part in what followed, Bennett wouldn't say, but both he and Gayle ended up receiving red cards as a Peter Beardsley hat-trick secured all three points for the Magpies.

Bennett has always claimed the abuse actually helped inspire him, but it would be difficult to imagine that the venom and bigotry did not have some effect on the two young black men it targeted. Gayle was sent off for a second bookable offence when he was shown a second yellow card for arguing with the referee following the award of a second-half penalty and Bennett joined him for an early bath when he clattered into Wes Saunders. …

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