Bud is back!
Six months after being punched in the face following Sunderland's 3-0 win away to Newcastle -- their first victory at St. James' Park in nearly 13 years -- Bud, a police horse with the West Yorkshire force, will return to duty for Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby between the two teams at the Stadium of Light.
His assailant, Newcastle supporter Barry Rogerson, will not be making the short, southeast journey, having been handed a one-year jail sentence for his part in the April crowd trouble that saw 29 people arrested during the match and further disturbances in the city centre following the final whistle.
"You attended the football match and by the time it ended you were much the worse for drink," stated Judge Paul Sloan in his Thursday ruling. "A horse started to move towards you and you were told to move back. You had plenty of opportunities to move away. You stood your ground and attacked the horse by punching it in the head."
You just can't make this stuff up.
Newcastle-Sunderland, although hardly one of football's most prestigious derbies, is certainly one of the quirkiest -- a regional rivalry that traces back centuries to a mid-17th Century divide that saw loyalties split during the English Civil War.
Industry, too, has been central to this northeast enmity. King Charles I once awarded coal-trading rights for the region to Newcastle, and during the Industrial Revolution the two cities competed bitterly for ship-building contracts.
These days, however, the Tyne-Wear bragging rights are typically determined on the football pitch, where results tend to be as unpredictable as the characters involved.
In 1999 Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit drew the ire of his own fans when he benched Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson for a derby match at St. James' Park, and after Sunderland proceeded to win 2-1 thanks to goals from Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn he tabled his resignation and kept away from the game until accepting an appointment at Feyenoord in 2004.
In a January 2011 match at the Stadium of Light a teenage Sunderland fan invaded the pitch and tried to push over Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper, and last April, before Rogerson's run-in with Bud, Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio got grass-stains on his trousers as he slid along the touchline to celebrate his side's historic 3-0 victory.
No doubt Sunday's encounter will create another talking-point for the narrative of this derby.
The coaches, players and even fans can change from match to match, but the template of a rivalry between cities 16 kilometres apart, forged in history and played out on a pitch, should ensure a contest as colourful and compelling as ever.
-- Sunderland are dead-last in the Premier League table with just a single point to show from eight matches. Newcastle are 10th with 11 points.Sunday's match will be Sunderland manager Gus Poyet's second in charge since being hired to replace Di Canio ahead of last weekend's encounter with Swansea -- a 4-0 defeat.
-- Newcastle is unbeaten in their last two matches -- having won 2-1 away to Cardiff and drawn Liverpool 2-2 at St. James' Park.
-- Sunderland has so far managed only five goals this season -- two each from Craig Gardner and Emanuele Giaccherini and another from Steven Fletcher. Loic Remy is Newcastle's leading goal-scorer with five tallies. -- Sunderland defender Wes Brown misses the match through injury. Newcastle defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is suspended while both Fabricio Coloccini and Ryan Taylor are injured. -- Projected Sunderland XI: Westwood; Celustka, Cuellar, O'Shea, Colback; Johnson, Cattermole, Gardner, Giaccherini; Fletcher Altidore.
-- Projected Newcastle XI: Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, S.Taylor, Santon; Tiote, Cabaye; Gouffran, Sissoko, Remy; Ben Arfa.
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