Last October, Kevin Nolan became only the third Newcastle player to score a hat-trick against Sunderland. Assistant Editor Scott Wilson spoke to the midfielder ahead of Sunday’s return at the Stadium of Light, and discovered a player refusing to revel in his heroics.
KEVIN Nolan must be unique amongst the population of Tyneside for two distinct, but closely connected, reasons.
First, he is the only Newcastle player to have scored a hat-trick against Sunderland since Peter Beardsley achieved the feat on New Year’s Day 1985.
Second, he is surely one of the only people living in the city who has not watched any of the goals again.
“Do you know, I haven’t even got a DVD of the game,” said Nolan, whose hat-trick heroics helped Newcastle subject Sunderland to a Halloween horror show last October.
“I’ve got the ball and the shirt at home, but the memory of the goals is all up there in my head.
“To be honest, I was surprised when no one bought me the DVD for Christmas. I was going to buy my mam and dad one, but I didn’t get round to it either. I still haven’t sat and watched the goals.”
Be that as it may, it has nevertheless been impossible for Nolan to avoid the enormity of what he achieved in only his second Tyne-Wear derby appearance.
Only Beardsley and Alex Tait, a striker from the 1950s, had previously celebrated hat-tricks for Newcastle against Sunderland, but in a little over 45 minutes, the amiable Liverpudlian wrote his name into the Magpies’ record books.
It will remain there forever, and while some myths about derby heroics appear to have been overegged – “I don’t think I can say that I’ve never had to buy another beer since. I’m normally out with Andy (Carroll) anyway, so of course I’m the one that has to buy” – there is no doubt that Nolan’s standing in the eyes of the Newcastle support is assured.
Just as Liam O’Brien, Andy O’Brien and even Albert Luque are still serenaded for their performances against Sunderland, so Nolan will forever be celebrated as the bane of the Black Cats.
“The response I’ve had from the whole city has been tremendous,” said the midfielder.
“People want to speak to you more when you’re out and about. They come over, shake your hand and just say, ‘Thank you for a fantastic day’. There’s nothing more pleasing than when that happens.
“Just before relegation, I remember speaking about my hopes for myself and the club. It was always important to me that I wanted to leave something here, and make sure the Newcastle fans didn’t just think I was a lazy git who was crap.
“I didn’t want that. I wanted fans to think, ‘Yeah, he was good up here, a good servant to the club and fantastic when he was playing for us’. That has always been my goal, week in week out.”
But while a consistency of performance over a number of years is one way to endear yourself to the St James’ Park support, a stellar display against Sunderland can achieve the same result in the space of 90 minutes.
Having been born and raised in Liverpool, as an ardent supporter of the Reds, Nolan is no stranger to derbies that mean something. Like fellow Scouser, Joey Barton, the 28- year-old experienced numerous Liverpool-against- Everton encounters as a child.
However, nothing that occurred at Goodison Park or Anfield could have prepared him for the intensity of a North-East derby clash at either St James’ or the Stadium of Light.
“There’s a big difference,” said Nolan. “When we went to watch a Liverpool-Everton derby, you’d have Liverpool and Everton fans sitting next to each other. You can’t have that here.
“Hatred’s a big word, and I don’t really want to use it, but there’s a lot of animosity between the two so I don’t think that ever happens.
“Here, the cities are so close, yet it’s unbelievable how far away from each other they are. It’s a massive derby because of that, and it means the bragging rights mean so much to the fans.
With Liverpool-Everton, there’s a lot of friendly banter. With Newcastle- Sunderland, it’s different.
“Me and Joey spoke about it not long after we played in our first derby game, and we couldn’t really believe how much difference there was.
“We grew up with the Liverpool-Everton derby, and although everyone’s giving a bit, you could still go into a pub and see supporters from both teams. That doesn’t happen here.”
Uniquely amongst the current Newcastle squad, Nolan made his debut in a Tyne-Wear derby, the 1-1 draw with Sunderland in January 2009.
Sunday’s game will be his first as a Newcastle player at the Stadium of Light, and given his performance in October’s home game, he is assured of a reception that will be anything but warm.
Two-and-a-half months ago, Sunderland’s younger players appeared to freeze amid the intensity of derby day. The Magpies squad contains considerably more experience, and Nolan is confident that he and his team-mates can handle anything that is thrown at them tomorrow.
“As players, that’s what we’re going to have to deal with, and we’re looking forward to it,” he said. “A lot of the pressure is on them, because they have to get a good result in light of what happened.
“We’re not going there thinking we’re going to turn them over, but we’re not going to roll over for them either. It’s going to be a tough game again.
“I’m sure the atmosphere will be fairly hostile, but that’ll just make it a bit more exciting and give it a bit more of an edge.
“The lads genuinely love an occasion like that. It’ll be tough from their fans, but we’ll have fantastic support as well.
“Hopefully, we can do it for them and give them another fantastic afternoon.”