BORN in Stirling, Steve Caldwell could only imagine what the rivalry that existed between Newcastle and Sunderland was like.

But as a young Scottish football enthusiast, he quickly became familiar with just how strong the hatred was among the two sets of Celtic and Rangers supporters in Glasgow really was.

Caldwell was only about an hour's drive away from the home of his country's two biggest clubs and he was well aware of the huge divide between the two.

Very few have played for both, with Mo Johnston first to mind.

And this summer, south of the border, Caldwell has crossed the path the likes of Lee Clark, Paul Bracewell and Stan Anderson have walked by switching Tyneside for Wearside.

Quite rightly Sunderland's summer signing from the Magpies is looking forward to his new life away from St James' Park and he hopes both sets of fans respect the route he has taken.

Starved of first team opportunities under Sir Bobby Robson, he now has a genuine chance of making a name for himself at Sunderland.

"There's been no adverse reactions from the Newcastle supporters. They know what I was trying to do when I was there and I just hope Sunderland fans know what I'll try to do here, and that's to give 100 per cent. Give my all for the red and white jersey," he said.

"I know a fair amount about rivalry because of the Celtic-Rangers situation but the Tyne-Wear rivalry doesn't really apply to me because I'm not from Newcastle.

"If I was from Newcastle then I could probably understand it but I'm not and hopefully people can realise that by my accent!"

Caldwell is no teenager anymore but he still should have the best years of his career in front of him, providing he fulfils his potential now he has pledged his allegiance to Sunderland.

The defender turns 24 in September and it was that fact which eventually persuaded him to turn down a new contract offer at Newcastle, where he made only 20 league appearances in six years.

It is a change of approach from McCarthy this summer as he plots his assault on the Coca-Cola Championship.

Out have went old heads, Phil Babb, Joachim Bjorkund and Jason McAteer while on the arrival list have been Liam Lawrence, Dean Whitehead, Stephen Elliott and Mark Lynch as well as Caldwell and Carl Robinson.

Many of those names may be largely unknown to the fans of clubs higher up the football ladder, yet all have arrived with potential in abundance.

Caldwell, after spending pre-season with his new squad and following their trip to the United States, has it clear in his own mind what he thinks of the crop of players formed.

And, under the tutelage of former Republic of Ireland boss McCarthy, the centre-back can see a season of success at the Stadium of Light.

"My first impressions of Mick McCarthy were brilliant.

"He's an honest guy and he'll give every player a fair crack of the whip. I'm going to learn a lot from him because he played in my position," says Caldwell.

"I'm excited to be a part of the gaffer's planning for the future.

"He's brought in a few young players and we're all going to grow up together, learn together and hopefully develop as a team and as players.

"This could be the start of something good and if we get off to a good start we should be able to make a lot of progress.

"We're desperate to get back into the Premiership. That's what this club is geared towards. It should be in the top flight and now it's up to us and the coaching staff to get together and ensure we achieve that.

"The surroundings are fantastic, it's an ambitious club, which is on the up again, and now we're going to get back to the heights we scaled five years ago."

After spending time at Leeds towards the end of last season, when all at Elland Road had to face up to life outside the Premiership, he knows exactly what it feels like to face up to under-achievements on the pitch.

Sunderland, too, had a similar bitter taste in their mouths in a different way after failing to overcome Crystal Palace in the play-offs in May, and Caldwell wants to make sure he is not left deflated at the same time in 2005.

"I would be devastated if we don't finish in the top two spots. I'm here to win the championship and that's what you've got to set your sights on.

"If we're not caught on our heels at the start then we'll be fine," says Caldwell.

"I would assume Leeds will also be pushing for the top two.

"Any team that comes down from the Premier League looks like it will be strong and will have a good chance of going up although I don't care about them, I just care about Sunderland.

"It will be a real fight for the first two places.

"If we can do that then I hope that will boost my international prospects.''

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