SUNDERLAND football supporters said running street battles which marred the club's pre-season ‘friendly’ with Celtic could have been foreseen.

Police donned riot gear as scenes of violence broke out in the city ahead of Saturday’s Dafabet Cup match, intended to be a celebration of 20 years of the Stadium of Light, and 50 years since Celtic became the first British team to win the European Cup.

COMMENT: Sunderland hosts a fight that has nothing to do with football

The Northern Echo:

Police react to disorder in Sunderland ahead of a friendly fixture between the Black Cats and Celtic Pictures: North News

Northumbria Police confirmed 21 arrests were made, mostly for drunken disorder and breaching the peace, but also for possession of illegal pyrotechnics, relating to flares let off before and during the match.

There was no breakdown of the loyalties of fans arrested, but some are expected to appear in court on Monday.

The Northern Echo:

Police with shields, helmets and dogs in Sunderland as violence broke out ahead of the Sunderland v Celtic fixture

One Celtic fan suffered serious injuries in a clash two miles from the stadium, outside an off-licence where former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson was signing copies of his book, Mohammed’s Koran: Why Muslims Kill For Islam. 

He had tweeted that he had received death threats after posting a video message on social media calling members of Celtic’s hardcore Green Brigade “muppets”, claiming they “love Islam”.

A video said to be circulating on social media showed a flare being thrown into Fletcher’s Off-licence, in the Hendon area of the city, where

Mr Robinson was dressed in a top of Celtic’s Glasgow rivals, Rangers.

He said a fan had given him the football shirt to wear.

The Northern Echo:

Police react to violence on the streets of Sunderland

Police said the injured man, aged 18, who was taken to hospital with blood pouring from a head injury, has since been discharged. An investigation has been launched into the incident. 

Another troublespot was Bridge Street North, on the approach to the stadium, less than an hour before kick-off.

Fans of both sides had been mixing in good humour in local licensed premises until a group of men, not wearing any club colours, appeared across the road and brandished a Union flag, apparently goading Celtic fans drinking in those clubs and pubs.

Police intervened to prevent the respective groups coming together.

The Northern Echo:

A Twitter message from Tommy Robinson over the incident

Meanwhile, in the stadium, itself, there was a buoyant atmosphere among the 8,000 visiting fans, particularly as the Scottish champions quickly took a 2-0 lead against recently relegated Sunderland, on the way to a 5-0 victory.

But amid the euphoria, shortly after Sunderland’s new signing James Vaughan saw his penalty and a rebound saved, in front of the Celtic fans in the South Stand, a flare was thrown on to the pitch.

It led to a delay in the game, as a police officer, wearing protective gloves, removed the missile from the penalty area.

Following the match, a police cordon prevented large groups of Celtic fans from crossing Wearmouth Bridge to drink post-match in the city centre.

Northumbria Police’s assistant chief constable, Helen McMillan, said: “Unfortunately we did have some incidents of disorder in and around Sunderland between Sunderland and Celtic fans, and, while police dealt with them quickly, it is a shame these types of incidents happen at all.

“Fans come here to enjoy the football, many with young children, and we here at Northumbria Police do all we can to ensure they enjoy the day, whichever team they support.”

The Northern Echo:

The scenes of disorder in Sunderland

Following the game there was much talk on social media that such matches involving the Old Firm teams should not be staged by English clubs as pre-season friendlies, due to the potential for disorder, given the respective Glasgow sides’ sectarian backgrounds.

Long-time Sunderland supporter Paul Dobson, an author and joint editor of the award-winning fanzine A Love Supreme, said: “Sadly, what happened was almost inevitable.

“There were some horrible goings-on when Rangers played here in Gary Bennett’s testimonial in the 1990s, and the previous time Celtic were here, in 1966, there was trouble.

The Northern Echo:

Mounted police move in as disorder breaks out in Sunderland

“It always seems to attract certain elements on both sides.

“And, yet, it’s almost missed that there was a lot of good-natured stuff going on in many of the bars, with fans of either side having a good time, getting on well.”

The Northern Echo:

A Northumbria Police officer at the scene of the disorder