STEVE BRUCE might have grown up in a Newcastle United supporting family, but thinks it is sad the North- East’s biggest derby has become fuelled by hatred off the pitch.

The Tyne-Wear encounter has become one of the most hostile around Europe, which is likely to be apparent again tomorrow, when the police and stewards will be faced with the difficult task of keeping supporters apart.

Bruce, born in Corbridge, claims never to have been to a Newcastle-Sunderland match as a fan, but remembers the days when it was not such a dangerous fixture to attend.

“I remember when Sunderland won the FA Cup in 1973, that there was huge affection from the whole area,” said Bruce. “I was talking to the missus about it last night. Her dad was from the area, he took her as a lassie to see Sunderland come back with the cup.

“The family are Newcastle fans, but that is the thing that has disappeared over the years. There will always be a rivalry but in my day there were people who’d go to Newcastle one week and Sunderland the next.

“That for me is the sad thing that has gone away from this derby. It still happens in Liverpool today, where Liverpool and Everton supporters share houses, but because we’re 12 miles apart there is a hatred rather than a rivalry.

That’s sad.”

Sunderland head for Newcastle having won just three of their 16 meetings with the Magpies in the Premier League, the last victory at St James’ Park dating back ten years.

And while Bruce might not have experienced the extent of the atmosphere which exists when these two sides meet, he does remember going to St James’ Park for a must-win encounter with Manchester United in 1996.

The Magpies were top of the Premier League, Bruce and his team-mates in the chasing pack.

“The biggest game I can remember playing in at St James’ was when the wheels came off.

“We went up there and beat them 1-0 through a Cantona goal,” said Bruce. “We were fortunate but it was a great noise and after that we knew we’d catch them.

“I remember going there with Birmingham and scoring six. That wasn’t too bad either.

I’m sure it’ll be another great occasion.

“Players have to be ready to cope with such an occasion.

“I remember my first semifinal, FA Cup, against Oldham at Maine Road in 1990.

“I was hopeless and after 15 minutes I couldn’t run or breathe.

“I said to Gary Pallister ‘you’d better be up for it cos’ I’m struggling’.

“He said ‘I feel even worse’.

The occasion got to me because I was desperate to play at Wembley.”

There will be a lot of eyes on Sunderland defender Titus Bramble when he returns to Newcastle tomorrow.

Bramble made a name for himself for making a number of costly errors during his younger days in a black and white shirt.

Bruce, who dismissed claims that he had put a £20m price-tag on Jordan Henderson, said: “Titus is big, strong, powerful lad and when he is concentrated, he is terrific.

“He was only a young lad when he was at Newcastle, 19, and they still managed to finish fourth. He can’t have been that bad.”

■ Sunderland’s Andy Reid has joined Championship side Sheffield United on an emergency loan deal until the end of November.

The 28 year-old has recently battled back from a hamstring injury to force his way back into Bruce’s plans, coming off the bench in recent home draws with Arsenal and Manchester United.