Made in the North East... but only for export: Andy Carroll won't be the last to leave

There was a time when the term 'Mackem' was a derogatory reference to the people of Sunderland.

Nowadays, keen to differentiate themselves from Geordies, the people of Wearside claim it with pride.

It is a nickname which goes back to the days when shipbuilding was the No 1 occupation in the region.

Flying high: Carroll gets a massive pay rise

Flying high: Carroll gets a massive pay rise

Workers on the docks in Sunderland would 'mack' the ships and their Geordie counterparts would take them (or tack 'em) and then fit them out.

These days it is footballers and not ships which are the No 1 commodity and export from the North East.

Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough 'mackem' and the Premier League big boys 'tackem'.

In the last month alone, three of the biggest names and most iconic fans' favourites at all three major North East clubs have left.

Darren Bent, Andy Carroll and David Wheater join a depressing list.

Once a self-proclaimed football hotbed, the North East is now nothing more than a breeding ground where players are put into cold storage for the benefit of the others.

Just studying the roll of honour of the North East Football Writers' Association players and young players of the year brings home to Mackems, Geordies and Middlesbrough's Smoggies the reality of the region's place in the game. 

Darren Bent
David Wheater

Pastures new: Darren Bent (left) and David Wheater (right)

Just before Christmas, Bent became the 30th recipient of the scribes' main award, pledging loyalty and affinity to Sunderland at the ceremony in Durham, and vowing to win it again.

Within weeks, he was gone to chase Aston Villa's bucks.

In fact the last seven winners of the honour - Bent, Danny Collins, Wheater, Nyron Nosworthy, Dean Whitehead, Stewart Downing and Shay Given - have all departed to earn their money elsewhere.

The only young player to survive since that award's inception three years ago is Newcastle defender Steven Taylor. Liverpool's new £35million signing Carroll won it in December, succeeding Manchester City's Adam Johnson.

Bent was the first to go in January and to lose one was unfortunate.

When Wheater left Boro for Bolton, the Teesside club's hands tied by their finances and another pitiful Championship campaign, that was careless.

To lose a third in Carroll this week completes a demoralising hat-trick.

Sunderland will be relieved that the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal have not followed up their clear interest in another of the area's many academy products, Jordan Henderson.

Like Carroll, Henderson received his first England cap in November, and like Carroll, the midfielder has been suitably rewarded by his hometown club in the last year with a new contract to reflect his new status.

Pragmatic approach: Niall Quinn

Pragmatic approach: Niall Quinn

But at least Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn and manager Steve Bruce have been honest with the supporters as they prepare for the fight to keep a midfielder who could be Sunderland captain for life, out of the top sides' clutches.

Quinn admits every player has his price. It was why he knew he had no choice but to sell Bent when £24m was offered.

It is why he fears if Henderson is to play European football, it may be at Old Trafford rather than the Stadium of Light.

Quinn knows market forces rule for all the North East clubs and he admits the club's former chairman Bob Murray was wrong not to have off-loaded his former strike partner Kevin Phillips a decade ago, when Sunderland were on the back of two top-seven finishes.

'I am always mindful of the fact Bob Murray was offered £16m for Kevin Phillips - we have the letters - and he held on to him,' said Quinn.

'We were relegated and sold him 15 months later for £1.5m.

'That £16m would have meant the club stayed in the Premier League that year. But it's a tough call and we have to be strong. I don't want Jordan to go, but I am giving an example of the dilemmas you can face.

'That is why we must be open. The game has changed. It is not like the old days when you could say, "This player is not going anywhere".

'There are a lot of factors at play and I am not going to try to fool anybody and come out with all this talk that Jordan will stay here for ever. It is impossible to say that.'

When ashen-faced Alan Pardew faced the inquisition yesterday, it was to deliver apologies, excuses and a reality check.

And the Newcastle manager was asked, in the light of this latest betrayal, if there was now a ceiling on Newcastle's ambitions if they had to sell their best players, just as his predecessors had to say farewell to Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley and Paul Gascoigne.

His answer could have come from any one of the managers in the North East.

'It is a question that is difficult to answer because obviously we have sold Andy Carroll,' he said.

'He is someone I wanted to keep to strengthen this club.

'But if I have to sell a player to do that then perhaps you could argue that is the point of it. The fee is enormous.

'I have had no chance to spend it. We have to make sure we spend it correctly in the summer and to spend it properly.'