In a football world so quick to apply a coat of gloss to every situation, to use every possible manoeuvre to come out smelling of roses, Sunderland ‘Til I Die was a breath of toxic air.
The Netflix docu-series raised eyebrows ahead of its initial release in 2018 – of all the teams to choose, ‘who would ever want to watch eight episodes about Sunderland AFC?’, particularly in the wake of Amazon’s polished All Or Nothing: Manchester City production.
As it turns out, a lot.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die season one was supposed to be a love letter from lifelong fans and production company Fulwell73 – so named after the Black Cats’ 1973 FA Cup final victory – documenting the comeback from relegation to the Championship. It couldn’t have ended any worse – another relegation.
Season two picks up at the start of 2018/19 season, and amid the wreckage? Hope.
The first episode documents Oxfordshire duo Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven as they roll into Wearside.
Chairman Donald enters proceedings a little later, with the series opening up with a Brent-esue tirade from Methven – director of the club – tasked with revitalising the club’s marketing strategy and revenue streams.
“This business was planning to lose £30-40million per year – it is a failed, f***ed-up business.
“Unless you guys understand that, you’ll never make it in this world. This was f***ed, 100 per cent f***ed. It was on track to becoming the first large club to ever go properly bust.”
Sunderland 'Til I Die season 2 arrives on April 1st. Looking forward to finding out how this one ends… ???? pic.twitter.com/SEBYjgic6c
— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) March 18, 2020
It is as uncomfortable to watch almost 18 months on from the incident as the faces around the meeting room confirm it was then.
The producers focused on the fans in season one, but in the interest of keeping the show fresh, have now opted to trace the owners’ movements and lives with greater fervour.
Methven is sure-fire gold. An Eton-educated PR slick tasked with preserving the crown jewel of a working-class former mining town. He speaks with intent and passion, and whatever your opinion of him, you won’t be able to help hanging on his every polished word.
A recurring segment from episode one shows Methven’s vision for the Stadium of Light, starting with a new ‘Ibiza-style’ rave tune for the players to run out to, a thudding anthem to drum up the atmosphere and build the tension ahead of games.
That bubbling tension is perfectly mirrored by the opening episode itself. It is hopeful, full of hope. The optimism is palpable and accurate to the feeling around Sunderland at the time.
The Methven and Donald masterplan is intriguing, the action is pulsating, even euphoric at times, but as the saying goes: it’s the hope I can’t stand.
For every ounce of hope and positivity the first episode generates, anyone who understands ‘the Sunderland way’ will be braced for what happens next.
It actually makes it worse, the hope. Knowing the outcome, you can only sit and wonder how the feel-good factor of episode one could curdle.
This will be a gripping, brutal watch for the die-hards, re-opening wounds that many will feel they have healed from.
Rivals will scramble over one another to snipe away, but the series isn’t a mockery of the club, far from it. It treats the organisation, its fans, with dignity and actually displays the sheer scale of the club or what it could be, for all that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
Ask any Sunderland fan whether they’d swap their beloved for another, they will tell you they’re Sunderland ’til they die, and season two shows why.