The producers behind Sunderland ‘Til I Die have opened up on the long-awaited Season 2 of Netflix’s hit fly-on-the-wall docu-series.
Six new episodes will crash land on the streaming service on April Fool’s Day (1st April).
Fulwell73 is a company founded by Sunderland fans – named after their 1973 FA Cup final victory – and RadioTimes.com spoke exclusively to executive producers Leo Pearlman and Ben Turner about the controversial upcoming series.
Turner said: “Me and Leo joked that we’ve watched Sunderland for years and years and sang ‘we’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen’ with a tinge of irony. We realised in making Season 2 that Sunderland are genuinely by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen to make a series about.
“When you make Season 2 of something, you need to find something new to tell. The way it played out in terms of Charlie [Methven] and Stewart [Donald], we are very happy about.
“As Sunderland fans, it was kind of heartbreaking, but it always seems to be like that.”
Much of the series will revolve around Oxfordshire duo Donald and Methven, who took up positions as chairman and director respectively in 2018.
They arrived to great fanfare, riding a wave of optimism despite the club’s relegation to League 1 ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, but have become somewhat divisive characters on Wearside since taking charge.
Pearlman added: “The first time around you had Ellis Short (former Sunderland owner) compared to Stewart and Charlie who are the most open, transparent people in charge of a football club probably in the history of the game. Naturally, they became the focus of the show.”
Turner said: “No-one in their right mind could sit and watch six hours of content where they’re a key protagonist in it without any kind of editorial control throughout the course of a year and not feel uncomfortable at times.
“Every single one of us would look at content of us in that way and think ‘God, I wish I hadn’t said that or behaved that way’ but I think that’s completely normal. I think Stewart and Charlie had that reaction just the same as anyone.
“The important thing is to ask is ‘did you capture their true character? Do you feel like they were real people who, through all their foibles and mistakes, were making decisions they believed were right at the time?’ and I think they would look at it and say yeah.”
Key decisions documented in the series include the signing of Will Grigg for a League 1 record fee, and while the Fulwell73 guys speak highly of Donald, they felt he was prone to being swept up in the passion of high-intensity situations.
Pearlman explained: “I think looking back on last year, it would be very hard for most fans not to see their actions as being motivated by trying to get the club into a better place.
“The Will Grigg signing is the best possible example of that. He made that decision as a fan. Stewart made that decision to sign that player, for that amount of money, at that time of the season because he’d made a promise to the fans that they were going to replace Josh Maja and they needed goals to go up.
“Was it the right business decision? Retrospectively, of course it wasn’t. Was he being advised at the time not to do it? Yeah, he definitely was.
“But as a fan, and being caught up in the passion of that moment, he pushed the button and did it and I think it’s pretty hard to criticise someone for doing that. At the time most fans applauded it and I think it’s important to recognise that.”
Turner said: “There’s a difficult relationship between the fans, club and Stewart and Charlie by the end.
“I think this may balance it up a little bit because mistakes they made were made with the best intentions. It’s incredibly difficult to buy and run a football club and to do it well.
“One of the things in any kind of business is not to get swept up in the passion and the moment, and I think they really did get swept up. I think people will feel for them, understand their decisions much better.”
The producers faced criticism from former Sunderland manager Jack Ross who, after filming ended, told BBC Scotland: “Purely as a football manager, I said I’d prefer not to have it. We didn’t want any more distractions.”
Fulwell73 have remained tight-lipped on the issue, but offered a counter-point to Ross during our chat.
Turner said: “We haven’t responded to that from Jack, but we would point him in the direction of Man City who managed to score 100 goals and 100 points with cameras around, or France who managed to win a World Cup with them, Juventus managed to win a treble.
“I think cameras can be used the same as any excuse can. If things aren’t going well, one looks for things that are outside of their control and blames them.
“If we’d gone up in the play-offs and won the Checkatrade, then I doubt there would have been any comment about the cameras.”
Sunderland ‘Til I Die Season 2 is set to whip up a storm in the North East, but it’s not all doom and gloom for the die-hards bracing themselves to tune in.
Pearlman said: “Both as a fan and a filmmaker, Trafalgar Square the night before the Checkatrade final is about as moving and emotional a moment as I’ve ever experienced.
“I’ve got goosebumps thinking about it now, sat isolated at home thinking about a moment when a hundred thousand people from Sunderland gathered in Trafalgar Square and took the place over, especially what we’re going through right now, that feels like an incredible, incredible moment.
“You kind of look at it and think when will we get to do that again?”
And Turner rounded off the interview in full agreement with his colleague: “As Sunderland fans we obviously have great memories of the club and moments that we’ve been very proud and love the club and for the duration of this series we’ve wanted to put some of that on screen rather than constant misery and just saying ‘oh, we’re so loyal and so durable’.
“That was a moment where Sunderland were out in all their glory. It was a great privilege to bring that to screen.”