Review: Sunderland ’Til I Die

Sunderland ’Til I Die is an eight-part Netflix series charting the story of Sunderland AFC’s ill-fated 2017–18 campaign.

The season before saw the end of a ten-year stint in the English top flight, whilst in previous years the likes of Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill, Paolo di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce had been able to keep Sunderland just about safe, David Moyes was unable to succeed in what was always an uphill struggle.

So, in comes Simon Grayson, with the backing of chief executive Martin Bain, who has to deal with the fact owner Ellis Short no longer wishes to pump money into the club to try and get the club with a loyal fanbase and a 49,000 seater stadium out of the second tier and back into the Premier League.

To give away some spoilers, and let’s be honest, you’re probably already aware, Grayson was to be the shortest serving manager in the club’s history and his replacement, Chris Coleman, whilst generally well-liked and coming across as someone who you would want in these situations, was ultimately unable to prevent a second successive relegation.

The documentary is very “fly on the wall” following the players, the coaches, the staff, journalists and the fans over the course of the entire season with found footage from radio podcasts and the television helping string the story along.

Whilst Sunderland may have got relegated, it is clear that the people of the city never lost their passion for their team. This is clear when a season ticket holder continues to listen even though Sunderland are 3–0 down at Bristol City and explodes with joy when they miraculously come back to level it at 3–3.

They show the lows too with Bain under massive criticism from fans and Grayson being the target of vocal chanting after Sunderland squander points to Brentford and Bolton. Coleman too nearly gets into a physical altercation with a supporter after defeat to Burton confirms relegation.

But what makes this documentary series quite brilliant is it’s honest and frank portrayal of the human side of things. We see a scene in which a vicar is leading a service at a local church and he admits poor results have improved his business.

We see the bond between Coleman and the kitchen staff, who at the documentary’s conclusion face an uncertain future, as do all the club’s administrative staff, due to the restructure planned by the club’s new owners following relegation to the third tier.

We see Jonny Williams who breaks down with an injury before Coleman’s first game and his battle to stay fit and continue to believe in himself, Jason Steele, the goalkeeper is desperate to “fall in love with football again” after a troublesome spell keeping goal for Sunderland, while his teammate Robin Ruitter is ruled out injured for a substantial period.

Young striker Ashley Fletcher comes in on loan from Middlesbrough after striker Lewis Grabban asked for his loan to be terminated, which he claims was due to being taken off around the hour mark consistently and James Vaughan is sold to Wigan to end a torrid time on Wearside.

He is a very likeable character, but he is so lost in terms of his confidence, and you can see coach Robbie Stockdale’s desperate attempts to make sure he keeps working and gets the first goal in the end.

Darron Gibson, whose season ended after he was involved in a collision and had his contract terminated, comes across positively in the opening episodes, he is one of the side’s better performers until he breaks down with an injury. Perhaps representative of the luck that Sunderland had.

The close bond between Josh Maja and Joel Asoro, now at Swansea, is exhibited, but these guys are the future, Sunderland needs a now.

When relegation is confirmed, it is clearly tough to take for all involved. George Honeyman looks on the verge of tears and there is a concern for the staff who may be looking at redundancies, but the arrival of new owners and the omnipresent support of the fans gives hope that the immediate future for the Black Cats could still be a bright one.

A truly fantastic series, though poorly edited at parts, after the team score at Norwich, the clip of fans celebrating is clearly not from Carrow Road and things like that — it gives you a good view of what occurred in a dark season for the football club both on and off the pitch.

There is no hiding, for example, Bain is very firm in his belief Jack Rodwell should take responsibility and agree to rescind his contract which is on £60,000 a week, Aiden McGeady, too is critical of the way his manager approaches things.

We see Bain’s desperate but ultimately fruitless attempts to bring in Chris Martin on loan and the refusal of Coleman and the supports to give up and all these views are combined with those of the supporters to paint the picture of the 2017–18 season for Sunderland AFC.

Rating — 5/5 stars.