Sunderland Til I Die captures a club and city trying to stay afloat

Calum Atkinson

With all the doom and gloom already around at the moment, you might wonder why some have spent most of their weekends watching the new season of Sunderland ‘Til I Die on Netflix.

While Sunderland’s exploits on the pitch in recent years have been utterly depressing, the first season of the show was captivating. This one also, wasn’t disappointing.

The ownership of the club has changed, so this season focuses on a whole new cast of characters. Gone is Martin Bain with his early morning swims and cryotherapy sessions, in comes a new group with fresh ideas.

Leading this group is Stewart Donald, an English businessman from Oxford. Much of his time is spent studying accounts trying to cut costs at a club that has been living way beyond its means.

“The view is that Cattermole will be tough to shift,” Donald says on the phone while nervously pacing around his office in a particularly memorable scene.

Throughout the entire series though, Donald’s passion and love for football shines through. He stands on the away terraces amongst the Sunderland fans, luxuriating in the fact he owns one of the biggest football clubs in England.

But this passion and love for football got the better of him when he panic bought Will Grigg a matter of minutes before the January transfer window “slammed shut” in one of the tensest scenes of the series.

The other dominant character is the public relations consultant, Charlie Methven. He grew up in rural Oxfordshire and went to Eton College. He then went on to read Theology at Exeter College, Oxford. Not exactly a natural fit for the north-east of England you might say.

Perhaps conscious of this, Methven goes out of his way to try to mingle with fans. He holds a town hall event and sips a pint of lager as he chats with fans.

Methven wants to make changes and he will take on anyone who gets in his way. For example, he insists on changing the walkout music to create a better atmosphere. He wants the Stadium of Light to be like an ‘Ibiza Rave’ before kickoff.

Methven has a series of uncomfortable encounters with other members of staff throughout the series. I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t emerge in a very positive light.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned any players or coaches yet and that’s because they don’t feature that prominently. It is a football documentary that’s not really about football (on the pitch at least).

It’s about a group of businessmen trying to restructure and revitalise a business and it’s about the city of Sunderland and its people.
Whether it be the cab driver or the war veteran, each fan that is featured has their own story to tell. The importance of the football club to the community becomes crystal clear through these stories.

Sunderland is one of the poorest cities in England but this documentary shows the strength of the community. The scenes of over 30,000 fans going down to Wembley to see their team are really special as it shows how the club brings people together.

Calum Atkinson

Image Credit: Sunderland A.F.C