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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 22 April 2021

TV Wrap - Sunderland 'Til I Die is the show we want, if not the show we need right now

The second series of the fly-on-the-wall documentary has been released on Netflix.

THE LESSON OF the first series of Sunderland ‘Til I Die is that everything can always turn out worse than anyone could ever have imagined. 

And so it is with the club’s customary tact and sense of timing that the second series is delivered to us amid a generation-defining pandemic.

That all of the episodes have been released on April Fool’s Day at least shows someone at Netflix has a sense of humour. 

We return with the club in new ownership, trying to pick their way through the wreckage of the previous regime before they can turn their attention to clambering back to the Championship from League One. 

Like an arguably more horrifying version of True Detective, the franchise has remained the same with a change in the lead duo. Ellis Short has sold the club to Stuart Donald, while Martin Bain is replaced in the decisive-straight-talking-executive-in-tight-fitting-shirt role by Charlie Methven. 

Charlie is a part-owner of the club with a background in PR and journalism, and he is on board here as the ideas man. “My role is to imagine things, to feel things..and to express those feelings into a vision.” 

This prefaces a long discussion with staff about changing the walk-out music at the Stadium of Light – from the Apprentice theme tune (?) to Tiesto’s remix of Adagio for Strings(!) – that ends with a staffer saying it doesn’t matter what they play if they don’t upgrade the PA system. 

It seems like a few of Charlie’s visions may fall on stony soil. 

The growing decrepitude of the ground is a theme of the series opener, with one fan asking Donald during a radio phone-in if he was going to do anything about the pink seats, bleached from red under the fortnight of sunshine the region has had since 2006. 

With Sunderland now enduring the indignity of finding themselves marinating English football’s third tier, it is time to recover a bit of self-respect. “The piss-take party stops now”, declares Charlie like a WADA official putting his foot down in a Moscow lab. 

There is further straight-talking from the off, as he writes something about how Sunderland has been run on an easel just so he can emphatically cross it out. “It is a failed, fucked up business. This was, 100%, fucked.” 

It’s not a baseless claim: the club they bought had debts of £30 million and had spent their entire ticket revenue from the previous season on simply paying the interest on the debt. 

Charlie does have a grasp on what the club means to the people of Sunderland, rallying staff by saying they can be involved in something important here; that this job is meaningful as football is the thing that “stops people crying at church.”

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(Perhaps Ireland’s rich history of allegedly weeping statues of the Virgin Mary can be attributed to the declining fortunes of Nazareth FC.) 

The production values are outstanding as per, although slow-mo shots of the crowd jostling and embracing take on a weird, uncomfortable hue of nostalgia amid our presently distanced times. 

This column has only seen the first episode so far, and we won’t spoil the finale of either this episode of the resolution of the series, but all of the great themes of the first series have already been set in motion again. 

The club is, to all intents and purposes, an addiction for its followers, filled with cursed hope, thwarted ambition, and cosmic injustice.

The fabulously plaintive theme tune is back too, again crescendoing with the stretched lament that, “I hope that I make you proud” in that tone of no conviction. 

Watching fans’ passions and energies being soaked up by this dysfunctional football club leaves the present-day viewer with a lament of their own: oh for the days of fighting and fretting over things that really didn’t matter.  

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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