The opening scenes of Netflix’s documentary, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, sees local priest Father Marc Lyden-Smith delivering mass to his congregation. Red and white shirts litter the pews as Fr. Lyden-Smith discusses the importance of faith and prayers.
There’s more than a fleeting sense of irony in Fr. Marc Lyden-Smith’s sermon when analyzing his message with hindsight. Hope bound in nothing more than blind faith in those running our club epitomises the issues we faced last season. We hoped those running the club would come good, but in reality something resembling divine intervention would likely have been the only way in which Sunderland could have avoided relegation.
The introduction sequence rolls to The Lake Poets’ brilliant, “Shipyards”. As animated scenes of a sombre, industrial backdrop pass by the song poses the thought: “I hope that I’m making you proud.”
There’s a sense of dark irony throughout the entire series, and that is amplified by the fact that we already know the outcome. Martin Bain is perhaps the chief perpetrator of all things ironic, yet Simon Grayson comes in a close second thanks to his muddled vision for the club, and a sense that his hands are tied by those above.
Within the first fifteen minutes Grayson manages to drop a handful of cliches into the mix whilst also managing to confuse his sense of belief in the club. The former Preston boss states boldly that this is a “new chapter” and that promotion is the ultimate goal because this is a “big football club”.
However, a few breaths later and Grayson goes from touting the club as some kind of sleeping giant, to one that’s “not stable”. The conflict in emotion is immediate and really hammers home how uncertain the entire club was in terms of its future.
Grayson then stands in front of a flip chart awkwardly asserting that working class fans demand hard-working players. As his semi-monotonous Yorkshire drawl wafts from the television it’s hard not to feel your gut clench with a horrific sense of awkwardness - the kind that makes you squint your eyes and grimace in pain of thought.
After but a few minutes of watching, it’s clear to see that things just weren’t going to work out with Grayson at the helm. His choice of figurative language - comparing the club to the titanic - when trying to express his emotions in taking over such a big club sums up his inability to adequately promote his vision and belief in the club.
That Freudian slip is both comical yet also bitter - we all know the truth in that statement.
A run of defeats soon emerge and the pressure builds; Jason Steele is dropped ahead of the Sheffield United game only to return against Ipswich without allegedly knowing he was being reinstated to the starting line-up.
The resulting score - a resound 5-2 defeat away from home.
There’s a bizarre sense of miscommunication, apathy, and sheepishness seeping from Grayson throughout the series. He seems like a nice man who says the right things, yet there’s just no passion or confidence in anything he says.
Maybe he was just nervous in front of the camera? Maybe he was still finding his feet? Whatever the reason, Grayson comes across as a meek leader, and one win in ten games highlights his side’s failures.
There’s a moment in Episode III where Grayson, Bain and several other Sunderland players (past and present) go to a local pub for a fans’ forum. Immediately the grilling begins, and one fans sums the issue up perfectly.
“Who’s leading the way?” He asks. Silence responds.
Grayson then goes on to make the claim that the players are giving their all, and asks the crowd if anyone doesn’t believe that. One supporter argues against Grayson’s claim, proclaiming that from the stands it doesn’t look like a side giving their all.
Again, awkward silence.
Obviously last season wasn’t simply Simon Grayson’s fault; however, he definitely played a contributing factor to our misfortune.
When asked about his side’s poor form Grayson’s only real moment of passion is highlighted; the question clearly irks the former manager who boldly states, at least he “had the balls to come to this club!” Before going on to talk about unforeseen obstacles preventing him from finding success.
When asked about the club’s poor dealings in transfer window, Grayson states:
Did I agree with it? No. But that’s just my opinion.
There’s a sense that Grayson feels his hands were tied. Yet, there was also an enormous sense of underachievement last season (obviously). Part of that is undoubtedly down to poor recruitment and stems from Ellis Short and Martin Bain’s mismanagement of the club.
However there’s another part to the equation that is clearly highlighted in the documentary: the fact that Grayson just wasn’t the right man for the job.
One fan suggests the only reason Grayson is the manager at that time is due to the fact that no-one else wanted the job, and as the show points out, his sacking makes him the shortest serving manager in the club’s 139 year history.
It’s a shame in a way, yet Martin Bain states twice before sacking Grayson that football is a “results driven business.” Results Grayson simply couldn't deliver.