Watching the recently released Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die has been a surreal experience. It has sent us back to a place some of us would rather not go - like a moment from our childhood that amplifies a bad memory; like a flashback of a drunken night out appearing uninvited the morning after the night before.
However, just like those flashbacks, the opportunity to relive last season might just allow fans to make a bit more sense of what went on, and allow us to understand just what the hell went wrong.
On the other hand, the documentary also has the potential to make things even more confusing. Thankfully though, the series gives a chance for us to view the whole debacle from a perspective where we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This allows a fresh look on some of the decision making rather than view them from a place of desperation as we were when in the actual moment itself, when we were living and breathing every defeat.
The initial reaction was very positive to the appointment of Chris Coleman back in November 2017. It’s also fair to say the appointment was a shock to most. The national media couldn’t quite understand what was going through his head, and they were vocal about it.
As it transpired, there was a bit more to the story as far as his relationship with the Welsh FA was concerned, but the question was asked by many – why Sunderland? The general feeling was that a Premier League job was just around the corner for Coleman if he had a little more patience, but instead he chose Sunderland, a side struggling at the wrong end of the Championship.
He wanted to be the one to turn it around, and it would be an understatement to say he had the will of the people behind him - in a way that always seemed to be the missing piece from the Grayson appointment.
Did anyone (including Martin Bain) really believe Simon Grayson was the man to inject life back into the club and march back towards the Premier League whilst playing attractive football... or any sort of winning football?
The appointment of Simon Grayson always smacked of desperation - it was an appointment that suggested the club were simply willing to try and halt the slide, that mid-table mediocrity was fine. Anything to stabilise the club.
It also had a smell of appointing someone whose level and character would allow easy manipulation in terms of being told transfer resources were scarce. Grayson never seemed like someone keen on rocking the boat, and the documentary seemed to confirm that belief.
Subsequently, the slightly over the top reaction surrounding Coleman’s appointment had a lot to do with what came before him and the situation the club found themselves by sitting bottom of the Championship.
However, despite the jubilation at the appointment, question marks were raised. For all his incredible transformation of the Welsh national team, his CV at club level was inconsistent at best.
Four solid years at Fulham, after becoming the Premier League’s youngest manager at 32 in 2003, was followed by 18 months at Real Sociedad before resigning with the club fifth in La Liga after running into trouble with the board.
Two disappointing years at Coventry City went under the radar, as it was well, erm…Coventry City. Then there was six months in Greece where financial troubles meant a short stay at AEL. This all led to the eventual appointment as the manager of the Welsh national team in January 2012 - a job he accepted under extremely difficult circumstances.
Despite the question marks, Coleman’s stock had risen to such a degree that the appointment felt different to the announcement of Simon Grayson. This was despite the fact Grayson had arguably the better managerial record at club level with relative successes in the Championship and League One - especially at Blackpool, Leeds United and Preston North End.
Chris Coleman was appointed with his chest puffed out talking of fighting for the club and getting everyone up for the fight. It was exactly what we wanted to hear, and he pitched it perfectly; no doubt in the early days he believed it himself.
As an employee of the club puts it whilst re-arranging the manager’s office in episode four, reacting to Chris Coleman talking about the club the feeling was “Yes! I’m with ya, mate” and he was not alone in that reaction to Chris Coleman’s rhetoric.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for either Grayson or Coleman; both seemed like genuinely decent people who truly wanted to be the person to turn our club around and put everything they could into achieving that goal.
Both took the job knowing the issues they faced from within - including the crippling combination of a squad that included players who did not want to represent Sunderland and the lack of resources to provide the turnaround in personnel required.
This combination often leads to the tired statement regularly seen in the national media that it was an impossible job, one which nobody could have done any better. It could also be argued quite easily that the two managers could, and maybe should, have achieved relative success with the squad available to them - certainly in avoiding relegation.
The two men were under no illusions of the task in hand, they knew the score as did the fans. They both took on the challenge and so they should have. As Coleman stated, the pull to be that person to turn the tanker was too tempting to turn down. However, if the restraints of the job are clear, there are no excuses for the failure that followed.
History and opinion may look on Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman’s time at Sunderland differently, but they both ultimately failed. Whatever else was happening at the club both had a part to play in finishing bottom of the Championship. Two very different personalities achieving essentially the same outcome.
It might take us all a while to make our own peace and make some sense with what happened last season. It will be interesting given time and space on how Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman will be judged.
Sunderland ‘Til I Die season one was therapy – roll on season two.