Netflix’s second season of Sunderland ‘Til I Die immediately forces viewers to consider just how bleak the situation Sunderland AFC were in during the early days of Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven’s reign.
Much of what is noted in the opening episode is readily available elsewhere on the internet - such was the level of interest and transparency in Donald and Methven’s acquisition of the club. As such, I don’t think I’m revealing any spoilers here with an article looking back at the club’s situation when the duo arrived on Wearside.
Whether the stark reminder of such troubling times will ease the malaise in certain sections of the Sunderland support remains to be seen, but the reminder provided by the Netflix cameras will certainly create and interesting debate among fans.
Early in the opening episode, Charlie Methven summarises how poor Sunderland’s financial situation really was back in 2018. Despite Ellis Short’s help in clearing away the club’s debts, Methven notes that the club have been projecting £30-40 million worth of losses per year - a truly eye-watering amount.
In fact, Methven rather eloquently paints the overarching picture by noting that as a business the club is “one-hundred percent fucked,” if it was to be allowed to carry on running in the manner in which the previous group conducted their business.
Methven notes that £7 million per year was being spent merely on the interest owed to the banks, and argues that the club were on track to go “properly bust” before the deal with Ellis Short was reached.
Stewart Donald also goes on to highlight the wage bill as a real problem due to the fact that it reaches £34 million per year, noting it will need to be slashed in order to get the club back on a semi-level footing.
In all, it’s quite bleak behind the scenes as the club comes to grips with the awful picture being painted by the spreadsheets. Charlie Methven’s assertion perhaps best sums up the torrid state of affairs when he says:
When Ellis Short sold the club to Stewart, there was not a queue of ready buyers at the door.
For me, the opening episode was a quite startling reminder as to how difficult the situation was back in the summer of 2018. Of course, the duo have received much criticism since their purchase of the club - some of which is certainly worthy - however, the level to which the club had sunk was a really vivid reminder as to what an enormous job the rebuild was.
The opening episode also shows Donald and Methven’s interview with the BBC’s Simon Pryde, where Donald is steadfast in his belief that the club is “fundamentally” owned by the fans.
The football club is for the fans. They want to know what’s going on with their football club, so if you don’t tell them what’s going on then they’re not going to know.
The duo also discuss the importance of the fanbase and Donald is adamant when he says that “it’s vital that we go up.”
The show does a good job of exemplifying the awful situation the club was in, as well as portraying the enthusiasm and hope that fans had at that time. Fan Peter Farrer’s admission that he views the seat change project as a publicity stunt before smilingly noting that he will be going to the stadium to get involved is a great metaphor of the situation.
Sunderland fans were hopeful back in the summer of 2018, but there was also a sense of caution due to the recent misery that the fanbase had endured in the Championship.
Subsequently, framing the disappointment of last season against the show’s narrative, creates a really bizarre feeling for me.
The contrasting emotions of that hope we initially had coupled with the knowledge of what was to come didn’t leave me feeling angry or bitter, though perhaps that might come later in the season. Instead, I felt this odd sense of sorrow, bordering on morbid.
For all the ambition, pride, and belief that things were on the up, I couldn’t help but ask myself if I was witnessing the club’s rebirth as a lower-league club, documented in aeternum on television?
I know that’s a bleak feeling to hold, and perhaps the sense of grim questioning is partly fuelled by the events that currently grip the world, but it will be interesting to hear other fans’ thoughts on the matter.
Finally, it does feel worth mentioning the fact that there are small inaccuracies throughout the show that will catch the eye of fans. They aren’t a major issue, but they do pose an interesting question.
A great example from the first episode is the the graphic representing the threadbare squad of nine senior players that is immediately followed by scenes including several players who are effectively suggested to have not been at the club at that time.
To me, that really highlighted the fact that Netflix have a narrative to fulfill. This series needs to be dramatic, gripping, and popular. As such, the tale on the screen might well be crafted to do just that.
Of course, Sunderland were struggling during the summer of 2018, but it’s worth keeping an open mind the further you delve into the new series.