Pre-season, and the amount of change
Episode one of the show focuses mainly on the turnaround the business needs to undertake, and the build up to Sunderland’s first game of the season at the Stadium of Light. Disappointingly, it only briefly touches on the sheer amount of change that the club went through in order to get themselves back into shape, and in truth you could have devoted two full episodes to covering all of that off.
There was no real mention of some of the players we signed, like McGeouch, Maguire, Ozturk and Flanagan. We didn’t see much footage of the players working out in pre-season, or of the games we played that summer - in particular, fans might recall a controversial pre-season friendly against Hartlepool - which we drew 1-1 thanks to a late equaliser from Benji Kimpioka - where the players were on the receiving end of some abuse that Lee Cattermole in particular took exception to on the day.
The ill-feeling towards the players from the fans in those early pre-season games at Darlington and Hartlepool would have really contrasted with the elation and sense of relief when Lynden Gooch scored against Charlton, and it certainly feels like an opportunity missed by Fulwell73 in failing to touch on it.
Gift of football initiative
Episode three centres around Charlie Methven and his efforts to get a record-breaking crowd through the doors at the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day, and it definitely feels like some of the fan campaigns that accompanied the club’s efforts to increase the attendance were ignored in Sunderland Til I Die.
In particular, the ‘Gift of Football’ initiative which started on Twitter when a fan suggested he’d like to buy a pair of tickets for someone who perhaps couldn’t afford to attend the game. The idea took off immediately and almost two thousand extra tickets were bought by kind-hearted supporters who wanted to donate to the cause, with the entire fanbase rallying around the idea that we could help boost that Boxing Day crowd whilst also doing something really nice for fellow supporters who otherwise might not have been able to make it into the ground to watch the Lads take on Bradford City.
For me, the Gift of Football initiative was one of the highlights of the season, so it was disappointing that it didn’t even get a mention. The focus of the series was definitely to show Sunderland and the supporters in a good light, and giving a nod to the people behind such a fantastic cause and idea would have further strengthened that image of the fans coming together to do something nice for people less fortunate.
Trafalgar Square the night before both finals
The highlight of the season, for me, was standing on top of Nelson’s Column the night before the EFL Trophy Final, looking out into the distance and not being able to see anything other than Sunderland supporters lining the streets, singing and partying.
It was our way of showing the world who we are, what we are about, and where we come from. I’ve not often been prouder than I was that night to be a Sunderland supporter.
And whilst in Episode 5 you see the fans congregating early in the day at Covent Garden, it was at Trafalgar Square where the party really started. It was a legendary night, one that will live long in the memory, so it was sad that we never got to see any footage of the fans in the fountains, on the column and enjoying themselves ahead of the game.
Similarly, no footage was shown of the same sort of evening playing out again the night before the Play-Off Final - which was probably just as good.
The lack of marketing around the play off semi home leg
Whilst much of the focus in episode three was around the club’s successful marketing campaign to get fans through the doors for the Boxing Day game, there was no mention whatsoever in episode six about their complete lack of effort for the Play-Off Semi Final game with Portsmouth - what turned out to be our lowest crowd of the season.
The word on the grapevine was that the club felt they didn’t or shouldn’t need to try to sell the occasion to supporters, and as such there was little mention of the occasion in their communications beyond what they’d usually do for a normal league game. Undoubtedly, this led to a lower attendance on the day - though, those in the ground will attest that the atmosphere made by the supporters at the match was fantastic and made up for the relatively low numbers.
It was in fact left to the fan media groups to try to drum up interest. Ourselves here at Roker Report, Wise Men Say and A Love Supreme all came together to try to launch our own campaign because it was clear the club weren’t going to do their part.
If the club’s efforts were worthy of acclaim in episode three, then their lack of effort was certainly something worth noting in the series finale.
The departures of several arseholes
Whilst you see Joel Asoro being pig ignorant towards Jack Ross on the first day of pre-season in episode one, the fiasco which surrounded his departure isn’t mentioned and I think that’s a shame, because it was definitely a big story at the time.
Likewise, I think that they could have done a full episode on Papy Djilobodji, Lamine Kone, Paddy McNair, Didier Ndong and Jack Rodwell leaving. All of them caused a fuss and in the cases of Papy and Ndong, the club had to take legal action and sack them in order to get rid.
It feels like that whole saga was a victim of the condensation of the entire series, which could and should have been much longer than just six episodes.
Grant Leadbitter’s emotional return
Perhaps he’s just camera shy, but I found it really strange that there was no mention of Sunderland-born former Academy of Light product Grant Leadbitter making his emotional return to the club, ten years after he first departed.
In particular, Grant’s role in getting us to Wembley for the Play-Off final was huge. He gave his best performance in a Sunderland shirt since returning in that semi-final second leg at Portsmouth - and, as it transpired over the ensuing days, he was motivated by the sad loss of his mother the night before the game. The footage of Grant stood out on the pitch well after all the fans had gone home, being consoled by Lee Cattermole, was genuinely touching and was worthy of inclusion in the series.
It might not have worked out as hoped for Leadbitter since he returned, but that was a massive moment in our season and it seemed a shame that the entire occasion, and Grant’s part in it, was just glossed over as they looked to get to the Play-Off Final at Wembley.
Grant Leadbitter’s mother passed away on Wednesday - the day before Sunderland's playoff clash with Portsmouth.— 888sport (@888sport) May 18, 2019
Incredible strength of character to go out and represent his club on what was obviously an emotional evening.pic.twitter.com/IjWgeUAFub
Sunderland took eight thousand fans to Blackpool on New Year's Day, and it wasn’t even given a brief mention - I found that incredibly odd!
The entire town was taken over by Mackems clad in red and white as we saw in the new year in style, dwarfing the size of the home support on the day, and the night after the game was a real party in the centre of Blackpool.
Visually, you’d think that would make for excellent footage for the show. EIGHT THOUSAND fans, and not even one mention of it - I was a little disappointed it didn’t feature.