Note from Editor: Today we have an interesting opinion piece for you as former Labour MP Ian Lucas writes in to discuss season two of STID.
“Sunderland Till I Die”, Season 2, is a worthy, ringside seat to a continuing disaster. Its predecessor series told the tale of the calamitous relegation to League One of the Black Cats in 2018/9 and, from my memory, focussed more on managers and players than the new series, which has at its centre, new owner Stewart Donald and his assistant, Charlie Methven.
For me, Donald and Methven, especially Donald, emerge with some credit. It is clear the club was flat on its back on their arrival and that they did haul it back to its feet. Unfortunately, Sunderland’s ultimate failure to secure promotion to the Championship meant that the club had, at the end of the season, sunk to its knees once more.
After seeing the series, I do not think this is the owner’s fault. Later episodes make clear the ownership team’s frustration at Sunderland’s on-field performance which, ultimately, must be the responsibility of then manager, Jack Ross. Glimpses of the league table show how, really, Sunderland were in position to secure automatic promotion until very late in the season and how, as the final games took place, the team’s confidence evaporated. Those of us who witnessed the 2019 play-off final against Charlton saw Sunderland gifted a goal at the outset of the match only to see a woeful performance devoid of creativity, determination and tactical awareness. Defeat felt inevitable.
All of this is borne by Sunderland’s fans. I am one. We all know how committed we are, how passionate we are and how let down we have been. But we are, really, not alone in this. As a Wrexham season ticket-holder, I have witnessed a similar tale with a club with an over-mighty fan base, failing to achieve. The frustration is that, again and again, smaller clubs seem to play better football, have better managers and achieve more.
Sunderland fans know the series’ sequel, this season, how patience finally ended with Jack Ross and how Phil Parkinson is unlikely to achieve the play off place which is the bare minimum a club of Sunderland’s size should secure in League One. The frustration builds further.
Stewart Donald’s commitment, aided by Methven, cannot, I think, be questioned and the series shows this. The inevitable body blow of the loss of Josh Maja and the farcical, entirely explicable, signing of Will Grigg is at the heart of Sunderland’s ultimate failure but Donald cannot be blamed. Ross, on the other hand, appears a strangely distant figure and the players, aside from early focus on Luke O’Nien, are similarly absent. The series is weaker for this.
There is too much focus on the Checkatrade Trophy trip to Wembley and too little on the promotion run-in, when the prize, for Sunderland, slipped away. Methven’s early enthusiasm appeared exhausted by the end of the season, blunted by obvious, but unjustified, frustration at some administrative staff members, and more justified disappointment at the manager and team. His departure this season is no surprise.
I would have been interested to know more about the initial Jack Ross appointment. Why was he chosen? He appears a very different character to Donald and Methven and appeared to lack, ultimately, motivational skills, something which the owners seem to think important for everyone else at the club.
In the end, Donald had my sympathy. I do not think his commitment, personal and financial, could be questioned but his enthusiasm was not matched by a management team with the tactical and inspirational skills to deliver what he, and those supporters, wanted so desperately. That, for Sunderland, has been the story for so many years now.