Put your phone on silent, and stick it in a drawer. Remove all distractions. Tell the kids to pipe down. Put your out of office on. Because episode two deserves your full attention. Without doubt it is far more Premier Passions and much less We Are Newcastle United.
Kyril Louis Dreyfus kicks things off with a little explainer as to why he felt it appropriate to disgracefully hoodwink the fans into thinking that dirty Donald and Charlton Charlie were in fact still part of a group who held the majority of Sunderland’s shares. The truth is we should all sit there and think “ach, fair enough,” because what Kyril has done is underestimate just how batshit and unhinged some of our support is, and nothing more. There was no nefarious intent, just an inability to explain something which they probably knew deep down would shake the hornet’s nest.
He’s a bit of a zoo exhibit, is our Kyril, given that the mastodons who roamed the earth thousands of years ago have arguably given more interviews than him over the years. And actually, when you see him in the flesh, he comes across as quite a sweet, sensitive boy. Someone his mother is most definitely proud of, with impeccable table manners. You suspect if he went to see one of Wee Phillie’s comedy gigs he’d probably smile politely all the way through without understanding a word of what was going on - and cover his eyes when the breasts appeared. If Wee Phillie still does that, of course.
We then get to the meat of the programme - the push for the playoffs, and we get this nice little window into the psyche of the club. Alex Neil summed it up in one press conference in which he says “I just find it funny. I know we haven’t had a good time but the negativity is incredible.” It neatly summarises the frailties and insecurities of so many at this club; the desperation of everyone involved with Sunderland AFC to get out of League One climbs out the TV and smacks you in the face - a bit like that girl in The Ring right at the end. But for all of Alex’s protests about excessive glumness, watching Sunderland has been about as enjoyable as being tasked with cleaning the testicles on Alan Shearer’s statue outside St James’ Park on a daily basis. With your tongue.
Then comes the memories of matches - and victories - that were merely waymarkers on our way to triumph. Shrewsbury, Cambridge, Morecambe; games which injected the belief into the fanbase that this was our year. “For some reason, I just feel as though it’s our time. I really do” said Andrew Cammis, one of the fans who features throughout.
And it’s through Andrew we see a really nice human side to the club, as Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts visit East Durham Veterans - and it’s here that you see these lads as being more than just talented footballers but really nice, decent human beings. It’s no joke that I would like to take Jack Clarke home to meet my mother. “This is Jack and he plays left wing for Sunderland” I would tell her. In return he would definitely call her Mrs Bendelow and compliment her cooking.
There’s another lad here who should be worried about his title of the Nicest Man in Sunderland - Luke O’Nien. Of course he doesn’t disappoint and gives a brilliant insight into the tactics and plans for the semi final versus Sheffield Wednesday. One of the enduring memories of both the first and second legs is his performance and his running battle with Barry Bannan. O’Nien’s explanation of the strategy is beyond satisfying and marks out both him and Neil as people who at that point were performing at their peak.
O’Nien’s attitude though, is just so impressive. The relish with which he talks about taking him on is great to hear. “I thought it’s game on” he said, after Bannan told him he’d have to do more than smash into him to stop him.
A nod too to Bannan who told O’Nien “ah, it’s alright” at full time following their titanic duel in the second leg. Luke, you might have taken issue with Roker Report calling you “shite” in the past, but you were 10 out of 10 that night, no doubt about it.
As for Alex Neil, the passage of time has probably eased most animosity towards the man. His explanation of why he wasn’t going to make a substitution no matter what is fascinating. I will not lie, I was one of - I assume thousands - who was screaming for a change as we entered the final 10 minutes.
Finally there’s Lynden Gooch, a man who is so Sunderland through and through, if you squeezed him really tightly bits of sand from Seaburn beach would trickle out his ears. There’s more to come from him in the next episode, but even his brief cameo here makes you pine for him once more.
It’s these little (or big) moments that we need more of throughout. On one hand, it’s quite clear this season should have been more than the three episodes. On the other, it feels like the stories and the human side of things could have been explored in more depth. But overall, episode two is almost like watching a different programme compared to the opening part. Maybe that was to just weed out the Mags, I don’t know. In some ways it’s because you have the excitement of what is to come, but it’s just nicely told and you’d have to try really hard to not think this is a very engaging, good bit of TV which successfully invokes some brilliant memories.
And if you thought the playoff semi was good, you know what’s about to come next...