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Get Away With That! Sunderland 'Til I Die Review

Wednesday 26th December 2018
Sunderland_til_i_die_review_warren_smith

Netflix's eight-episode docuseries plots Sunderland’s turbulent 2017/18 season. Fresh from Premier League relegation, this Netflix production series follows them through another dismal campaign.

The cable network is putting several sporting eggs in its basket. A few years ago, the only sports-based content was Club of Crows and nondescript clips shows where you could re-watch the same few goals from yesteryear with different graphics and narrators. Now there’s the Juventus documentary series, Boca Juniors and Sunderland ‘Til I Die.

I’m not a Sunderland fan. One of my best friends is. Interventions and counselling failed to help. Seriously, I appreciate the Black Cats untouchable unity and passion even if I don't understand it. Having watched the program, I feel like my understanding has grown. Still not a fan, but Netflix offers a surprisingly insightful look into the club's psyche.

The opening to the series is a biblical setting where the local priest is conducting a sermon. Yet this reading is by far from the regular mantra preached by religious zealots. This vicar is preaching on Sunderland AFC. He speaks of the great power that football has in the city as well as the great shame bestowed by last season's relegation. The scene is beautifully shot and left me in awe. SAFC is not a club, it’s a religion. Fact.

The documentary details the club's inner business workings. What used to be a concealed affair, a football club's back room is now transparent for the world to see. A pillar of the series is Martin Bain, the club CEO. He looks after the day-to-day business for American owner Ellis Short.

At first, the cameras follow Simon Grayson's appointment as manager. Grayson's first act is to dispel the claims that some players at the club don’t want to be there, the operative word being act. I would say "Spoiler Alert" but this isn’t Game of Thrones. Everyone knows the axe is coming specifically for Grayson. 

Key to the documentary is the January transfer window. Viewers are flies on the wall while transfer policy is discussed. The agonizing, never-ending conjecture between player agents, players, and the teams is fascinating.

"Is it a loan move? Can we look around Sunderland city centre first?" "

No, we need a striker to start on Tuesday."

"Sorry, I’ve just decided to join Reading instead."

Negotiations are seldom documented in such rigour, especially when they end in gory heartbreak. You can feel the pain. Stress marks etch into management’s foreheads like Hollywood special effects as transfers fall through.

Results on the pitch as well as supporter and insiders' emotions are depicted. Long suffering fans expose their misery to the camera, detailing the North East city's plight, its working-class roots, how rising unemployment in the blue-collar sector crushes residents in an inescapable vise-like grip. Football is their hedonism but they now suffer in the rapidly dimming Stadium of Light.

In contrast, the club’s catering team are surprisingly jovial, their delightful Mackem accents a delight to hear.

Various players have a voice. Lewis Grabban stands out albeit not for the right reasons. He left the club without a striker halfway through the season, unashamed to expose Grayson's lies. Saying more would be a spoiler, so I'll leave it to you to watch this particular car-wreck unfold.

The final episode documents the sweeping changes the club undertakes just before the camera depart. Now third in League One, the moves provide a suitable cliffhanger. Any happy ending must arrive in a sequel.

New ownership arrives. No more hired hands managing on behalf of the owner. Instead, a proven businessman who wants to restore the club to its former glory rolls up his sleeves and pitches in. For neutrals, the finale might appear anticlimactic compared to the previous chaos, as though George RR Martin suddenly found Jesus. Given supporters' contempt for Ellis Short, Sunderland faithful may consider the ending the documentary's best part.

You don’t have to be a Sunderland fan to appreciate this fine bit of television. The level of support is quite refreshing even if some of the away boys were a little heavy handed with the Netflix camera at one point.

Get away with that!” as he smashes a camera which is not his property. Ah, humanity. 

Sunderland ‘til I Die is well worth watching, especially late at night while the rest of the house sleeps and you find yourself between games on Football Manager.

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Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 


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