The first season of Sunderland ‘Till I Die was instantly hailed as one of the best sports documentaries in recent history.
Whereas Amazon’s All or Nothing: Manchester City showed us the inner workings of an immensely successful club, Netflix’s under-the-hood peak at the Black Cats’ 2017/18 campaign revealed a club in nightmarish crisis.
With season two set to be released on April 1st, Dream Team were given early access to the first episode of season two.
Here’s what to expect…
The episode, titled ‘A Role in the Renaissance‘, focuses on two figureheads of the new regime — Executive Director Charlie Methven and Stewart Donald, who bought the club off Ellis Short.
After a brief recap of season one (relegation from the Championship), we get a brutally honest assessment of the club’s management from Methven.
“It is a failed, f**ked up business,” he tells his underlings. “This was f**ked. 100% f**ked.”
The former Daily Telegraph journalist then reveals all of the club’s ticketing revenue from 2017/18 was spent on interest payments attached to existing debt.
He also explains how, under the old ownership, Sunderland were haemorrhaging £30-40million a year.
This introduction serves to establish the task the club faced at the start of the 2018/19 season; problems on the pitch, catastrophes in the balance sheets, and a fan base emotionally invested to an alarming extent.
Depending on your opinion, you’ll either be pleased or dismayed to find out the theme song from season one makes a glorious return, evoking images of a contemplative Mackem walking around the docks on a misty morning.
Methven is the most captivating character throughout the first episode.
Ambitious and focused, some of his endeavours have hints of David Brent’s escapades.
For example, he suggests the team should walk out to trance music, hoping to give the Stadium of Light the atmosphere of an Ibiza super club.
His mannerisms as he scuttles across the pitch to test how well the jarring anthem can be heard in the tunnel couldn’t have been performed better by Ricky Gervais himself.
Donald remains straight-faced throughout, though he does react with understandable weariness upon finding out the club’s wage bill for the previous season was £34million.
He also utters the immortal line: “The view is that Cattermole is going to be tough to shift.”
The squad overhaul and appointment of Jack Ross as manager are dealt with relatively swiftly — we suspect the players and coaching staff will have more central roles in later episodes.
There’s a section dedicated to addressing the seats at the stadium that had faded from red to pink, a source of annoyance for the fans.
We see players and fans replacing the old seats with new ones as part of a PR stunt that signifies how the new regime are set on righting the wrongs of the recent past.
This is our first introduction to the fans of the new season, who are just as endearing as those featured in season one.
The accent may be impenetrable at times, but it charms at every opportunity.
As the episode builds to its climax – the first game of the 2018/19 season – we see a shirtless fan kiss a steward on the head.
Its an example of the cinematic quality the documentary-makers bring to the series — they have a great eye for truthful detail and authenticity.
One of the shots of the training facility looks like something out of a Wes Anderson film.
The episode ends with Charlton’s visit to the Stadium of Light and, for those who know how Sunderland’s season ended, it’s impossible not to notice certain symmetries.
Viewers hopeful of another season of car-crash television may be disappointed as (spoiler) the Black Cats lose the fewest games in the league and the mood around the club is infinitely more positive.
However, this is no fairy tale, and the first episode stays true to exposed nature of the first series in that the cracks are not papered over.
For those familiar with Sunderland’s 2018/19, the spectre of Wembley looms over the documentary from the get-go, providing delicious pathos while building anticipation.
Season two picks up where season one left off seamlessly and football fans in need of compelling viewing during this time of social distancing should be suitably satisfied with the sequel to one of the most-popular football documentaries of recent times.