Sunderland 'Til I Die
|Sunderland 'Til I Die|
|Genre||fly on the wall documentary|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||8|
|Running time||37-42 mins|
|Production company(s)||Fulwell 73|
|Original release||14 December 2018|
|[Sunderland Till I Die Website]|
Sunderland 'Til I Die is a sports documentary series, released on Netflix on 14 December 2018. The series is produced by Fulwell 73, and documents the events around English football club Sunderland A.F.C. during their 2017–18 season which saw them relegated from the EFL Championship.
In a press release, Fulwell 73 (named as a homage to Sunderland A.F.C. by its founders) explained the series would: "...take its audience through the highs and lows of SAFC’s first season in the Championship following its painful relegation the previous year."
As a result of the success of the first series a second series was confirmed, despite opposition from many club members. The opposition was mostly to do with players fearing the series will cause their failures being associated with them for the rest of their careers.
Sunderland chairman Ellis Short originally agreed to extensive, behind-the-scenes filming in the summer of 2017 on the basis it would attract potential investors. Sunderland had already been the focus of previous fly on the wall documentaries, including the 1998 Premier Passions (which also documented a relegation season) and its 1999 follow-up Premier Pressures.
Production company Fulwell 73 (who had previously produced the acclaimed football documentary The Class of '92) had allegedly expressed interest in buying Sunderland in June 2017 shortly before the commencement of filming, but withdrew, citing the demands of their production business. Promoting Sunderland 'til I Die on The Totally Football League Show in December 2018, Pearlman and Turner cast doubt on the veracity of these reports, suggesting there had been: "a lot of two plus two equals five going on". Speaking on the Roker Report podcast prior to the release of the series, Pearlman and Turner, both Sunderland fans, revealed that they had been trying to produce material for the club for a while and had even offered to produce an end-of-season DVD for free.
Filming commenced in June 2017 with the expectation that Sunderland would be challenging for promotion back to the Premier League. Manager Chris Coleman admitted to being uncomfortable with the filming arrangements, which were already in place when he replaced Simon Grayson as manager part way through the season. Coleman described the constant attention as being 'unnatural'. The series does not include a repeat of the memorable, expletive-laden dressing room scenes from Premier Passions, as Coleman explained: "The only thing I really dug my heels in about was that I didn't want any filming in my dressing room. That’s been kept separate."
A premiere of the first episode took place at the Sunderland Empire Theatre on 5 December 2018. The production company were joined by local media, Sunderland players and staff, and a group of 200 season ticket holders who had been selected from a draw. After the premiere, attendees were shown a trailer for a second series.
Filming has been undertaken during the 2018–19 season, with a view to producing a second series. Speaking to BBC Sport in February 2019, Turner said that they had received greater access since the change of ownership.
|Title||Featured matches||Original air date|
|1||1||"Blinded by the Light"||Sunderland 0–5 Celtic||14 December 2018|
|Sunderland begin a new season in the second tier of English football following a disappointing relegation.|
|2||2||"We Can't Walk Away"||Sunderland 1–1 Derby County / Norwich City 1–3 Sunderland / Bury 0–1 Sunderland / Carlisle United 1–2 Sunderland / Sheffield Wednesday 1–1 Sunderland / Sunderland 0–2 Leeds United / Barnsley 3–0 Sunderland||14 December 2018|
|After a promising start to the season, the lack of squad depth is exposed. With money short, the team scrambles for help in the transfer market.|
|3||3||"Plastic Shoes"||Sunderland 1–2 Sheffield United / Sunderland 0–1 Nottingham Forest / Ipswich Town 5–2 Sunderland / Brentford 3–3 Sunderland / Sunderland 3–3 Bolton||14 December 2018|
|Frustration mounts among the players and fans as the team falls into the relegation zone, leaving manager Simon Grayson in a precarious position.|
|4||4||"Rocking and Rolling"||Middlesbrough 1–0 Sunderland / Sunderland 2–2 Millwall / Burton Albion 0–2 Sunderland / Sunderland 1–0 Fulham||14 December 2018|
|A major shakeup brings renewed hope to the Stadium of Light, but as Christmas approaches, the team still seeks its first home win of the year.|
|5||5||"Sticking Plasters"||Sunderland 0–1 Barnsley / Birmingham City 3–1 Sunderland||14 December 2018|
|The Winter Transfer Window proves difficult when ownership refuses to put money in the club and a rarely used player collects on a massive contract.|
|6||6||"No Guarantees"||Bristol City 3–3 Sunderland / Sunderland 0–2 Brentford / Bolton 1–0 Sunderland / Sunderland 3–3 Middlesbrough||14 December 2018|
|Injuries mount as the team struggles to move clear of the relegation zone, but a key player's return to the lineup could provide a spark.|
|7||7||"Changing the Landscape"||Millwall 1–1 Sunderland / Sunderland 0–3 Aston Villa / Derby County 1–4 Sunderland / Sunderland 1–2 Burton Albion||14 December 2018|
|Desperation kicks in as the season winds down. A familiar face returns in opposing colours, while a current player makes an unfortunate mistake.|
|8||8||"A Fresh Start"||Sunderland 3–0 Wolves||14 December 2018|
|With organisational upheaval on the horizon, coaches, players and staff consider their futures as fans pledge to stand behind "the lads" forever.|
Critical response to the series has been positive.
Reviewing the series for Sports Illustrated, Luis Miguel Echegaray compared it to All or Nothing: Manchester City and wrote: "The project perfectly encapsulates the cultural significance of the city’s relationship with its proud, working-class supporters. As a result, Sunderland 'Til I Die, despite the club's plight, is a cut above the rest." Writing for The Independent, Alex Hess again drew comparisons to All or Nothing, suggesting that, unlike the "weirdly bland affair" which followed Manchester City's unrelenting success, the dismal failure of Sunderland's season made for "triumphant TV".
The Newcastle-based Evening Chronicle gave the series a positive five-star review describing it as "so much more than just a tale of woe" and praising the show's focus on the fans. Writing for The Guardian, Barry Glendenning described it as a "wonderful series" which: "simultaneously showcases everything that is right and wrong with English football." Jack Fox in the Metro states "at times it’s more gory than Game of Thrones but it is a series well worth binging on." The Daily Telegraph gave it four out of five stars, and described it as an "uplifting story", while The Wall Street Journal described it as "superb".
Writing a review for the Sunderland Echo (the local newspaper for the Sunderland area), Phil Smith expressed disappointment at the lack of anything revelatory or explosive in the series, and considered the setup of Sunderland as an area of post-industrial poverty a little forced in the opening episodes. Nevertheless he described it as "a beautiful and fundamentally true piece of work".
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- Echegaray, Luis Miguel (10 December 2018). "The supporters star in superb Netflix Sunderland series". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
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- Anderson, John (13 December 2018). "'Sunderland 'Til I Die' Review: Kicking and Screaming". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
- Smith, Phil (12 December 2018). "Phil Smith's Sunderland 'Til I Die review: A beautiful and fundamentally true piece of work". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 1 February 2019.