Sunderland 'Til I Die Series 2: 'There were tears in the edit suite'

By Matthew HenryBBC Sport
Sunderland were beaten 2-1 by Charlton at Wembley in the League One play-off final
Sunderland were beaten 2-1 by Charlton at Wembley in the League One play-off final

Season two of Sunderland ’Til I Die is out on Wednesday and, spoiler alert, things don't get any easier for Sunderland fans.

The first series detailed the Black Cats' miserable relegation from the Championship and the latest, again available on Netflix, features a surge of hope in League One before two crushing defeats at Wembley.

The finale - the last-minute play-off final defeat by Charlton - is painful viewing for Sunderland supporters, no more so than for the series’ producers Ben Turner and Leo Pearlman, who are both Sunderland fans themselves.

“It is twice now we have ended a season and all we wanted to do was forget about it, and then you have to spend a summer reliving it again and again,” Turner told BBC Sport.

“Tears were shed in the edit suite.”

Both Turner and Pearlman were at Wembley - as fans rather than producers - to witness the defeat first-hand and their minds could hardly have been further from the show.

“I had my three kids who were six, four and two at the time and when Charlton scored in the last minute I turned and left the stadium,” Pearlman said.

“I had to be called by Ben to remind me my children were left in their seats with him.

“Let alone not thinking about the show, I was not thinking about my children.”

The series undoubtedly provides gripping TV. New owners and a new manager come in and make sweeping changes to a club that was in such a sorry state at the end of series one.

The Black Cats are then beaten by Portsmouth on penalties in the Checkatrade Trophy final, turn the tables on Pompey in the play-off semi-finals, before losing to Charlton - the team that had beaten them in a shootout in the classic Division One play-off final in 1998.

“If someone sent a script with that story you would rip it up and put it in the bin because it would seem unrealistic,” said Pearlman.

“To have it play out like it did was pretty amazing, absolutely incredible, but in true Sunderland fashion we delivered an ending which we weren't entirely hoping for.”

The divisive new owners

The main characters are the controversial new owners - chairman Stewart Donald and now former director Charlie Methven.

Donald and Methven do a lot of good at the club, re-engaging the fan base and helping achieve a record attendance for a League One match on Boxing Day for instance, but there are difficult moments too.

Methven, in particular, is forthright and undeniably passionate but an expletive-laden dressing down of an employee is an uncomfortable watch.

Speaking to BBC Sport, he admitted there are moments where he “could have done better".

“People wouldn't be human if they didn't understand you come across well in some moments and not so well in other moments,” Methven said.

“That is the nature of these fly-on-the-wall documentaries. If you are being followed for a year it would take a much more proficient actor than me to be perfect every moment throughout that year.

“It is almost better not to think about that. It is better to say ‘that is us. That is Stewart and me. That is what we were trying to do. Make of that what you will.'”

The show’s producers admitted Donald and Methven, who had no say over what was included in the show, made “great” TV.

“They were so transparent and open - so honest,” Pearlman said.

“The way they are portrayed in the show is them. That is the truth of it. They are absolutely no different if they are on camera or not. That is pretty amazing. It is all you can hope for from your protagonists when you are making something like this.”

But, since filming stopped, things have turned sour for the ownership.

Manager Jack Ross was sacked in October and new boss Phil Parkinson has the team seventh in the table - if the league resumes following its suspension because of coronavirus.

In December fans groups, unhappy with the running of the club and claiming trust in the board had “eroded”, called for Donald to sell the club.

He subsequently put Sunderland up for sale, although reports suggest he had already been attempting a sale for many months.

Methven, who resigned from the board in December citing personal reasons, told BBC Sport he expects a sale to be completed by the end of the season.

“Given the quality of the people we are speaking to I would feel quite proud [if a sale was completed],” he said. “This is a club two years ago no-one wanted for love nor money.”

Series Three? ‘Never say never’

Methven said time will tell whether it was the right decision for the club to agree to a second series, but they had already seen evidence of Sunderland’s global appeal growing after series one.

One consequence has been increased focus from rival fans, with Sunderland supporters having to endure the chant “we’ve seen you cry on Netflix”.

Pearlman said that showed opposition fans are “jealous”, and there are only “huge positives” from the show.

“They are jealous. Jealous that their own clubs don't have a show about them,” he said.

Turner added: “I think the worst thing for a football club is that you fall down the league and everyone forgets about you and you become irrelevant.

“Also we grew up wanting to play for Sunderland.

“Hearing people hurl abuse at us is the closest thing we will ever get to playing for Sunderland!”

The series ends with one of the stars of the first series, taxi driver and Sunderland fan Peter Farrer, expressing his hopes that the Black Cats win the League One title during the 2019-20 campaign.

If the league does resume, that does not look likely, with Sunderland currently eight points behind leaders Coventry having played two games more.

The current campaign has not been filmed but the producers have not ruled out a third series in the future.

“We haven't filmed this year, I think rightly so,” Turner said.

“There hadn't been a seismic change, a promotion or relegation or takeover to justify following on this year but at the same time never say never.

“It doesn't feel like this story has run its course.

“I would love there to be some positivity and good feeling that could come out of a third series but with Sunderland you can never guarantee such a thing.”

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