When Netflix announced earlier this year that it was producing a series that followed Sunderland’s 2017-18 season in the Championship, it was fair to say that most thought it was a joke.
There was no way that the most calamitous period in the club’s history could have been captured up close for more than 100 million worldwide subscribers to laugh at. It slowly emerged that yes, it was true and that no, this was to be a documentary and not listed under the comedy section.
Those who commissioned the programme presumably thought this would have been a great story to tell: a club in the doldrums after relegation but with a new manager and some new signings, they would fight back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Instead, they got the complete opposite. The turmoil continued throughout the season and (spoiler alert!) not even three managers could help save Sunderland from successive relegations.
There are few words that can describe how awful Sunderland were last season in the Championship which is why this Netflix documentary is absolutely essential viewing for any football fan; the level of incompetence that led to back-to-back demotions on Wearside needs to be seen to be believed. Whether you are a Sunderland fan or not, this documentary will surely show you how not to run a football club. It will leave you amazed that while all was crumbling around them, an average of more than 27,000 people turned up to watch the team in a stadium with faded pink seats. The club didn’t have the money or will to replace the infamously worn-out seats that divided its fan base.
This series will be as entertaining as it will be infuriating. Just in time for Christmas, the goalkeeping gaffes from last season’s goalkeeping trio of Jason Steele, Robbin Ruiter and Lee Camp would make for a fine DVD compilation. The tale of the club spending £1000 a month for someone to rearrange the fake plants around the offices will surely get a mention too. It would be a real missed opportunity if that footage isn’t accompanied by the Benny Hill music.
Like any good TV show, this will take the audience on an emotional journey. There will be points in the series when things look like they might finally get better but then go downhill again. ‘Characters’ who appear likeable at first will let you down. Bad things happen to the occasional good guys. People you love will fall by the wayside, never to be seen again.
Despite the bleakness of last season, this show will be far more revealing than recent ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries about Juventus and Manchester City – two of football’s wealthiest, most successful modern clubs. No one is interested in watching anyone do well – what we really want is a tale of turmoil, trouble, fury and gross incompetence to binge on. And that is exactly what you’ll get from watching last year’s events at the Stadium of Light.