Blinded By The Light
We Can’t Walk Away
Rocking and Rolling
Changing The Landscape
A Fresh Start
Say what you will about La Liga, Serie A or the English Premier League, when it comes to The Championship, no other league is as taxing, difficult and unpredictable as this one. 24 teams, 46 games, 10 long months of football with games against some of the best teams in England. The English first division is without doubt an amazing and incredibly difficult league to navigate through. As a Middlesbrough fan, seeing Sunderland implode last year was one of the most surreal experiences and this Netflix documentary shows every ugly part of this fall from grace for one of the North East’s biggest clubs.
Sunderland Til I Die is an intimate look at one of England’s most historic clubs suffering its worst year in its storied history. Across 8 episodes, this Netflix documentary takes all the same cues as Amazon Prime’s sister documentary, All Or Nothing: Manchester City, beginning in pre-season before finishing with the final game of the league. Unlike the glitzy high life of Man City, Sunderland Til I Die shows the harsh realities of a struggling football club. Relegation scraps and dealing with negativity spreading through the dressing room is something many football fans have seen first hand and it’s never a pretty sight.
The hopeful optimism from players at the start of the season slowly evaporates, replaced with indifference and depression as the team slip down the table to the eventual doom of being relegated to League 1. Sunderland FC has seen a real torrid time as of late and this documentary shares every turbulent moment of their 2017/2018 season. Players cashing in on high wages, apathy from big name stars, manager replacements and even the owner of the club walking away midway through the season, the manner of Sunderland FC’s fall from grace is something few clubs experience in such a small space of time.
Through a mix of in-game action and reaction from fans, Sunderland’s worst year is shared in brutal, in-depth detail. It does make for painful watching at times but between games you can feel the negativity and bad vibes around the dressing room as we follow Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman as they try to manage a toxic group of players. This lack of spirit ultimately spills over to the fans and rightfully so; the anger and lack of patience is certainly justified given the price people paid for their season tickets at the start of the season.
Much like other documentaries of this sort, the general camera work relies a lot on handheld camera shots and sideline shots of games. At times this does make it a little difficult to work out exactly what’s going on but thankfully the commentary more than makes up for this.
It’s worth mentioning the music in this series too which regularly hits the right notes and feelings around the club. From the tension-wracked, low-volume techno played during games to the melancholy, reflective piano tracks during the toughest moments off the pitch, the audio regularly enhances everything that’s shown on screen.
As the episodes progress, so too does the feeling of hopeless despair with the final episode acting as a reflective reminder that football is no walk in the park. It’s a tough game out there and at times it’s painful to watch. The final few scenes are one of bittersweet hopefulness. Their 2-0 win against league leaders Wolves ends a horrible season on a high and really captures the essence of the game. When it comes to pure emotion and showing how integral football is to a town’s culture, no other documentary has captured that quite as well as Sunderland Til I Die.
If All Or Nothing: Manchester City is the glamorous facade of football and all its money-spinning glory, Sunderland Til I Die is the gritty, realistically depicted documentary of football at its purest. It’s a tough game out there. Money dominates the sport and if you don’t keep up with the pack, you’re left in the dust. Make no mistake about it, The Championship is a very, very tough league and Sunderland Til I Die hammers home that fact repeatedly. It’s also one of the best documentaries this year too and one any football enthusiast should definitely check out.
Verdict - 9/10