Every Friday, InsiderSport takes a look at a time in which a gripping sporting narrative was portrayed through the unmistakable medium of cinema.
This edition looks at Netflix’s eight episode deep dive into the inner workings of Sunderland AFC. The series goes behind the scenes at the Stadium of Light, with the camera crew granted exclusive access to club officials and players during the tumultuous 2017/18 EFL Championship season.
The story kicks off in the midst of a hopeful pre-season which saw Simon Grayson takeover from David Moyes at the helm on Wearside. Hope is in the air with many players believing that promotion is on the cards, however, a 5-0 pre-season demolition at home to Celtic quickly changes the mood at the Stadium of Light, as frustration and panic creep in.
This is immediately followed by a last minute scramble into the transfer market as Grayson looks to strengthen his side after their lack of depth is seemingly exposed. The episode shows behind the scenes access to a hectic transfer deadline day, as the club lays out its targets and secures a host of signings.
Interestingly however, unsuccessful last gasp attempts to scramble a deal for Aston Villa’s Ross McCormack over the line, set the tone for the turbulent campaign.
The series perfectly captures the raw emotion of the season, enriching match highlights with engaging cutaway interviews from all perspectives of the club, whether it be the boardroom, the changing rooms or the terraces.
The series not only provides an insight into the inner workings of a football club, but also encapsulates what it means to be a supporter of a local team, how the fate of the club impacts the atmosphere of the community and what that type of pressure does to a manager and group of players.
The unprecedented access that the documentary is granted leads to a whole host of sub narratives, from the club’s bitter dispute with departing striker Lewis Grabban, the stubbornness of former Manchester City midfielder Jack Rodwell, to the compassionate telling of Jonny Willaims’ time at the club.
Moreover, the access provided grants you a first hand look at the lives that are affected by back-to-back relegations as the club sinks further down the footballing pyramid and into League One. As a result, you witness not just one, but two managerial sackings and a change of ownership which leads club staff such as head chef Joyce Rome to fear for her job security.
“They are interesting and special characters and it’s been amazing. I think we’re more embedded there than we could ever have imagined and it’s utterly fascinating watching them work.”
Ultimately, the documentary is a roller-coaster of a story with a prime focus on how the football club has a profound effect on supporters. Despite the double relegations, the series is much more than a tale of woe, with a feeling of optimism and excitement surrounding the club following the sale and a final day win against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In short, it is a story of rebuilding which highlights the best and worst aspects of professional modern football. Having received an overwhelmingly positive reception from audiences, Netflix confirmed that the show was commissioned for a new season which is expected to be released before the end of 2019.
In an interview with BBC Sport, David Soutar, director and series producer looked ahead to the second series: “You’re always at the mercy of following the story but what’s particularly unique about the second series is the access we get to Stewart [Donald] and Charlie [Methven], the new owners, and how they’re overhauling the club. They are interesting and special characters and it’s been amazing. I think we’re more embedded there than we could ever have imagined and it’s utterly fascinating watching them work.”