With perfect timing, on All Fools Day, Netflix released the latest tragic-comic-farce behind the scenes docu-series of a season with our lovable neighbours Sunderland AFC. I’m staggered after the first series they gifted to the nation and in particular us, they would agree to a second lot. But there you go, far from the only spectacular error of judgement to be made within the environs of SR5 in these last few years.
Let’s cut to the chase. Charlie Methven. If you were building a fictitious character to embody every wanker personality trait of the modern corporate bull-shitter it would be Methven. Here is a man with absolutely zero self-awareness. David Brent meets Alan Partridge and then some. I mean, who buys clothes two sizes too small for himself and who the fuck wanders around Sunderland in pink chinos? Of course, Methven has all of the misplaced braggadocio typical in the Old Etonian reared on a birthright belief in his inalienable right to lead and those in the lower orders being obliged to follow. He is straight out of central casting as the Posh, Home Counties Thatcherite wanker who I have little doubt cheered Maggie on as she closed the pit on which the Stadium of Light is built. You can see him sitting around the same supper table with David Cameron and Co.. He is part of that Waitrose milieu I’ve little doubt.
I’ll confess to shaking my head at his behaviour at matches when he assumes, obviously, that he understands more about football than anyone else at Sunderland. Then again … Here is a bloke whose previous involvement in football is completely bogus and involvement in Sunderland non-existent. Not that acts as a bar on him, with Sartori, acting up as the fanatics when really it’s all variously for the cameras and evidence of Methven’s inability to behave correctly. Please don’t call it “passion” (sic).
Methven is at his most excruciatingly obnoxious laying down his business genius to low level staff, filling the air blue and bemoaning the reality of too much money going out and not enough coming in spelling doom. No shit Sherlock. His performance in front of a cowed group of administrative staff with SAFC media bod, Louise Wanless dead behind the eyes with a phony rictus smile with junior colleagues as Captain Pink Keks performs to camera, was probably the most objectionable of the entire series.
There are numerous interactions with Sunderland fans in which you just despair at how easily desperate football followers are taken in by chancers such as these two.
The one that really struck for me was Methven sitting at the Queen Victoria pub near the Roker Harbour in front of a group of quite normal looking fans, doubtless numbed by the fates that have befallen their club, respectfully listening to a man attempt to sell them absolute shite. Methven pitches that the departure of a billionaire benefactor in Ellis Short (albeit a painfully inept one) offers the opportunity for Sunderland to be self-sustaining and operate like a normal business that will be centred in their community. He fails to elaborate on where the self-sustaining model will lead them, whether those income streams will be sufficient to propel them back into the Premier League, let alone the Championship and of course the use of the parachute money etc. It is complete and utter empty rhetoric and I winced at the lad interviewed afterwards who felt Methven had left him feeling positive. Fucking hell!
But Methven excels at talking about himself, in which he sells himself as a guru, a visionary and a man who imagines the future. You could not make this stuff up. Later in the series Stewart Donald and Charlie Boy bemoan a “typical Sunderland” way of working. There is no detail provided on the meaningful corporate changes made to the Sunderland business, new governance arrangements and the basics of running a medium sized operation they have implemented. We know nothing of their modus operandi beyond a slash and burn strategy which has put ordinary working people out of their jobs. Both men neatly separate themselves from the basics of the operation, neglecting to mention their leadership role and obligation to improve the bloody thing.
There is no shortage of Methven footage in which you can’t help but despair. It’s not only his behaviour but how uncritically he and his mate were celebrated when they arrived. The whole “ney debt marra” mantra seems a long time ago and while it is tempting for this fanzine to climb on the roof at shout “we told you so” through a loud hailer my overriding emotion now is one of pity and a recollection at how Ashley was initially greeted at United. There are lessons beyond Sunderland to be learned here when snake-oil salesmen come pissing up your leg and telling you its raining.
I’ll confess to sitting down to watch this with a relish at laughing at our hopelessly stupid neighbours but I couldn’t really bring myself to do that – though Cattermole missing the penalty in the Cheky-wotsit Cup and the last minute goal in the Play-Off brought a smile. Schadenfreude is alive and well amongst the ranks of the Black & White.
There were Sunderland supporters who came across as decent crack. The older lad who drove the taxi, Peter Farrer was far removed from the braying, FTM-gobshite caricature of modern times and many of us could imagine having a proper football conversation with him and his mates. That said I groaned seeing him as part of the welcoming committee for Nigel fucking Farage.
There were others who appeared to slip too easily into the “love-me-I’m-stupid” role and the staged scene of the lad getting the Sunderland Til I Diet tattoo was all a bit patronising really. See also dyed beards but also remember I’m a miserable bastard.
Stewart Donald came across as having a bit more sincerity than Methven though that is a pretty low bar admittedly. Donald appeared a hapless character, chewing the inside of his face off looking at spreadsheets and staring into the middle distance for inspiration while Charlie Ra-Ra had the Mackems running out bizzarely to Ibiza rave music and made up attendance figures to make himself look the big man.
Donald’s two key scenes involve him being spectacularly had off in transfers – both outgoing and incoming.
The first of course is losing Maja whose straight to camera performances provide no greater illustration at the venality of the modern footballer. I don’t think it took a genius to realise he was intrinsic to their promotion push and there is every likelihood had he finished the season in R & W they’d have gone up. Bordeaux took him for pennies.
But the piece-de-resistance is Wigan pulling Donald’s pants down in incredible style. You watch that all unfurl and hear him being counselled strongly against signing him for anything other than buttons before the whole thing unravels and Donald is agreeing a fee of THREE MILLION POUNDS! For Will Grigg!
I’m reliably told by Sunderland fans of my acquaintance that Will Grigg will never be a centre forward while he has a hole in his arse.
Who am I to argue?
The second series ends with less bad temper than the first. There is no repetition of a scene involving Chris Coleman almost having a bit of pagga with a supporter but there is a Sunderland fan asking Donald if they’ll ever stop being shite or some such. The scene has more pathos and tragedy than a burning orphanage.
Of course, we all knew Sunderland didn’t get promoted back to the Championship and they remain bobbing around the lowest positions they have occupied in their entire history. If they were an old dog, they’d have been put to sleep.
Since then Methven has decided to spend more time with his family (the poor bastards) and there appear to be financial deals going on at Sunderland, which typically, the NE press provides little scrutiny.
Before the current COVID-19 emergency, Sunderland’s financial position was perilous. They have borrowed money for running costs and it goes on. In this new scenario, who knows what is going to happen to any football club but those as poorly run as the one down the road face a very uncertain future.
Series 3 anyone?
TONY GREEN FAN CLUB