David Preece: Sunderland AFC documentary showcased Jonny Williams' vulnerability and a gradual dissolving of Martin Bain's self-satisfied manner

I'm terrible for looking back and dwelling on negative things that have happened in the past.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 10:12 am
Updated Friday, 21st December 2018, 10:13 am
Jonny Williams.

I just assumed it was something we all did. Maybe we do? After giving it more thought, I came to the conclusion that we do, with the only thing separating one person from another being the extent we loiter back there.

Some are dragged there by a sound, a smell, an image. Yet it’s a momentary blip. A deja-vu. Others, like me, spend whole days mired by the mudflats of the past, making it hard to wade through the day.

For example, I think about an otherwise unremarkable incident that happened late in game while I was in Denmark.

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A harmless cross in a 0-0 draw away to Horsens that caught the wind, which made the ball drop quickly towards my goalline - so instead of a high catch, I crouched low and waited for what seemed an eternity for the ball to drop in my hands. Which it did.

What makes that simple slice of 90 minutes so remarkable, in my mind anyway, is that during those few seconds when my eyes transfixed on the ball, thoughts ran through my mind which made the catch somewhat a fluke.

I was thinking about everything BUT catching the ball.

“What if I spill this over the line?”

“What if someone runs across me and heads the ball in?”

“Am I making a mistake waiting on the ball dropping?”

“Shouldn’t I attack the ball?”

The inexplicable anxiety in that moment almost blinded me and it’s that anxiety that I feel every time I replay the situation in my mind.

Yet nothing bad did happen. It’s a memory that should have been discarded immediately, yet here we are, some 13 years later, still as fresh as it was then. I know. That isn’t good, right?

When explaining this to a man far wiser than I am, he told me: “The more time you spend staring into the rear view mirror of your car, the more likely you are to crash.”

Easier said than done when the mirror is like a magnet - but profound, nonetheless.

I say all of this because that’s kind of how I approached “Sunderland Til I Die” on Netflix.

Moyes, Grayson, Coleman and Bain seem like a lifetime away now and whilst we’re far from being out of the woods, credit to the new regime for the job they have done so far.

Everyone at Fulwell 73 deserves credit too for producing a series that, despite much of its content, felt honest, heartfelt, and struck the right tone.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, that the strength of Sunderland Football Club is the people who work in the background and the those who fill the Stadium of Light on a match day.

They are the ships that once sat on the docks of the Wear and the football club is the rivets which held them all together.

Take the football club away from the city and we no longer have what binds the majority of us together.

The most crucial move by Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven was to recognise that straight away and use it as the foundation in rebuilding the club.

The trouble is, I didn’t want to be dragged back to that dark place, but there’s no way I couldn’t watch “Sunderland Til I Die”.

There were a few takeaways from the series that stood out for me. For one, I wish there had been more time spent with Jonny Williams.

With him, we saw the real human side of a footballer. What we saw in Jonny is how I know footballers - and much more of a typical representation them than any player falling out of a nightclub or refusing to train with the squad whilst picking up £70,000 a week.

That vulnerability, which is often masked by false confidence and bravado in footballers, was laid bare as he struggled with injury and an uncertain future.

Another thing that struck me was the gradual dissolving of Martin Bain’s self-satisfied manner as each episode wore on. It was actually heartening.

From the Baywatch-style exit from the swimming pool to the stark realisation this wasn’t just another business process he was in charge of; his final scenes changed my opinion of him.

Yes, he had been more than well remunerated for his time at the club but watching him talk about the people he had met, the relationships he’d forged and how he was going to miss them once his job had been done humanised him from this cold, smug exterior we’d been shown previously. We had got to him.

The positive end to the series was exactly what was needed. We now know that hope, the eternal, never-ending hope and passion of Mackems everywhere for their club, is now being met with results and positivity.

What “Sunderland Til I Die” has made me realise is that once the damage had been done by the continual mismanagement of the club, the last two seasons were simply something the club had to endure to get back to where we want to be. However painful that might have been.

Maybe we should put Martin Bain in charge of Brexit if we end up with the same result?