Sunderland 'Til I Die: Club's passionate fanbase at heart of Netflix series as first episode goes down a storm
As the closing credits started rolling, applause rang out amongstÂ the audience at Sunderland's Empire Theatre.
Film crews have been filming behind the scenes at Sunderland AFC since the summer of 2017 and the fruits of their labour will be available in full on Netflix from Friday, December 14.
Eight episodes in total showcasing one of the most dramatic seasons in the club’s history, arguably the worst too as the Black Cats suffered a successive relegation to the third tier following relegation from the Premier League the season before.
You may wonder why anyone of a red and white persuasion would want to relive the events of the 2017-18, given how it unfolded.
Yet, the documentary makers behind 'Sunderland 'Til I Die' - which is produced by Fulwell73 - have done a superb job encapsulating what it means to be a Sunderland fan.
The fans are at the heart of the first series. The pain and the suffering they go through on and off the terraces but above all the love, pride and passion they have for the club at the heart of their city.
And more than 200 season ticket holders and other invited guests - including members of the current first team - had the chance of a sneak preview of episode one at the Empire.
It went down a storm. Focusing on pre-season, THAT 5-0 friendly defeat to Celtic and Darron Gibson's drunken rant on the eve of the new season, it is compelling viewing.
Everyone knows how the story ends. Yet, you can’t take your eyes off it, the insight from those key figures involved behind the scenes, former chief executive Martin Bain, ex-manager Simon Grayson and the players involved.
The stars of the show are the Sunderland fans, though. They are the heartbeat behind the club and their passion shines through in the first episode.
It is a must watch. It will put Sunderland in the global spotlight and it would be fascinating to see what audiences in the US and Asia make of it all.
It was certainly a hit with Sunderland fans on Wednesday night.
“Well done everyone at Fulwell73 tears were running down my face. It really showed the passion of the club I love Sunderland AFC,” reflected David Fenwick.
Another fan, Alex Louise, tweeted: “Wow . . . If the first episode is anything to go by then the Sunderland Til I Die documentary is going to be amazing! Fantastic work at Fulwell73 showing the true side of our beautiful club #safc”.
The evening was hosted by Look North’s Jeff Brown. Ahead of the screening members of the 2018-19 squad took to the stage, to applause given their good form this season.
I can’t imagine what the reception would have been for last season’s squad.
Pre-season footage of Didier Ndong, Papy Djilobodji, Wahbi Khazri, Jack Rodwell and Lamine Kone a stark reminder of how far the club has come in just over a year.
Fulwell73 is made up of boyhood Sunderland fans including executive producer Leo Pearlman, who took to the stage to introduce the screening.
Around 40 minutes later applause rang out. The series shows all the raw emotions you would expect given the drama of last season, a fascinating insight into the emotions of those at the heart of it.
A trailer showcasing what fans can expect in series two - which has a working title of The Comeback and is being filmed this season- was followed by a Q&A with Ben Turner, of Fulwell73, series producer Dave Soutar, skipper George Honeyman and club legend Kevin Ball.
The producers gave an insight into the access they had been given and praising everyone involved for their help and openness.
The series will be sure to give fans an insight into how a second successive relegation affected the players.
Academy product Honeyman, who broke into the first team on a regular basis last season and now proudly wears the armband, said: “Everything that happens to the football club, we’re at the centre of it; when it is going right and when it is going badly.
“I just hope it is shown that it did affect a lot of us, in a very strong way and also that we want to put it right this year.”
Sunderland, under the guidance of Jack Ross, are certainly on the right track.
Unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions, second in League One and still in the Checkatrade Trophy and FA Cup.
It is a world away from the horrors of last season, with new owner Stewart Donald and directors Charlie Methven and Juan Sartori helping revive the Black Cats.
Former skipper Ball sat alongside Honeyman for the Q&A, admitting it was emotional viewing.
Ball said: “The club just gets you, and when it gets you, yes, it can take you on an emotional rollercoaster but I’m telling you know when it is your club, you love it, there is just something about this club that you can’t help but love.”
With that, more applause from the audience, many wearing their Sunderland strips.
'Sunderland 'Til I Die', produced by Fulwell73, is released on Friday, December 14 on Netflix with all eight episodes available.