Sunderland ‘Til I Die on Netflix: Fulwell 73 talk of labour of love filming SAFC

A still from Sunderland 'Til I Die which launches on Netflix on December 14
A still from Sunderland 'Til I Die which launches on Netflix on December 14
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There may not be a Hollywood ending, but SAFC’s tumultuous relegation fight will finally hit the small screen this week when Sunderland ‘Til I Die has its Netflix premiere.

The eight-part warts-and-all documentary by production company Fulwell73 followed the Black Cats last season, as they suffered a successive second relegation.

The eight-part docuseries followed the Black Cats last season

The eight-part docuseries followed the Black Cats last season

Although it was a demoralising campaign, Fulwell73, which was founded by lifelong Sunderland fans, captured the spirit and passion of the city in the face of a dismal season for the team.

Viewers will be able to see that passion for themselves when the docu-series is released on Netflix on Friday, December 14.

As well as access-all-areas footage of players and management, the emotional series features interviews with fans and the unsung heroes of the Stadium of Light such as the chefs and ticket office staff, while Shipyards, a haunting lament about the city’s lost industry, by Mackem musician The Lake Poets forms the opening credits.

Production company Fulwell73 was set up in 2005 by lifelong Sunderland fans brothers Gabe and Ben Turner, their cousin Leo Pearlman and their friend Ben Winston, and has gone on to have huge success.

The Fulwell73 founders - Ben Winston, Ben and Gabe Turner and Leo Pearlman

The Fulwell73 founders - Ben Winston, Ben and Gabe Turner and Leo Pearlman

It has produced music videos for the likes of One Direction and Little Mix and sports films such as The Class of 92 and I Am Bolt, as well as co-producing CBS’s Late Late Show with James Corden.

Despite working with some of the world’s biggest stars, producing a documentary about their beloved football team has long been their goal.

“It was an amazing opportunity and we are incredibly grateful to be able to do the one project we’ve dreamt of since we set up this company,” Ben Turner and Leo Pearlman, executive producers on Sunderland ‘Til I Die, told the Echo.

“If someone had said when we set up this company that 10 years later we’d be making an access-all-areas documentary series about Sunderland we’d never have believed them.

It features access all areas footage of the club

It features access all areas footage of the club

“We feel so proud of this series. We feel it captures the love of the club, and we hope the fans are proud of it too.”

The pair say their love for the club as fans gave them a greater understanding as film-makers.

Leo, who was born in Sunderland, explained: “The club had to buy into our vision and trust us, and I’m not sure if anyone other than fans like us could have got us that level of trust. It was key to us telling this story and it’s been a real labour of love.”

Making a docu-series about Sunderland at such a heart-breaking time for fans and players wasn’t an obvious choice, but Fulwell73 were confident the city’s passion was something that would resonate internationally.

Speaking about how Sunderland ‘Til I Die came about, Leo said: “We already had a relationship with Netflix and they were looking for access to a Premier League team to do a series.

“At the time Sunderland was under Ellis Short and Martin Bain, and we pitched the idea that we could get better access if we told a genuine, human story of following Sunderland AFC, this club from the North of England, as they fought for promotion back to the Premier League.

“We believed at that point that they would come back up, but that didn’t end up happening.

“We had to explain it to the executives at Netflix in LA in terms they understand. Sunderland is not well-known as a club over there, so we compared them to the Green Bay Packers, because you have this small city which revolves around the success of its team on a Saturday afternoon, or Sunday in the case of the Green Bay Packers, and that grabbed their attention.

“Anyone who’s a fan of a team, whether that be baseball or football, knows that spirit - 99 per cent of the time it’s ****, but then there’s that one moment of glory which you hang onto for years.”

Ben added: “When you make a film or TV show there has to be a resonance beyond football. It wouldn’t be brilliant viewing if it was just us filming the games live, we wanted to show Sunderland.

“Our love of the city and the club isn’t just about winning on a Saturday afternoon, we love Sunderland itself. We want to show what that love is all about and what a beautiful place it is.”

As youngsters, Ben and Gabe would come up to Sunderland with their families to visit Leo, and they all grew up watching the Black Cats from the famous Fulwell End at the long-gone Roker Park with their dads. They enjoyed such special memories of the famous terrace that they named their production company after it and the year the club last lifted the FA Cup.

And they’re passing that legacy of love onto their own sons when they bring them all to their first game at the Stadium of Light on December 15.

Like all fans they’re relishing the upturn in fortunes at the club this season, an improved performance they’ve been following with their cameras.

Whether a second series will be aired is dependent upon the success of the first, but it’s a story Fulwell73 believes in, regardless of ratings.

As they finished this series in their editing suites in London - suites named Julio Arca, Kevin Ball and Niall Quinn after their boyhood heroes - there were genuine tears of joy as their professional dreams became a reality.

•Sunderland ‘Til I Die launches on Netflix on Friday, December 14.