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The Stoics believed the best way to bear misfortune is to accept it as inevitable and learn to live with it. Sunderland fans, at the heart of the latest series of Sunderland ’Til I Die (Netflix), have been forced, communally, into adopting this philosophy. This third series, documenting the second half of the 2021-22 season, has much to recommend it. Alex Neil talks about watching the football results on television, looking out for a team that might need a new manager. Patrick Roberts reveals that the loan system, rather than liberating him, left him feeling unsettled, unvalued and unable to build career momentum. Ross Stewart’s dad gave Albion Rovers £500 so they could afford his £1,500 transfer fee. For art lovers, there are people walking in slow motion. And Jack Clarke squirts honey on his fried egg sandwich. There really is no high sea or backwater of human experience unexplored.

It will take two hours to watch the three episodes, but it is all the unseen hours – the travelling, watching and waiting of long-suffering people who would, by March, trade their rattan double-seater egg chair for an unconvincing home win over Doncaster – that fuel the strong and varied emotions on display. In an era when adjacent scenes in a documentary is the closest fans get to the players, Sky repeatedly use in their marketing the rootsy everyman supporter archetype, while the money involved in the modern game prices so many out of it – much as millionaire cabinet ministers fetishise “ordinary hard-working families”. But here, the many faces of the fans’ passion lift the project beyond the realm of commercial manipulation.

There is the flashback to the game that relegated Sunderland to League One, a fan bawling “Fuck off, bitch!” at his players with a rage informed by every betrayal of his life, aimed at people he has never met and who cannot hear him. Then there is the frenzy of relief in the London pub after the play-off final. And,



finally, there is a funeral, mourners gathering with Sunderland ties and scarves respectfully upstaging the black.

Of all the rules of human interaction, perhaps the most important is not to ask Martin O’Neill to sum you up in a few words. Local Heroes (Amazon Prime) documents the rise to that status of Tony Woodcock, Viv Anderson and Garry Birtles in the 1970s Nottingham Forest side and O’Neill is a contributor, remembering Anderson as a lovely man who would need to learn a little more about defending. This is a thrillingly uneven film, lurching in chronology, theme and tone, leaving the viewer, by the end, a little vague about the direction of time and far more susceptible to mind control. Gary Webster narrates, delivering glottal stops and dropped aitches with the precision one might expect from a man who was apparently in Minder for a while at the end there.

John Keats was ambivalent about a Grecian urn. We know this because he wrote a poem about it. It seems Keats at once envied the figures on the urn for their immortality and pitied them for never knowing the living heat of human passion. It is a similar thing with Luton Town. During their home game against Manchester United (Sky Sports, February 18), a pre-pubescent squawk of “Wanker” at Alejandro Garnacho chimed with an exquisite clarity across the crisp night air. “We apologise for the strong language, we’re pretty close to the action here,” said Peter Drury.

Difficult for Drury, this, as he had peppered his commentary with phrases like “this lovely little club” and rhapsodised on the sound of a clearance clattering against a corrugated iron roof. One of his sallies began “An everyday tale of Bedfordshire folk”, leading one to expect a crowd made up of sleepy millers and squirrels in waistcoats, which is demonstrably not the case. Sky’s previous visit to Kenilworth Road had Bill Leslie apologising for a swearword directed at Jack Grealish, although his main concern seemed to be that bawling abuse at an

NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts


3 £1 . 21bn

The Premier League’s total January transfer window spending, the lowest in 13 years and down £700m on last season The number of penalties awarded to hosts Qatar in the final of the Asian Cup, in which they beat Jordan 3-1

The cost of Manchester United’s squad in 2023, the most expensive ever assembled in football according to a UEFA report

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