Sunderland, from crisis to imminent return of the Prime Minister
The seeds of Wrexham’s unlikely purchase by a pair of Hollywood celebrities were sown by binge-watching a Netflix series that chronicled the shining moments and many disappointments of another British club with deep roots in its local community.
It was during the height of the pandemic lockdown that one of Wrexham’s two new owners, Rob McElhenney, along with “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds, found themselves watching episodes of the series “Sunderland ‘Til I Die”.
Sunderland, a club founded almost 150 years ago in the north-east of England, had recently been relegated from the Premier League and were looking to make an immediate comeback. Instead, they dropped to the third division equivalent of League One in 2017–18.
It was the darkest moment for the supporters of a club that had become a laughing stock, where chaos and sometimes derision reigned.
Five years later, recovery is underway.
Sunderland won promotion to the second tier last season, and recently finished in the four places that entitle them to the promotion play-offs to return to the premiership.
The promotion begins on Saturday, when Sunderland meet Luton in the first leg for the right to play in the promotion final on 27 May. That match at Wembley is considered one of the most lucrative in football, as it guarantees future profits.
“Till the End”, the name of the Netflix documentary, has been the club’s motto on social media for the past two campaigns. Reclaiming their place in the top flight is the ultimate goal for Sunderland and their long-suffering supporters, some of whom played a part in the third series opening show in the coming months.
On Thursday, long lines formed outside the Stadium of Light to buy tickets for one of the club’s biggest games of the century.
Around 45,000 fans packed into the stadium for last year’s home semi-final, showing overwhelming support for one of England’s oldest clubs, six-time top-flight winners with all but the last trophy in 1936.
This is the case for other teams that play in lower categories.
Tony Mowbray said, “It is wonderful to see the people of Sunderland enjoying their football so much.”
Mowbray took over in August as a replacement for Alex Neil, who left for second-tier team Stoke and finished behind Sunderland.
Several players, coaches and even owners have fallen off the Sunderland roller coaster since 2017, when the club were relegated from the premiership.
Its most recent owner is Kirill Louis-Dreyfus, a French businessman who acquired a controlling stake in 2021 and became majority owner last year. He also has a minority stake in Olympique de Marseille, which was owned by his father, Robert.
Mowbray is the seventh permanently appointed manager at Sunderland since 2017. Another was Phil Parkinson, who is now in charge of Wrexham and has recently led the Welsh club to promotion from the fifth tier, much to the delight of Reynolds and McElhenny.
Following the example of “Sunderland ’til I Die”, two celebrities have made their own documentary about Wrexham. It is called “Welcome to Wrexham”.
And in a sense, Sunderland and Wrexham share a similar history. These are clubs from an area populated by the working class, at times plagued by unpopular owners, financial problems and hardship on the pitch, but who have always been supported by their loyal and passionate fans.