Sunderland 'Til I Die star Charlie Methven on his sudden rise

‘It was a compliment to be compared to Del Boy and Gordon Gekko… but I’m no David Brent’: Charlie Methven – the overnight star of Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die documentary – reflects on how the show portrays him and the mass reaction to his role

  • Sunderland director Charlie Methven has emerged as the star of the latest series 
  • Producers knew Eton-educated Methven was ‘TV gold’ when they met him 
  • The former DJ and PR consultant has been likened to ‘a gentrified Del Boy’
  • He has also been compared to the unashamed ambition of Gordon Gekko  
  • The second season of Sunderland ‘Til I die will be released on Netflix on April 1 

There is one scene that Charlie Methven – the overnight star of Sunderland ’Til I Die series two – had to watch through his fingertips.

It is during the second half of the Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley. Sunderland are leading Portsmouth 1-0 but have lost control. ‘Change it!’ yells Methven towards the touchline, prompting his partner to place a hand on his knee, followed by, ‘Sweetheart, you have to calm down’. They eventually lose on penalties.

‘So many guys who have been to the football with their other halves will recognise that moment, the restraining arm going across,’ Sunderland’s former executive director tells Sportsmail.

Producers knew Eton-educated Charlie Methven (R) was ‘TV gold’ the moment they met him

‘Seeing it back I think she was probably right, the Royal Box wasn’t the right place to have an emotional explosion. You cringe a little now, I can’t even remember doing it. As a director, you would aspire to a more statesman-like demeanour.

‘So that bit I watched through my fingertips, but at the same time I had to say, “You can be a right plonker”. You have to laugh at yourself.’

On the subject of ‘plonkers’, Methven laughed – and so did his friends – at our description of him last week as ‘a gentrified Del Boy, who acts a little like David Brent and has the furious, unashamed ambition of Gordon Gekko’.

We watched all six episodes of the Netflix hit in advance of this week’s release and determined that Methven had stolen the show. The viewers certainly agree, at least judging by the amount of memes and GIFs of the Eton-educated ‘marketeer’ – his words – that have gone viral across social media in the past 48 hours.

The viewers certainly agreed that Methven had stolen the show in the Netflix documentary

Methven has been compared to Del Boy (left) and Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street

‘Del Boy and Gordon Gekko are heroes of the 1980s when I grew up, so that was a huge compliment!’ he says.

‘But David Brent… he definitely wants to be liked, and I don’t think that can be levelled at me.’

Certainly not by the corporate communications manager with whom Methven clashes as he demands an attendance figure to announce to a record crowd during half-time on Boxing Day. ‘Tell them to get a f***ing number,’ he instructs the female employee who had dared to suggest, ‘If we get it, we get it’. She ends the episode packing her car having been made redundant.

Methven is coming to terms with such moments being judged by others, for good or bad.

The Black Cats made it to Wembley in the EFL Trophy final but lost to Portsmouth

He and majority shareholder Stewart Donald arrived at the Stadium of Light in the summer of 2018, just as the first series was wrapping up following relegation to League One.

They agreed to let the cameras keep rolling, only for the season to end in the heartache of a 94th-minute defeat in a Wembley play-off final against Charlton.

Never, though, did Methven and Donald anticipate the exposure they are now experiencing, an interest amplified given the coronavirus lockdown and households across the country seeking entertainment.

‘It’s very strange when you’ve reached your middle age, in more or less anonymity, that suddenly people will be seeing your face and making a judgement on you,’ says Methven. ‘Nothing can really prepare you for that.

‘We agreed to the second series because we felt it would be good for the club. We probably didn’t think too much about the implications for ourselves.

Sunderland suffered the heartache of defeat in a Wembley play-off final against Charlton

‘They take thousands of hours of footage and then condense it into a melodramatic version of an entire year. Having said that, I think it’s a fair depiction of that mad and crazy period.

‘We’ve had to accept the editorial judgement that they focused more on us as opposed to the fans. So yes, we’ve got mixed feelings and have to take the reaction as it comes, although I’m not sure what my mum will make of the endless bleeping!’

The producers, Fulwell 73, knew they had hit lucky with Methven the moment they met him and he has no complaints about how he is portrayed. ‘What you see is what you get,’ he says.

But he concedes that such a forthright approach did ‘ruffle a few feathers’, as the show reveals during an opening scene in which he tells staff they have been working for a ‘failed, f***ed-up business’ and again when he suggests changing the stadium music to make it ‘a bit more Ibiza’.

Methven reflects: ‘There is a good reason why two guys from Oxfordshire ended up buying that club after it had been on the market for two years… because a lot had looked at the books and gone, “Er, I don’t think so”. It was pretty much us or the knacker’s yard.

The second season of Sunderland ‘Til I die was released on Netflix on April 1

‘Stewart deserves a lot of credit for taking that risk, and that is one thing I don’t think the show portrays. He made the judgement that he could turn it around and you can see our great effort to get the whole thing moving.

‘That opening scene… the staff needed some hard-nosed realism. Everyone was in dreamland, and look where that had got the club.

‘As for when I told them I was changing the music, the look on their faces is priceless.

‘But I was dumbfounded when I arrived, I was told I’d be met by one of the club chauffeurs! And this a club that had just been relegated to League One – you can’t be ferrying executives around town, it was madness. The club was haemorrhaging money.

‘My message to staff was – we want to turn this around now, not tomorrow. There wasn’t enough juice in the tank to delay the process. I had to ask them the question: are you with us? If not, you’re going to have to move on.’

Methevn himself moved on in December after 18 months, although he retains his six per cent share. Donald, meanwhile, is currently in talks to sell the club after supporters called for him to go amid a bad run of results over Christmas.

‘Stewart does not need to sell for financial reasons,’ insists Methven. ‘However, he did promise to leave once he was no longer wanted.

‘So when the main fan organisation put out a statement saying they wanted him to go, he called me and said, “Well that’s it then, I can’t cling on for dear life”.

‘Before coronavirus hit we were at the stage where we expected new ownership to be in place by this month. What has happened has slowed the process.

‘But I think the club is in a position to go from strength to strength – which it certainly wasn’t before we came – and I hope the documentary shows the work we put in.

‘We have to be able to laugh as well and we’ve looked back and said, “You numpty, why did you say that?”. It shows we’re not perfect, we didn’t get every decision right, but we gave it a hell of a good shot.’

There are no plans at present to shoot a third series, although new owners would lend itself to a new chapter. The filmmakers could only hope they proved as entertaining as Methven and Donald. 

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