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George Honeyman on Sunderland 'Til I Die: "It felt like being in Big Brother, it was strange"

Sunderland Till I Die
(Image credit: PA Images)

George Honeyman was speaking to FFT after being named one of the best players in League One in our annual FPL Top 50 series. Order the latest issue.

Fly-on-the-wall football documentaries have become big business. From Pep Guardiola's mile-a-minute team talks to Jose Mourinho joking with the kit man, fans have lapped up the chance to see how super clubs run on a day to day basis. 

Yet the success of the All Or Nothing franchise might have never happened without Sunderland 'Til I Die, an emotional and far less glamorous insight into a Sunderland side on the way down the football pyramid. For former Black Cats skipper George Honeyman, being a part of the documentary was a surreal experience. 

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"It was a bit like being in Big Brother," Honeyman tells the April edition of FourFourTwo. "Even though they said they would never use anything in the show without our knowledge, you never feel that comfortable about being taped 24/7, so that was a bit of an issue for us as players."

In the series, which ran for two seasons between 2018 and 2020, a 23-year old Honeyman breaks into the Sunderland first team before he and his teammates get relegated from the Championship. The second series follows the team's doomed run to the League One Play-Off Final, with Honeyman now captain. Through all the heartbreak, the camera crew was never far away. 

"The two series were quite different experiences, actually," reflects Honeyman. "The first was a lot more intense; there were GoPros round the building and we had to do a lot more interviews. The second series was a bit better though, as it was more like standard media duties - there’d be a 15 minute interview after training and that was it."

While not blaming the film crew for the club's situation, Honeyman, now starring for League One rivals Hull City, feels it was probably a negative influence for Sunderland's staff and players. 

325 Football League Top 50

(Image credit: Future)

"I'm sure documentary-makers prefer the access-all-areas approach and it makes for a better documentary, but I don't think that method is conducive to running a winning football team, personally. There have been other documentaries since, but it kind of felt like we were the first ones to do it in modern English football, so it was very much a world unknown."

Premier League players can expect to be noticed wherever they go, but that's rarely the case for those in the lower leagues of English football. Starring in a Netflix documentary made Honeyman far more recognisable than your average League One player, however. 

"That was a lot more intense when it originally came out," he remembers. "I remember being in London with Sunderland after we’d just played a game down there at the weekend, and that was the first time I had ever been recognised by somebody in the street that wasn't a fan of my club!

"The North East is like a goldfish bowl; you get recognised all the time as everyone seems to know everyone up there, but getting recognised in London by a random person was honestly bizarre"

It's not just football fans that want to ask Honeyman about the series, however. The 26-year-old's new teammates at Hull, whom he joined in August 2019, were also full of questions.

"Everyone who is into football seems to have watched the documentary so yeah, it does spring up from time to time with teammates at Hull City," he laughs. "I've not actually seen the documentary myself, funnily enough - only the first episode of each series. I know what happens in them, of course, as I was in them!"

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Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Key FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.