Get to know the main figures who star in SAFC's Netflix series 'Sunderland 'Til I Die'
Another academy product, Joel Asoro has since moved on from the Stadium of Light. The 20-year-old, who was nominated for FIFA’s prestigious Golden Boy award in 2017, swapped the Stadium of Light for Swansea City in July 2018 after making 29 appearances for Sunderland, including four in the Premier League. Asoro also received international recognition during his time on Wearside, regularly representing Sweden at under-21 level.
Martin Bain held the position of chief executive at Sunderland between May 2016 and May 2018. Born in Glasgow, Bain spent time as a part-time model before switching his attention to football and working for Rangers from 1996. He was appointed to the club’s board of directors in 2001 and was named chief executive four years later. Bain went on to hold a similar role at Israeli club Maccabi Tel-Aviv before moving to Wearside.
A club legend in the truest sense of the word, Kevin Ball continues to have an impact on Sunderland from the club to the city. Affectionately known as ‘Bally’, the former club captain made over 350 appearances in red and white, while also winning two First Division titles and playing a key role in the Lads run to the 1992 FA Cup final. He was named Sunderland Player of the Year in 1997 and remains a key figure at the club, working alongside the academy and the community.
Nick Barnes is a football commentator the BBC, with nearly 30 years’ experience. Covering Carlisle United, Newcastle United and for the last 15 years Sunderland, he also worked for a brief spell for BBC Sport in London as a Sports Broadcaster. Raised in Devon, Barnes grew up supporting Exeter City but has now lived in the north of England for thirty years, in Cumbria and the North East.
Leanne Bennett is the club’s football administration manager and she is based at the Academy of Light. Leanne works closely with the manager, players and club secretary. A regular at the Stadium of Light as a fan, Leanne took up her role at the Academy 5 years ago and quickly got used to the day-to-day running of the football club having now worked with seven different managers during her tenure.
After a mesmerising tenure with Wales, Chris Coleman returned to club management in November 2018 with Sunderland. The Welshman, who guided his country to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and previously took charge of Fulham, Real Sociedad and Coventry City, was tasked with guiding the Lads clear of the bottom three, but he was unable to do so, and the club were relegated in April 2018. A player with Swansea City and Crystal Palace, Coleman departed before the final game of the season. He returned to management in June 2018, taking charge of Hebei China Fortune.
A deadline-day signing in January, Ashley Fletcher’s move was signed and sealed with just seconds to go. The striker, who arrived from Middlesbrough, started his career with Bolton Wanderers before moving to Manchester United’s esteemed academy at the age of 13. While on loan with Barnsley, Fletcher helped the club win the Football League Trophy and the League One Play-Offs, scoring in both games at Wembley Stadium. He has also represented for West Ham United, and scored two goals for Sunderland.
Simon Grayson arrived at Sunderland in June 2018 following the departure of David Moyes and the club’s relegation from the Premier League. After turning out for the likes of Leicester City and Aston Villa as a player, Grayson established a proven track record in management via promotions with Blackpool, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Preston North End. But he was unable to repeat the feat a fifth time, and his reign came to an end in October 2018, with the club 22nd in the Championship.
After signing for the club at the age of eight, George Honeyman worked his way through the ranks at the Academy of Light before making his first-team debut in an FA Cup tie at Bradford City in February 2015. He made his Premier League bow the following season, before scoring his first senior goal in August 2017. Honeyman was made club captain ahead of the 2018-19 season.
A big character in the Academy of Light kitchen is head chef Patrick Lesca. The Frenchman has called Sunderland his home for a long time now, working at the club for over 20 years. Patrick is responsible for all the players and coaching staff’s catering needs and as a result he’s very highly regarded among everyone at the club.
Since the filming of season one, Josh Maja has been the star of the show. The 19-year-old striker has scored 11 goals already during the 2018-19 season, while also contributing two assists. Maja made his debut last season and he marked the occasion with a goal, scoring the only goal of the game against his former club, Fulham, to earn the club’s first home win in almost a year.
Joyce Rome is a very popular figure at the Academy of Light. As club chef she looks after the players, backroom staff and coaches. Lifelong Sunderland fan Joyce loves her role working for her hometown club. During her 20-plus years as club chef she has seen lots of changes and worked with lots of managers, Joyce is a regular on the team bus travelling to all away games with the team as well as assuming matchday duties at the Stadium of Light at home games and during busy periods for the wider catering team.
Robbin Ruiter is currently spending his second season on Wearside. The Dutchman ended a five-year spell with FC Utrecht to sign for Sunderland in August 2017 following a successful trial, and he made 20 league appearances during his first campaign at the Stadium of Light. Born in Amsterdam, Ruiter, 31, has featured three times during the 2018-19 season, with all of his appearances coming in an unbeaten Checkatrade Trophy run.
Jason Steele signed for Sunderland in July 2017, as Simon Grayson looked to bolster his goalkeeping options following the departures of Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone. Steele made 15 league appearances for the club before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion in June 2018. He previously played for Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers, and represented England at under-16, under-17 and under-19 level.
Chris Coleman’s assistant manager, Kit Symons first worked alongside the former Sunderland manager during the duo’s playing days at Fulham. Like Coleman, Symons would go on to manage the London Club, and after his tenure ended, he returned to Wales for their historic Euro 2016 exploits. He followed Coleman to Wearside in October 2018 and is currently the Welshman’s assistant at Hebei China Fortune.
Jonny Williams endured a tough season-long loan on Wearside, with multiple injuries limiting him to just 12 appearances. He scored his only goal in a 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough in February 2018, returning to parent club Crystal Palace following the end of the 2017-18 season. Williams, 25 has picked up 17 caps with Wales, while also representing his country as they reached the semi-final stage at Euro 2016.