Sunderland ’til I Die: How Simon Grayson went from Sunderland woe to managing Messi rival in India

Sean McCormick
Ex-Sunderland manager Simon Grayson during his time in charge of Bengaluru FCBengaluru FC/Twitter

Season three of the hit Netflix series Sunderland ’til I Die will hit TV screens on Tuesday, as the fall and rise of Sunderland AFC continues to be chartered to worldwide audiences.

After relegation from the Championship in 2018 in Season One, to their unsuccessful bid for promotion from League One in 2019 in Season Two, the story picks up in Season Three with the Black Cats bidding to win promotion again in 2021/22 after a further two failed attempts.

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Way back when Season One first aired in December 2018, Simon Grayson was the manager at the start of the 2017/18 campaign.

He was sacked after just 18 matches in charge, though, and Sunderland ultimately failed to recover from a poor start to the season and were relegated to the third tier of English football.

Having had successful spells in charge of Blackpool, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Preston North End, Grayson had to go back to the drawing board after a brutal spell on Wearside.

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What has happened to Simon Grayson since Sunderland ’til I Die?

Grayson has had spells in charge of Bradford City, Blackpool and Fleetwood Town since leaving Sunderland but it was his decision to move to India to manage Bengaluru FC which really caught the eye.

In June 2022, Grayson uprooted his life to Bengalore, India, to take charge of the Indian Super League side.

“It was an incredible journey both professionally and personally,” Grayson told Dexerto, on behalf of Bitcoin Casinos. For most of my career managing, I have managed in Yorkshire and Lancashire and up to Sunderland.

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Former Sunderland manager Simon GraysonEx-Sunderland boss Simon Grayson talking to Dexerto

“So if I was ever going to manage away from home, I might as well go the whole hog and work 5,000 miles away.

“Even when I got offered the contract, I still thought I wouldn’t go. I didn’t think I would have it in me to leave my family and do something that was completely new to me and out of my comfort zone.

“But I just thought why not? I had done what I needed to do in England for now, the jobs I had been offered that summer I thought I could maybe come back to them but this was an opportunity.

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“It was an incredible journey. It was a different culture, a different lifestyle, the people that you meet, the different cities you went to and ultimately I was being paid to sample a part of the world I never thought I would do.

“If you put that together with the professional side of it, I never knew what was coming the next day with the different cultures, facilities, and I liked that.

“It challenged me and I know I am a far better coach and person now than when I left for India. The football experience was good.”

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Managing an Indian icon

Grayson enjoyed immediate success, guiding his new team to success in the Durand Cup – a trophy he describes as the equivalent of England’s Carabao Cup.

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But after his first 10 games in charge, he was under pressure after some mixed results in the Indian Super League.

What followed was an incredible 12 game winning run which saw Bengaluru reach the final of the Indian Super League play-offs where they were heartbreakingly beaten on penalties.

Grayson made the difficult decision to drop his captain, Sunil Chhetri, at the start of that run. Chhetri, who is an icon of the Indian game and is the third highest active international goalscorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

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“Unless you were really into your football, you would never think India have a player of this success,” Grayson explained. “He was just this icon where every time we travelled, he was getting mobbed in airports.

“It was an incredible experience just to be his manager. I ultimately made one of the toughest decisions I ever made as a manager and I dropped him at the start of the 12 game run we went on.

“I thought to myself he wasn’t playing as well as he could do, but he was this icon of Indian football. But if I was going to go, I was going to go down fighting and do what’s best for the football club.

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“It was sink or swim and thankfully I swam and we got to the two finals after that.”

What is next for Simon Grayson?

The 2023-24 season began with Bengaluru reaching a third cup final under Grayson, as they were beaten in the final of the Indian Super Cup by Odisha FC.

However, he opted to leave the club by mutual consent in December and he is on the hunt for a fresh managerial opportunity after reviving his career in India.

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“The hardest part was being away from the family,” Grayson concluded.

“It wasn’t easy but it has opened my eyes to maybe managing abroad again. Whether it’s that far afield or in Europe or back in the UK, I’m open to anything.

“I’m only 54 and still have the hunger and desire. I’ve managed nearly 800 games and when I see Neil Warnock going back to work in his seventies I am thinking: ‘Fair play, Neil’.

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“I still have plenty of life in me but I won’t be doing it until I’m 75, that’s for sure.”

Season three of Sunderland ’til I Die is released on Netflix on Tuesday, December 8.

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About The Author

Sean McCormick is the Sport Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in Sports Journalism and over the last seven years has worked as a writer, reporter and an editor across titles such as Chronicle Live, Leeds Live and Manchester Evening News covering the region's football clubs and sports stars. Sean loves football, darts, combat sports and NBA. You can email him here: sean.mccormick@dexerto.com