‘Premier Passions’ – The thoughts of former Sunderland chairman Sir Bob Murray

Ex-Sunderland chairman Sir Bob Murray insists the 1990s SAFC-focused “Premier Passions” TV series was better than Netflix hit “Sunderland ‘Til I Die” – because it featured “characters” rather than any “chancers”. 

Premier Passions was a six-part documentary, broadcast on BBC One in February and March 1998, which went behind the scenes at Sunderland in the Peter Reid managerial era. 

And as well as explaining what it was like to be the first Premier League club to give all-areas access to TV cameras, Murray – chairman at the time – compared the final product with the more recent, worldwide Netflix hit. 

It was Lesley Callaghan, PR consultant to the club and to Murray at the time, who was first contacted by the BBC in 1996 with the idea of a national weekly “fly on the dressing room wall” series. 

With Sunderland fighting a relegation battle, as well as pushing ahead with the construction of the Stadium of Light, some questioned the decision to allow the BBC cameras in. 

But Murray says that decision came down to good faith, which he felt was lacking from certain key “stars” of “Sunderland ‘Til I Die”. 

“We had no editorial control, but we were dealing with quality people who we trusted,” said Murray, who recently launched his autobiography, “I’d Do It All Again”. 

“We didn’t take anything away; you saw the whole thing and it was really interesting. 

“The old ground – and closing it down – then the new ground, Peter Reid and Sacko {Bobby Saxton}  both colourful lads and of course we were trying to stay in the Premier League . . . so there was a lot of content there.” 

In explaining why he gave “Premier Passions” the green light, Murray pointed to Reid, Saxton and other people involved at Sunderland compared with now-departed club owner Stewart Donald and his colleague Charlie Methven, who featured heavily in seasons two and three of “Sunderland Til I Die”. 

On whether he ever doubted the decision to open up to the BBC, Murray said: “Not really, because we looked at each other and thought ‘have we got anything to hide? Are we here for the wrong reasons? Are we taking a salary?’ 

“We’ve now had this programme {“Sunderland ‘Til I Die’} with these two chancers that have been involved with the club – ‘cos that’s what they are. Was that good for the club? I don’t think so. 

“But we had nothing to hide, so why worry? And remember, we were dealing with the BBC.” 

And it was not just the likes of Reid and Saxton who made for better viewing, in Murray’s eyes, but also the group of players who pulled on the red and white shirt at the time. 

Infamously, those players were filmed taking some fearful, foul-mouthed teamtalks from Reid and Saxton, but Murray said: “They were alright; they were okay. 

“But you’re talking about a different era, you’re talking about a British team, you’re talking about a team and a club very much together; a team that had been promoted. 

“It’s different to what it is today.” 

“I’d Do It All Again”, the autobiography of Sir Bob Murray, is available now, published by Vision Sports Publishing.