Robbie Stockdale has been in professional football for more than 20 years and yet the new Hibs assistant head coach is now more recognised thanks to a fly-on-the-wall television series.
Stockdale found himself a central figure in the eight-part Netflix documentary Sunderland ’Til I Die, intended to chronicle the Black Cats’ fight to return to the English Premier League only to capture a second successive relegation.
The car-crash season, he admitted, was probably a better story than the producers had ever envisaged when invited in by then Sunderland owner Ellis Short. But, although it has been highly acclaimed by supporters from many clubs, he’s never watched it himself.
He said: “I’m not one for looking back, there was no particular reason why I’ve not watched it. I’m not going to get emotional watching it, or anything like that.
“It was hard enough living it. It’s there and there may be a time when I do watch it. Sunderland was a massive part of my life, both good and bad. People have told me what it’s all about. It was a tough year, a tough couple of years and I really hope they get back to where they deserve to be.
“There’s a lot of really good people at the club, people who I’m still in touch with. It was not always within people’s control what happened.”
Having a television crew recording what was happening as Sunderland’s season collapsed about them and managers Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman were sacked – with Stockdale stepping into the breach as caretaker on both occasions – was, admitted the 39-year-old, initially difficult.
“There were reasons behind why the club agreed to do it, the owner at the time wanted to sell and he was trying to show the club in a good light. I think, from being told, it shows to a certain extent what goes on at a football club. I would imagine there would be a helluva lot of stuff that’s not going in that would be even better viewing.
“You got used to it. The first month, six weeks, it felt a little bit intrusive, but you start to build a relationship. There were not that many people there filming, there was maybe on a busy day, four or five – a couple of cameramen and a producer.
“The guys who filmed it were fantastic, they were Sunderland fans who produced it as well. You started to build a relationship with them and they started to understand the bits they could get access to, and some they couldn’t.
“Occasionally you’d walk into a room and not realise there was a little camera in the corner with a red dot on until someone taps you on the shoulder and points.
“It was always sold to us that it didn’t stitch anyone up or anything like that. I think Netflix went into it thinking it could be a really good story of getting promoted back to the Premier League but it was probably an even better story for them that we got relegated – the interest was probably heightened.
“I’ve been in professional football for more than 20 years and in the last six months I’ve been recognised more from being on a TV programme rather than doing all the right things for 20-odd years.
“I’d hate to think that my career was defined by a Netflix documentary. I was a professional player, I did my best as a player. I’ve been academy manager at Grimsby so I started, with all due respect, at rock bottom of coaching in terms of professional clubs anyway. Whether it helps or it hinders, I’m not really sure.”
Stockdale left the Stadium of Light when a group led by Stewart Donald, the chairman of Eastleigh FC, took over, a move which led to him teaming up, at last, with Paul Heckingbottom as he took over from Neil Lennon as head coach at Easter Road.
He said: “We’ve known each other for a long, long, long, long time. We played against each other – I’d say he was a little better on the ball than me but – I’m going to say it – I’m a better defender.
“We weren’t living a million miles away from each other and we’ve done our coaching badges together all the way through, I’ve known Paul for more years than I care to remember. He tried to get me to go with him before but unfortunately the club I was at wouldn’t allow it.”
As Stockdale left Sunderland, Heckingbottom was axed by Leeds United, freeing the pair to finally work together.
“When we left our jobs in the summer we were straight on to each other and said ‘right, next time we’ll definitely go together’,” revealed the former Scotland defender.
“When you’re out of work, you look for the best opportunity to get back in. There was a couple of clubs interested in me in the summer which for one reason or another never quite worked out.
“When we got an idea that Hibernian was available and Paul was a candidate, the more research I did on it, the better it looked. It was almost like ‘yeah, this is the one we really want’, and thankfully we’re here and we’re desperate to make a success of it.
“There’s nothing else in our mind except for this club to climb the league and be successful.”
Stockdale wasn’t short of trusted figures he could turn to as he looked for an insight into life at Easter Road, former Hibs captain Rob Jones a friend of many years while he also knows both Tony Mowbray and Alan Stubbs well.
He said: “I bumped into Rob on a Sunday morning and we spoke about it. When I came up for the cup game [against Raith Rovers], I was put in a room on my own – the Captains’ Lounge – and Rob was everywhere. It was a scary room cos he’s a big ugly fella isn’t he!?
“The first thing is we did our research and we were well prepped on the team from the outside.
“It’s not until you get into the building and see the character of the players and that’s been the most pleasing aspect of the whole thing. Its been really positive.”