The story of how a black Welshman came to represent everything that is great about the City of Hull and it’s inhabitants is brought to life in Dave Windass’ stunning play.
I was grateful for the darkness of the auditorium as the sheer power of the subject matter allied to the raw, visceral performance of Fidel Nanton in the lead role, caused the tears to flow, something that I am not prone to in the normal state of things, but I defy anyone not to be moved by the scene where Clive leads GB+Ireland to World Cup glory, capping it all with the greatest try ever scored in International football history. A black Lions Captain in 1972 was quite a thing and is proof of why Rugby League leads and other sports follow in so many ways.
Clive’s life was brutally cut short by cancer and I have vivid memories of that October day in 1985 when the City was united in grief for the loss of it’s dearest son, and the final scene of Windass‘ play encapsulated the feeling in the City to perfection. We are not a demonstrative people but Sullivan’s memorial service at Holy Trinity proved to be the exception, but as ever laced with that typical Hull humour which put Clive’s life in rightful perspective.
Sullivan was the only man to have scored over a hundred tries for both of the Hull Clubs, going on to Challenge Cup glory in 1980 with Rovers, and against the odds (as usual) with the Airlie Birds in 1982 at the age of 39.
The monikor of “Hero” is far too readily dished out in these days of instant everything, but Sullivan is totally deserving of this sobriquet and there are too many reasons to document here, but for me it was Clive’s ability to just get on with it, no matter what obstacles, be they race, class or injury that were laid in his way.
No fuss, no trumpeting, just quiet, steely determination and a burning ambition to succeed at whatever he did. A perfect combination to endear him to us in Hull, as no one, no matter how great they are will always have their feet planted on terra firma due to the nature of the populace in our City.
Windass handles the story deftly and the result is a gritty and unsentimental account that nevertheless moves the soul. This is a difficult path to tread as saccharine sentimentality is a readily available trap, but Windass avoids this through the skill of his writing.
The play is a three hander, narrated through the eyes of cynical cabbie Max, and his gobby fare ‘Chelle with whom Clive shares his story in ghostly form via re enacted flashbacks. All three give sterling and versatile performances, but Nanton gives one of the best I have witnessed at this fantastic, intimate venue. Powerful, earthy and above all real.
If Hull City Council want to spend some of their ill gotten loot from the shameful and clandestine flogging of KC shares, then a statue of Sullivan should be placed as you sweep under the Bridge and catch sight of our City. He is the epitome of why Hull is the best place to live in the whole wide world. Saccharine Sentimentality? You betcha!