Tackling the life story of a legend

Nick Ahad A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't have dreamt up a better story.

A child born to the only black family in a tiny Welsh town is blighted with weak knees and told he may not only never play any of his beloved sports, but may never walk again.

He defies the doctors, goes on to play rugby professionally, nearly dies in a car crash, only to recover and unite a city with his graceful skill, captain his country and score a wonder try in the World Cup final to lift the trophy. Roy of the Rovers stuff?

Pretty much – only this is Clive of the Rovers – that's Clive Sullivan of Hull Kingston Rovers, of Hull FC and the last Great Britain captain to lift the world cup.

Sullivan's story ended tragically in 1985 when he died of cancer aged 42.

The incredible story of the boy from a Welsh town who became one of Hull's most famous adopted sons is now being brought to the stage by local journalist Dave Windass, whose latest play, Sully, tells the sportsman's extraordinary tale.

"The biggest problem I have had is trying to decide what to leave out," says Windass.

"There is just so much there to tell, and every time I meet someone who knows I am writing the play, they tell

me yet another story about Clive."

The seeds for the play, which will be performed at Hull Truck Theatre this month, were first sown following Windass's previous play, Kicked into Touch. That, too, was a rugby-flavoured script, telling the story of the famous 1980 Challenge Cup Final when Hull KR met arch rivals Hull FC at Wembley.

Following the play at a meeting with Hull Truck's associate director, Gareth Tudor Price, Windass revealed he had an idea for another play – the story of Sullivan.

"All I really had was a tagline, which was 'One man, Two teams, A legend.' I told Gareth that I wanted to tell Clive's story and he went for it."

That afternoon, Windass was in a Hull pub, mulling over the various ideas.

"I was looking around and just behind my shoulder there was a picture of Sully, looking down at me. It was like a sign and I knew I had to do it," says Windass.

It was all well and good having an idea, but Windass did not want to go ahead

with the play unless he had

the permission and the blessing of Sullivan's widow, Rosalyn.

On the day we meet, in the second week of rehearsals of Sully, Ros and Dave have been watching actor Fidel Nanton, who will play the part of Sullivan, go through one of the key scenes of the play, where Sully plays in the World Cup final.

"It's been 20 years now since Clive died, and I really

didn't think I would get so emotional watching, but it brings it all back," says Ros, who was married to Clive

for 19 years.

"I think Clive would have loved it. He would have been really proud, but I think he would have been a bit surprised. I remember when he got his MBE he just kept saying that he was an ordinary guy and didn't understand why he was getting it.

"I understand what he meant to people, and it does seem that the longer he is dead, the greater he becomes, but to me he was just Clive, my husband."

To the people of Hull, Sullivan was much, much more than that.

To those in the East Riding there are fewer more passionate rivalries than that between the town's two rugby league teams – Hull KR, the red and whites on the east of the river and Hull FC, the black and whites on the west.

When Sullivan played for

Hull FC, in his prime, he

was lauded as a god. In 1974 he transferred across the river.

Anyone with the slightest grasp of the intensity of

the rivalry between the two teams, might expect Sullivan to become a figure of absolute hate – not so.

Windass says: "He somehow just seemed to be above that. I think everyone just loved him so much and loved watching him play, that it really didn't matter."

Playing for the Red and Whites, the people of Hull - from both sides of the river – continued to hold the player in great affection.

When he finished his playing career, Sullivan was faced with cancer.

Ros says: "When he got cancer he just saw it as another battle he was going to have to win. Fortunately it was quick. After he died was when I realised just how much the people of Hull loved him, they really helped me to get through that time."

At Sullivan's funeral, thousands turned out to pay their respects. Sully director Martin Barrass remembers: "They put loudspeakers outside the church – there was a mass of black and white and red and white shirts – everyone was there to say goodbye to Clive. He was bigger than the game."

The road into Hull is now known as Clive Sullivan Way – making certain that the

name of one of rugby's greatest characters will forever

be linked to his adopted


Sully is at Hull Truck Theatre

until May 27.

Clive Sullivan

l Clive Sullivan was born in the Splott district of Cardiff in 1943.

l After a childhood blighted by weak legs, which required several operations, he proved his incredible determination by becoming an exceptional rugby union player and, when he was 17 years old, was given a trial with Bradford Northern rugby league club.

l The team was not interested in the winger, but another Yorkshire club, Hull, was.

l He would go on to play 13 seasons with Hull, scoring a record 250 tries in 352 games – including seven in one game against Doncaster, another record.

l Throughout his time at the club, injuries dogged his career.

l In 1962, he returned from an army trip three stones overweight, and his spindly legs buckled under him, leading to the first of three operations in that one season.

l In 1963, a car crash left him with multiple injuries and close to death. He was back on the rugby field in three months.

l In 1974, he transferred across the city to Hull Kingston Rovers, scoring a further 118 tries in 213 games.

l He won the first of 17 caps for Great Britain in 1967, played three World Cup matches in 1968 and scored a hat-trick in the Test against New Zealand.

l He toured Australia a year later, but injury restricted him to one Test.

l Returning to Great Britain in 1971 he appeared in all three Tests against New Zealand and in 1972 was awarded the captaincy for the two Tests with France, the first black British sportsman to captain the national team.

l His finest achievement was captaining Great Britain to victory in the 1972 World Cup, when he scored a try in all four games.

l His Great Britain career finished in 1973 with three Tests against Australia. In his 17 appearances he had scored 13 tries and captained the side on nine occasions. He was awarded the MBE.

l With Wales, he won 15 caps in the period 1968-1979. In all games, club and international, he scored 406 tries in 639 appearances, bettered by only two other Welshmen and only half-a-dozen players of any nationality.

l Clive Sullivan died in 1985.