Bygones: Reflecting on British sport’s first black captain

Clive Sullivan
Clive Sullivan
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WITH Hull KR recently promoted back into Super League and Challenge Cup holders Hull FC still on course potentially for an historic double, the 2017 City of Culture is also currently revelling in a year of rugby league highs.

It is, then, certainly an appropriate time for a book telling the story of one of the sport’s finest players who spent the majority of his fascinating career wearing both the red and white and black and white of the city’s giants.

Clive Sullivan: With the Rugby League World Cup.

Clive Sullivan: With the Rugby League World Cup.

True Professional: The Clive Sullivan Story is a welcome addition to rugby league literature, being an in-depth analysis, appreciation and record of the remarkable winger who, after signing for Hull in 1961, scored 250 tries in 352 games during two spells there, alongside 118 tries in 213 games for Rovers.

Sullivan, of course, also became the first black Briton to captain a British sports team, lifting the 1972 World Cup as champions, a feat no side from these shores has repeated since yet one which was hardly recognised by the wider sporting public at the time.

The reasons behind that, and also why Sullivan – who tragically died from cancer at the age of just 42 in 1985 – is not celebrated more outside of rugby league circles is one of myriad subjects explored by James Oddy in this interesting and insightful account.

With the support of Sullivan’s family, including widow Rosalyn, and contributions from a raft of former team-mates, including Lee Crooks, Mike Smith and Sammy Lloyd, plus coach Johnny Whiteley and adversaries including ex-Leeds winger Alan Smith, he strands together wonderful anecdotes and recollections.

Explaining what prompted him to write the book, Oddy said: “I have written a number of rugby league articles for various publications for a few years, speaking to many older players.

“When asking who their favourite player was, toughest opponent or most skilful, a lot would say Clive Sullivan.

“He was well before my time but it made me interested in him and I started doing some research just for my own benefit really.

“It was then I realised just how amazing he was.”

Oddy continued: “Someone wrote a book with him in ’72 when he was still playing but of course that was before he won the Challenge Cup with Hull KR in 1980 and again with Hull in 1982.

“I spoke to his family and said I’d like to re-visit it all. I really enjoyed it, talking to his old colleagues and gaining a picture of what Clive was like.”

Whether detailing his early career in Cardiff, life in the army, long battles with various injuries, a near fatal car crash, that famous Wembley day in ’80 or his World Cup heroics in France, a remarkable story unfolds.

“One thing that really interested me was just how much turmoil Hull were in in that 1972-73 season,” added Oddy.

“It was quite dramatic what was going on at board level and the number of changes at the top. Pretty shambolic. It also emerged just how close he came to joining Bradford before Hull KR. How different things could have been...”