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Clive Sullivan remembered during Black History Month
Clive Sullivan
Clive Sullivan was the first black player to lead the Lions. Photo: Hull FC

He has a major road named after him in the city and was the subject of a play. Twenty five years on after his death and during Black History month, we look at the life of Hull sportsman Clive Sullivan.

Born on the 9th April 1943 in Cardiff, Clive Sullivan enjoyed a very successful career in rugby. His first venture into the sport was at school when he was selected to play for Cardiff.

However, a major leg injury at the age of 14 almost curtailed his rugby future when doctors told him that he would not be able to walk normally, let alone take up the sport.

After leaving school he had a short stint as a motor mechanic in the army. It was here that he developed his ambition of playing rugby when he was selected for an inter-corps match. Sullivan purposely chose not to disclose his injury; his admission would have resulted in him being discharged from the Forces.

At the age of 17, Sullivan had an unsuccessful trial at Bradford but was offered one at Hull, where he was signed the next day after scoring three tries.

Despite being ruled by knee operations, Clive Sullivan played 13 seasons for Hull scoring 250 tries in 352 games.

In 1967 Sullivan made his international debut for Great Britain. Five years later he was made captain of the squad and became the first black player to lead a national team in any major sport in the UK. His captainship led the team to World Cup success.

The player boasted exceptional speed and upper-body strength, winning 17 caps between 1967 and 1973.

"From 60 metres out he was like a gazelle but from about 20 metres out he was like a wild bull: very, very strong," said David Doyle-Davidson, a former Hull FC player and coach who played alongside Sullivan during the 60s and 70s.

"The other great thing about him - which a lot of the other wingers at that time didn't have - was that he had great defence. I think people may remember his pace and all the tries that he scored."

Clive Sullivan
Sullivan also represented Wales in four World Championship matches

Sullivan transferred east of the city to Hull Kingston Rovers where he won a championship medal in 1979 and scored 118 tries in 213 games at the club. His switch to the Red and Whites shocked the city but was still loved by both club fans.

"He was the only player that has scored 100 tries for both clubs and I think there was something about him because normally they [fans] would have been anti when a Black and White goes over to the Red and Whites, but he was special.

"He was a wonderful man. I never heard anyone say a bad word about him. I think everybody loved him… He was very much a true professional," added Davidson.

The Welsh rugby star returned to the Black and Whites in 1981 where he continued to play for the next four years.

Six months after his last game, the much loved player died of liver cancer on 8th October 1985 at the age of 42. Former friend David Doyle-Davidson remembers his funeral service:

"There were thousands there, you couldn't get the fans into Holy Trinity and there were x thousands outside. So that in itself was a tremendous compliment to the man to say: 'you are something special'.

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