To honour Black History Month, I wanted to write an article about an inspirational Black sporting figure. The choices were plentiful; from Jesse Owens to Serena Willams, many have led the way in their respective sports as we as a sporting community continue to strive for racial equality.
However, in the end I settled upon Clive Sullivan. A man who many of you may have not even heard of, but one who was a real trailblazer for Black athletes in British sports, paving the way for future generations to make their presences felt.
The Welsh winger, synonymous with the city of Hull, suffered numerous setbacks early on in his career, from knee injuries to commitments with the army. However, 3 years on from his release in the army, he would begin to gain the attention of the rugby league world, scoring 28 tries in 28 games.
5 years further down the line, he became the first Black sporting figure to be handed the captaincy of a British national sports team, when he captained Great Britain in the 1972 Rugby League World Cup.
He would lead the Lions to glory that same year, scoring a try in each of his side’s four games in the competition, including one in the final against Australia, who are by far the most dominant side in World Cup history.
In fact, that triumph is, to date, the last time the tournament has been one by a side that was not Australia or New Zealand.
The monumental nature of his appointment as captain becomes even more apparent when you realise that the English senior football side would not select a Black player in the starting XI for another 6 years (when Viv Anderson broke into the first team), let alone name one as captain.
Sadly, not long after his retirement, Sullivan passed away after losing his battle with cancer, aged just 42. However, he remains in the hearts of the inhabitants of Hull, who commemorated the iconic figure by renaming a section of the city’s main approach road the ‘Clive Sullivan Way’. On top of that, for almost 2 decades, the Clive Sullivan Memorial Trophy has been awarded to the winner of meetings between rivals Hull FC and Hull KR.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Black athletes had struggled to rise to positions of authority within British sport. Sullivan changed all that. A true icon who deserves to be at the forefront of our minds when we observe Black History Month this year.