Gala Theatre stages evening of two halves for SAFC fans

(from left) Jeff Brown, David Corner and Paul Dunn.
(from left) Jeff Brown, David Corner and Paul Dunn.
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Sunderland AFC fans can celebrate the start of the new season with a double bill of short plays about their beloved club and a question and answer session with a former player this weekend.

Look North anchorman Jeff Brown will bring his new play Cornered to the Gala Theatre in Durham on Saturday night.

The play is based on the story of former defender Dave Corner – who will join Jeff for a q and a after the show.

On March 24 1985, the 18-year- old Corner ran out onto the Wembley pitch to play in the Milk Cup Final as Sunderland took on Norwich City, in what was only his fifth appearance for the club.

Early in the second half, his dream turned into a nightmare as he tried to keep the ball in play rather than let it go out – a mistake which led to a Norwich goal and denied the Black Cats their first major trophy since 1973.

"As a sports reporter most of my working life and a football fan since the age of seven, I’ve always been fascinated by the thin dividing line between glory and grief. One miskick, one dropped catch, one stumble over the final hurdle can be so crucial," said Jeff.

"David’s one momentary lapse has become part of SAFC folklore and I was interested to see how it had affected him. The fact is, in the 32 years since the final, he’s never been allowed to forget it."

Jeff, who was in his first year as a sports reporter and at his first Wembley final for the game, said he hopes the play will make people realise Corner’s actions don’t warrant the abuse he has suffered throughout the decades.

"Sunderland is his home town club, and despite it all, he’s still proud that he was – and still is – the youngest player to have appeared for them in a Wembley Cup final," he said.

"Initially, he was quite bemused that anyone should be interested in his story – but he quickly bought into the idea. I interviewed him a couple of times, and he’s seen the script

and is happy with it – which is important!

"He still asks me if I think anyone will turn up…"

The second part of the evening will see Wise Men Say, a short play celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Stadium of Light, written by Sunderland-born actor Paul Dunn, founder of theatre company Cranked Anvil which also produced Cornered and presented the award-winning show I Left My Heart in Roker Park in 2014.

"We produced I Left My Heart in Roker Park three years ago and I enjoyed it so much I always felt in the back of my mind that I’d like to do another one,” he said.

"When we heard Jeff Brown read an excerpt of his play a couple of years ago, we approached him immediately saying we’d love to produce it. We knew it would need a companion piece, and I thought that a celebration of 20 years at the Stadium of Light would be an ideal subject."

Despite a lot of unease around the move when it was first announced, Paul says it came at just the right time for the club and showed it was capable of contending with the biggest and best of them.

"I don't think anybody can now deny that the move to the Stadium of Light has been for the best. We have a world class stadium that has seen international matches played there, a stadium that is the envy of many other clubs around the country, with top class facilities," said Paul.

And despite some tough seasons at the stadium, including the latest campaign which saw them relegated to the Championship, Paul believes there are brighter days ahead.

"I don’t think we've had it any tougher than most and actually, during the last 20 years at the Stadium of Light, 15 of those have been spent in the Premier League. We've had

some great times over the past two decades - with plenty more still to come.

“It’s a bit of a nostalgia piece, so hopefully people will come along for the ride and remember the great times at the stadium, as well as a bit of a nod to the old Roker Park days.

"And as for Jeff's piece, Cornered, I'm sure that it will inspire all sorts of memories of that Milk Cup final in '85. And there's an amazing twist at the end of that tale, which we're keeping under our hats, so you'll have to get a ticket for the show to hear the full story."