THE controversial reign of former Sunderland football manager Paolo Di Canio will come under the spotlight in the revival of a play by a South Tyneside writer.
I Left My Heart in Roker Park (Extra Time at the Stadium of Light) will be performed at several regional venues later this year.
Written by Jarrow-born playwright and lifelong Sunderland AFC supporter Tom Kelly, the play is centred on the pain, heartache and occasional joy of Black Cats’ fan Kevin Halliday.
The lead role in the revamped drama will be taken by South Shields-based actor and Sunderland supporter Paul Dunn.
Updated since it was last staged a decade ago, the play includes a lighthearted look at Di Canio’s 13-game reign at the Stadium of Light, plus ‘miracle manager’ Gus Poyet and the team narrowly avoiding relegation from the Premiership.
Di Canio’s time at the club was mired in controversy from the day he was appointed manager in March 2013, the alleged political views of the former forward for Lazio, Juventus and AC Milan sparking the resignation of club vice-chairman and ex-South Shields MP David Miliband.
Tom Kelly is reluctant to be drawn on too many details of his play’s depiction of Di Canio’s brief tenure at the Stadium of Light, other than the Italian’s dislike of his players having too much eye contact with anyone in the tunnel before going on to the pitch.
However, he added: “We did make Match of the Day during his time at the club, including Di Canio’s famous slide. And let’s be fair – we also beat Newcastle!”
The one-man play also explores the team making this year’s League Cup Final, partly inspired by Kelly’s own trip to Wembley to see his side beaten by Manchester City. But the play ends on a high with the the Black Cats successfully – if narrowly – avoiding the drop.
Kelly added: “What brought me back to the play?
“I suppose the truth is that it has never really left me. It was performed magnificently by Ray Spencer in the 1990s and then again by David Whitaker in 2004. Now it’s back, with Paul Dunn at the helm.
“Listening to Sunderland away games, I often shout at the radio. SAFC are a part of me.
“This play is my attempt to give us ordinary fans a voice.”
n I Left My Heart in Roker Park (Extra Time at the Stadium of Light) will be presented at the Customs House, South Shields, on September 19 and 20, followed by the Arts Centre, Washington, on September 25, and the Gala Theatre, Durham, on September 28.