Of Billy Connolly, feathery dresses and Mag shame

seanlThe story of Sean Landless, boy actor and Sunderland daft, is another of those Celebrity Supporter profiles that need to be read as slices of history.

But it is not for the want of trying that we have so far been unable to make contact with Sean and catch up on what became of the acting, the GCSEs and A levels, the dreams of becoming a pilot…..and most of all, his commitment to SAFC.

An idea from Sean of the emotions he experienced as we slumped towards something he had not known – failure at record levels – will be worth their weight in gold. Did he stick with us? Did he abandon ship, only to return when things came good again? And what of that season ticket renewal?

There are those who know Sean and his more recent activities (see the Comments that have been added since this item was originally posted at Salut! Sunderland).

From Jeff Brown, we learn that the acting may have fallen by the wayside, in favour of working in a pub handy for the Stadium of Light. More exotically, if Finland is exotic, we hear from pilkiSAFC that he’s shot off to Helsinki. But at least – and this is confirmed by his former teacher, Barbara Moffat – he still appears to be SAFC mad.

All, I hope, will be answered soon enough. I am juggling with the technology to promote this article to brief Page One prominence, amid all the pre-season excitement, with the aim of jogging other people’s memories, maybe Sean’s included. The reason it was already on view was simple: my eagerness to post all the remaining Celebrity Supporter articles as soon as I could.

Read about Sean, as he was when we spoke back in November 2001 (the year in which decline took hold, to be followed by relegation the following season), on the continuation page. And be patient: that feathery dress* will be explained……..

The boy’s a star

With a magical blend of accents, Israeli colliding with Mackem and coming off second best, Roni Landless declared that her lad would be thrilled to be interviewed. For once, the subject was the real passion in his life: Sunderland AFC.

At 15, Sean Landless is by far the youngest fan to appear in this series. He does not feel like a celebrity. But during the summer, he became an overnight star-in-the making when Gabriel and Me, in which he shares top billing with Billy Connolly, was launched to a shrill blast of publicity.

Sean, a livewire son of Grangetown who was just 14 when he landed the part, was suddenly in demand. Facing the press at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, he served up some delicious quotes that would have been lost on Hollywood luvvies but came as music to Mackem ears.

Explaining his role as Jimmy Spud, the son of a dysfunctional Mag – the phrase simply rolls off the keyboard, though wise men might say it’s a textbook example of tautology – Sean announced that having to wear a black-and-white top was “the worst thing that had ever happened to me”.

As Jimmy, he tries to turn himself into an angel to save his cancer-stricken father. “I had to dress up in a sort of feathery dress,” he said. “But having to wear the Newcastle shirt was worse.”

Sean’s introduction to the faded wonder of Roker Park came at a game against Carlisle, when he sat on his dad’s shoulders in the Clock Stand. He cannot say when it was : we played them in the FA Cup in 1994 and 1995, drew both and won the replays.

But he does remember the crowd. “I’d never heard anything so loud. That was what I liked the atmosphere, the passion, all the singing and noise to get the team motivated.”

Even earlier, as a boy of six, he was keenly aware of the stirring 1992 FA Cup run. From books, he is familiar with the faces of red-and-white heroes from the more distant past.

“I started going to some matches, then some away matches,” he said. “Now it’s almost every game It grew and grew and grew, like some of sort of obsession.”

Sean was only nine when a saviour came our way, so he has known mostly good, or at least exciting times. This season has been a disappointment for everyone, of course, bad enough at times to make even those Sports Echo letters from B J Irwin of Bangor read like models of commonsense and restraint.

So how does a young fan, spoilt by relative success, handle a slump? “I like to think I’d still be as passionate however we were doing, but you never really know. Even when we were in Division One, we were head and shoulders above everyone else, so I’ve never really known us as a lower division team.”

This season, I think we’ll finish in the top 10 if we’re lucky. It’s not looking great for Europe, but I cannot see us in a relegation battle. We’re better than that, even the way we’ve been playing.”

Sean was speaking after a wasted day in Leicester. There was probably only one consolation for fans who actually went to Filbert Street for the absurdly early kick-off, unlike those of us stuck in front of the TV, they missed the discouraging spectacle of pre-match yawns on certain SAFC faces in the tunnel.

“I don’t know how many we were”, Sean said. “But all those people made all that effort to get down there, and the players just didn’t not give 110 per cent.”

For balance, we spoke to Sean again after the uplifting Leeds win. “That made me feel better, but I don’t want to build my hopes,” he said (wisely as things turned out, going from bad to worse to catastrophic).

A big signing or two would make him feel better still. “When you see Newcastle buying Robert, you think: ‘Why aren’t we in for people like that?’.

“I know it doesn’t guarantee anything, but it would please the fans.”

Sean owes his acting breakthrough to another Sunderland fan, Barbara Moffatt, who was teaching drama at his school, Southmoor Comprehensive, when casting began. Although there had been walk-on parts in Byker Grove, he was “not really bothered” about drama.

Dreaming instead of becoming a pilot, he had dropped the subject in favour of extra science.

But Sean had impressed Barbara in a school play, taking the title role in Jack and the Beanstalk – er, Jack, not the Beanstalk (the vile, fee-fi-fo-fumming giant was a Mag) – and she put his name forward. He went to auditions “just for the experience” but admits to “dancing round the house when he was chosen”.

“We had about eight candidates, but Sean was a natural,” Barbara, now teaching at Monkwearmouth, told me.

“He is so lively, and has a fabulous sense of humour and that one-of-the lads mentality the part needed. But yes, he lives and breathes Sunderland.”

Since Gabriel and Me, Sean’s only role has been in a short Tyneside-produced film, Danny and his Amazing Teeth.

He quite fancies himself as James Bond, but fears the broad Wearside accent might get in the way.

“Filming was a great experience and Billy Connolly was amazing. I though he’d be stuck like a proper film star, but he was great, always having a laugh. He’s a Celtic fan and we talked a lot about football.

“I think the film’s doing OK. I never expected it to be a blockbuster, but I’m really bothered. I didn’t care what the critics thought as long as my family and friends liked it”.

Now he is preparing to sit 11 GCSEs. He also wants to take his A levels. The money he earned as Jimmy Spud has been put aside to help him through university and he pays his way as a supporter from £10-a-week pocket money.

For the future, he is happy to “wait and see that turns up”. He couldn’t care less where the next film role is coming from, but worries about the cost of renewing his upper North Stand season ticket. “I’m 16 next year”, he moaned, “and won’t be able to get it for £130 any more”.

* Picture credit: Bob123’s site on young stars of cinema

3 thoughts on “Of Billy Connolly, feathery dresses and Mag shame”

  1. Hi Colin – if you’re looking for Sean Landless, look no further than the King’s Arms in Deptford, no more than a Nyron Nosworthy clearance across the Wear from the SoL carpark! He’s a part-time barman in there (or, at least, was up until last season) and is a really nice lad. Don’t think he’s into acting any more. In fact, not sure what he does at all – apart from support Sunderland and drink/work in the King’s Arms, which is my pre-match haunt.
    Regards – Jeff

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