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The History of Black Players in English Futbol

As we have entered February many of you will know, some of the non-American readers may not, that it is Black History month. This month The Buzz will honor many historic black people over a wide range of topics.

The one I will be focusing on in this topic is looking at some of the black players in English footballing history. Many broke barriers and opened doors for the next generation of players coming through to be accepted in the modern game no matter their skin colour or religious background.

Now I will state that it has been shown recently that racism is still happening in football among certain groups of fans. Fifa have shown there willingness to kick racism out of the game, but we as fans need to stand united against any form of racism shown, whether that be towards a player, official, coaching staff or another fan.

The first player we will look at is the first black footballer to feature in the English league. Arthur Wharton was a goalkeeper, who occasionally on the wing, born in the Britush Colony of the Gold Coast. Although the Gold Coast is now a part of Ghana.

He played for Darlington, Preston North End, Sheffield United and Rotherham United among others at the tail-end 19th century. He moved to England aged 17, with the hopes of becoming a religious missionary.

However, the love of the game captivated Wharton leading to a career as a goalkeeper. Wharton was a part of the first ever ‘invincibles’ side, with Preston North End but didn’t sign his first professional contract until 1889 with Rotherham.

Wharton was considered to be called up for an England international appearance, but unfortunately the call never materialised. The iconic goalkeeper passed way in 1930 aged 65 in Yorkshire. The original tombstone was unmarked, however in 1997 a headstone was erected to highlight his life thanks to the campaign ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides’.

A black footballer would not represent England until 1978, when Manchester United’s Viv Anderson played for the Three Lions. Anderson was born in Nottingham and played for Nottingham Forest for 10 years.

During his playing days, Anderson was subject to a lot of racial discrimination. Viv Anderson told ITV: “I remember going to Carlisle; something happened and I’m sat down within five minutes. [Clough] said, ‘I thought I told you to warm up.’ I said, ‘Well they’re throwing apples and pears and bananas at me.’ He said, ‘Go back out there and get me two pears and a banana.’

“Then in the dressing room he pulls me and says, ‘I did that for a reason, you know – because if you let them dictate to you, you aren’t going to make a good career and I think you can play. Don’t let them influence you in any way.’”

However, Viv Anderson was only the first player to represent England at a full international level.

In 1962, West Ham full-back John Charles became the first black man to represent England at any level when he made his debut for the Under-18s.

Charles played alongside World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore in West Ham’s defence but retired from the game at just 26 due to a recurring hamstring injury.

A report from BBC London revealed that in 1971, Benjamin Odeje became the first black male to represent England when he played for England Schoolboys against Northern Ireland in front of 70,000 fans.

Decades before Anderson made his senior debut, Plymouth striker Jack Leslie was called up to play the Republic of Ireland in 1925. However, he was dropped from the squad before making his debut.

Paul Ince was the first black player to captain England in 1993, when the Three Lions played USA. This game would prove to be the only defeat in Ince’s 7 games at captain as they lost 2-0.

These former footballers are not only legends but are also inspirational icons of football, breaking down barriers and creating new opportunities that were not afforded beforehand.

Pioneers for the English game who are celebrated for their achievements. Racism is not as dominant in football due to the acts of these men and others outside of football. But it still plays a factor in the game we know and love.

Racism is not acceptable inside or outside of football. So this month is no better than any to learn, understand the hardships others have suffered and begin to understand why we all should be against racism.

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