There are conflicting views of the origin of football, according to the Football Federation, “what is incontestable is how football has flourished over a thousand years in diverse rudimentary forms in the very region which we describe as its home, Britain” Records of black players in Britain date back to the presence of Andrew Watson in Scotland from 1876 and Robert Walk of Queen’s Park in the 1870s. Arthur Wharton was, however, the first black professional to play in the Football League from 1885.
Although people often refer to Laurie Cunningham as the first Black Professional Player to represent England, records now show that Benjamin Odeje a South-East Londoner of Nigerian origin represented England against Northern Ireland at Wembley in 1971. The game ending with a 1:0 win to England.
Perhaps better known is the presence of black players who played in the top league level (now Premier League) from the 1960s onwards such as Tony Whelan for Manchester United; Stan Horne for Aston Villa and Manchester City and John Charles for West Ham United; Mike Trebilcock for Everton all in the 1960s. Numbers gradually grew through the 70s into the 80s with Paul Canoville debuting for Chelsea in 1982 and John Barnes appearing on the scene in the early 1980s. Prior to this, it’s said that West Bromwich Albion started to really change the colour of the game with Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson all playing together in the 1978/79 season.
Research from talkSPORT reveal that at the opening weekend of the first Premier League season in 1992, there were 218 British players across all starting line-ups, 36 of whom were from BAME backgrounds; a proportion of 16.5& As of the 2017/18 season, the proportion had increased to 33%. To my understanding, this does not include black players from outside of Britain.
A sad feature that has come with the diversification of the background of football players is racism. We’ve come a long way since banana skins were thrown at black players and supporters made monkey chants during each and every match. Kick it Out, the campaign launched in 1993 to kick racism out of football is noted for its work to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive changes in football. Sadly, the problem hasn’t truly gone away.
I agree with John Barnes when he states that “racism is a problem of society and not just football.” After all football spectators are a representation of at least parts of society. They may not outwardly express the racist opinions and points of view that they demonstrate at football stadiums in other areas of their lives. If what they express while at football stadiums is a reflection of who they are, it will be reflected in how they feel and behave in relation to race-related issues – even if their actions are often subtle and potentially explained away as something else.
The solutions to the problem really start with educating the hearts and minds of people on issues relating to race. I believe this is the only way which things will get better. I hope my 31 Days of Black History is a good start! J We’ve been sanctioning people for quite some time now and I believe that it’s fair to say sanctions may serve to suppress people from expressing the way they feel. They may also deter others from speaking out. They won’t change the way people think and feel or act once they get beyond the stadium gate. In fact, it could be argued that suppressing football supporters may actually serve to frustrate them and make them more passive-aggressive if not outright aggressive outside the arena. Think of the child shouted at or told to leave the room when s/he roughly plays with the new baby who starts acting spitefully towards the baby when no one is looking. The child would have behaved differently if guided and supported in interacting with the baby. I believe that there is a parallel with racism. We really don’t teach the history of our diversity and the value that people of colour have brought to our society over the years and improve the general perception of black people in society.
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