20 June 2024

Black football pioneers unite to celebrate Windrush legacy

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"The legacy of the Windrush is evident in our football team as it is in our society: from Cyrille Regis, John Barnes and Rio Ferdinand to Jude Belingham and Bukayo Saka today," says a joint letter from pioneering Black football legends published ahead of Windrush Day. Together they urge that Euro 2028, hosted in the UK and Ireland, helps to highlight the Black contribution to our national game.

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Pioneering Black footballers, including Viv Anderson, England’s first Black player, have joined original Windrush passenger Alford Gardner to highlight the Black contribution to English football as England compete in the Euros and communities prepare to mark Windrush Day this weekend.

The joint letter, published today in The Guardian newspaper, is also signed by Brendon Batson, one of the pioneering ‘Three Degrees’ from West Bromwich Albion in the 1970s; Chelsea’s first Black player Paul Canoville; West Ham legend Clyde Best; and the first Black players for Manchester City, Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion.

The letter says:

The Three Lions team that we will all cheer on this week in the Euros is a symbol of England that we can all be proud of, embodying the multi-ethnic society we share today.

This Saturday marks Windrush Day, the anniversary of the 1948 ship bringing new arrivals from the Caribbean that has come to symbolise post-war migration to Britain. The legacy of the Windrush is evident in our football team as it is in our society: from Cyrille Regis, John Barnes and Rio Ferdinand to Jude Belingham and Bukayo Saka today.

Football can unite us, in support for our team and hope that we bring the trophy back this summer from Germany – before the UK and Ireland host the next Euros in 2028. That year also marks 50 years since Viv Anderson became England’s first Black full international player and 30 years since Hope Powell became the Lionesses’ first Black manager – as well as 80 years since the Windrush arrived in Britain.

It is a moment we should mark in a major way, celebrating the Black contribution to English football and using the game’s unique power to bring people of all backgrounds together.

Signed by: Alford Gardner, Windrush passenger;  Viv Anderson, first Black full international player for England; Brendon Batson OBE, one of West Bromwich Albion’s legendary ‘Three Degrees’; Clyde Best, West Ham legend; Stan Horne, Manchester City’s first Black player; Paul Canoville, Chelsea’s first Black player; Winston White, Leicester City’s first Black player; David Busby, Brighton & Hove Albion’s first Black player; Mark Chamberlain, England, Port Vale, Stoke and Portsmouth; Neville Chamberlain, first Black player for Port Vale; Steve Johnson, Wigan’s first Black player; Calvin Symonds MBE, Rochdale’s first Black player; Peter Foley MBE, first Black player at Chesterfield and Scunthorpe; Tony Ford MBE, played a record 931 league games, including for Stoke City and Grimsby Town; Greg Foxsmith and Matt Tiller, Jack Leslie Campaign; Roland Butcher, England’s first Black cricketer and first Black footballer for Stevenage; Marcus Gayle, Club Ambassador, Brentford FC; Patrick Vernon OBE, Convenor, Windrush 100 Network; Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future; Ruth Hollis, Chief Executive, Spirit of 2012; Jon Knight, Chief Executive, Together Coalition; Bill Hern and David Gleave, co-authors of Football’s Black Pioneers; Delroy Corinaldi, Black footballers partnership; Lucky Pemu, ‘Sunderland Windrush FC’, African Caribbean Community Association North East; Adrian Murrell, Windrush United FC, Preston.

An event at Birmingham Windrush Carnival this Saturday will see Brendon Batson in conversation with the Windrush 100 Network, talking about the Windrush legacy and Black contribution to football. Brendon said:

“Like so many of us, I’m proud of our diverse England team and what it represents – and I hope we’re defending champions when we host the Euros in 2028. That tournament is a chance to commemorate the Black players who paved the way for today’s stars, especially as we mark 50 years since Viv Anderson’s historic first cap and Windrush 80.

“Most fans don’t think twice now about the colour of a player’s skin. That’s certainly changed since I was playing – it wasn’t so long ago that some sections of fans booed our own players for the colour of their skin. We need to keep up the fight against racism in our sport, especially now that players are targeted on social media.”

Sunder Katwala, Director of the thinktank British Future, which helped coordinate the letter, said:

“Euro 2028 is a great opportunity to recognise the pioneering black England players who paved the way for this generation. We now have four years to plan how best to do this, at local and national level.

“The FA could host all of the living Black England players at a 2028 match to celebrate the anniversary, as a special feature of one of the pre-tournament friendlies. The football bodies should get involved in the national Windrush Day celebrations too.

“Clubs could all celebrate their pioneering Black players, which would bring this story into the heart of communities around the country, with new blue plaques highlighting players’ links to towns and cities. It would be good to see local campaigns for statues, murals and artworks – of Viv Anderson in Nottingham, Luther Blissett in Watford and Ricky Hill in Luton, for instance.

“The National Portrait Gallery should include these Black football legends in a series of new commissions to mark Windrush 80 and the Royal Mail must surely consider a new set of stamps for the tournament. And a major documentary series on the experiences of the players, their families and the fans would be a great way to capture this moment of social history.”

Bill Hern, co-author of Football’s Black Pioneers, said:

“Whether the early Black players made only a handful of appearances or, like Tony Ford, over 1,000, they helped break down barriers and overcome prejudices leading to a more united and integrated country both in society and on the pitch.”    

Windrush Day in Preston this year will honour Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, who joined Preston North End as an amateur in 1886. The inaugural Arthur Wharton Cup will take place at The University of Central Lancashire’s Sports Arena, with Lancashire Fire and Rescue playing Windrush United FC for the trophy. Special guests at the event include Oshor Williams, Preston North End’s first black captain and Howard Gayle, the first black footballer to play for Liverpool and Blackburn.

A new project in Sunderland also this year aims to honour the Windrush legacy in football while also nurturing the stars of tomorrow. The ‘Sunderland Windrush FC’ team brings together local teenagers in a team that will compete in the local league, keeping the Windrush legacy alive. The team will play at a special launch event on Windrush Day at Sunderland’s Beacon of Light venue.

Lucky Pemu of the African Caribbean Community Association North East, who came up with the idea, said:

“Sunderland Windrush FC aims to honour the contribution of Windrush pioneers and descendants to football in the UK. We want to keep the Windrush name alive as a lasting legacy and inspire the next generation of young Black players.” 

The Premier League’s Brentford FC in West London also hosts a free Windrush family day on Saturday 22 June at the Gtech community stadium.

For more information on events this weekend to mark Windrush Day (22 June) see www.windrush100.org/events



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