Football’s Black Pioneers

    (1 customer review)


    FOOTBALL’S BLACK PIONEERS – The Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Clubs

    By Bill Hern & David Gleave
    Illustrated colour paperback: 228 pages
    Pub date: 31 August 2020
    ISBN: 978-1999900854    

    Size: 148 x 210mm     RRP: £16.00

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    A new perspective on the lives, careers and experiences of groundbreaking black footballers in England.

    Ninety-two chapters tell the unique stories of the first black footballers to play for each of the English Football League clubs. Four years of original research have not only identified each of these history makers for the first time in a definitive and permanent record. They have also uncovered a wealth of fascinating, often eye-opening personal tales, which now comprise a collection of rich and hugely varied short stories.

    The stories span the period from Arthur Wharton’s debut for Sheffield United in 1885 right up to the present day, covering over 130 years of social history. They include personal interviews with many of the players – including Viv Anderson MBE, Chris Kamara, Tony Ford MBE, Neville Chamberlain and Roland Butcher – and family members of stars from the more distant past.

    Football’s Black Pioneers features an incredible variety of emotive human stories and forgotten characters, together with a powerful theme of struggle against now-unthinkable attitudes, and the revelation of countless unexpected historical facts.

    The Authors

    Bill Hern and David Gleave are two of the historians behind the Historycal Roots project, centring on black British history. Bill and David are lifelong followers of Sunderland and Crystal Palace, respectively. They remember the 1960s when Albert Johanneson was the only black player most people had heard of. Some even thought Albert was the first ever black footballer. In fact he wasn’t even Leeds United’s first black player. But who was? Who was the first black player at other League clubs? The authors found that most clubs, and indeed their fans, had no idea who their very first black player was.

    So, inspired by the words of Tony Suze, a prisoner with Nelson Mandela in the notorious Robben Island jail – “Unless you sing your own song, the hymn sheet will be buried away, your history will disappear, no matter how noble it is” – they set off on a four-year journey to identify those first black players and tell their stories.

    This book comes just in time, before their names were lost to history forever. It spans a period of great social change starting with Arthur Wharton in 1895 right through to modern-day Britain. Most of all it is a fitting tribute and celebration of the courage of those young men whose suffering and ritual humiliation played a part in eventually changing attitudes, paving the way for those black players that would follow.

    1 review for Football’s Black Pioneers

    1. Greg Foxsmith

      This is a well-researched, informative and enjoyable book, but equally a timely read.
      The book looks at each of the current 92 professional football clubs in England, and in each case reveals who the first black player was to feature for each team, going on to tell their stories. And what stories! Every chapter is stuffed full of nuggets, some historical, some contemporary. The book has the relevant stats – how many appearances, the dates, goals scored, etc, but also tells the human story- where did the player come from, what were they like, how did they start out in football, what happened afterwards? Some of these pioneers are still alive and were interviewed for the book, the others are impressively researched from archive material.
      Why timely? The book does not shy away from the issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination, treating the issue sympathetically but unflinchingly, without descending into polemic.
      There may be a temptation for footy fans seeing this book on the shelve to take a peek at the chapter relating to the team they support, read up and return to the shelf. Interesting though that exercise may be, that fan would be selling themselves short, by missing out on 91 other well-told and informative stories, of football, society and human nature. This is one to buy, and a “keeper”.

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