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Football’s Black Pioneers By Bill Hern & David Gleave

Release date: 13th September, 2020
Publisher: Conker Editions

List Price: 16.00
Our Price: 13.60
You Save: 2.4 (15%)
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In assembling comprehensive details and tales of the first black players to represent each of England’s 92 professional league clubs, Bill Hern and David Gleave have conducted an extraordinary volume of research.

As the pair note in their introduction to Football’s Black Pioneers, the book is awash with enthralling stories, although they add: “Does it really matter what colour a player was?”

The answer should be a resounding ‘No’.

Consider this: an example which involved your correspondent who, as a young boy played with and against Clifford Marshall, then on his way to becoming an England schoolboy international and contesting (with Mike Trebilcock) the accolade of being Everton’s first black professional. Frankly, when playing as kids, no-one noticed that Clifford was black; he was just a very good player – the type of guy everyone wanted on their side when teams were being picked.

Yet something changed not long after those early teen years and Clifford would later encounter bigotry of the worst kind. Sadly, many of the players featured here suffered discrimination and racism in one form or another, but this is a book which also celebrates the contribution made by black players to English football. After all, there have been a number of very good ones.

Fred Corbett, who played for Brentford, for example, about whom one press report stated: “The are few centre forwards [in England] the equal of Fred Corbett.” Then there’s Tommy Best, who made his debut for Cardiff City in October 1948 before going on to become Ireland first black professional footballer.

Trevor Lee, Colchester’s first black player, proved his worth and earned a move to Millwall, not renowned as a place where non-white players were greeted with open arms. Incongruously, however, Lee was frequently cheered to the rafters by Lions’ supporters while black opponents received a barrage of abuse. How do we explain that?

Charlie Williams, who played for Doncaster, would go on to earn even greater fame as a stand-up comedian on television’s The Comedians and there are a number of players who have also raised their post-professional profile by writing about their experiences (Tony Collins, Paul Canoville and Howards Gayle, for example).

Though skin colour shouldn’t matter, the footballers featured here were genuine pioneers, most of whom overcame unnecessary obstacles and attitudes to become professional players, making Football’s Black Pioneers an important social history.

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