Natasha Henry3 Comments


Natasha Henry3 Comments

With the end of October also bringing the close of Black History Month in the UK, Natasha Henry reflects on the black football players and managers that have left an impression on her.

During Black History Month, I spent some time considering who the black players and managers are that have made a difference to me.  Although I couldn't fit everyone in, here are a few that I personally will always remember.

Justin Fashanu

He may not have reached the heights of other players but his memory continues to live on. The first publicly homosexual footballer was the brother of John. He was the first £1million black player when he moved to Nottingham Forest from Norwich City in 1981. A talented player who fought bigotry from many, including his own brother, and struggled to deal with his sexuality and the negative attention it brought him. 

At a time when the only openly gay celebrities were in the entertainment world, it was no shock that the world of football and its 'real men' his didn't appreciate his honesty and openness. Although many doubt he was prepared for the backlash that followed his 'coming out' in the Sun Newspaper. A statement backed up by the fact it took 18 years before another professional footballer admitted to being gay.

In March 1998 Fashanu was accused of the sexual assault of a 17-year-old in Maryland, USA, when he is rumoured to have immediately fled the country.   Just two months later, Justin Fashanu was found hanging in a deserted lock-up in Shoreditch, East London.  In his suicide note he said: "I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family."  At his inquest in September of that year, it was revealed that there had never been a warrant for his arrest and the investigation had been dropped.  At the time of his death, Justin was 37 years old

During a playing career spanning 19 years, he played for 26 different clubs including, West Ham United, Manchester City, Los Angeles Heat and Heart of Midlothian. Playing 362 games and scoring 131 goals. He also played for England Under-21s; scoring five goals in 11 games.

Hope Powell CBE & Rachel Yankey MBE

Hope is probably the most famous female coach, helped by the fact she was also the first female to achieve the UEFA Pro License; the highest coaching award available. She achieved this in 2003, at the same time as current England Under-21 manager, Stuart Pearce. In this year she was also inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, the second woman to achieve the recognition after the legendary, Lily Parr.

Starting her career at Millwall Lionesses, Powell made her England début at the age of 16 playing 66 games and scoring 35 goals from midfield.  When appointed as full-time England manager in 1998, she was the first full-time female football coach and in her 13 years, has taken England to five major tournaments, including the 2009 Euro Championships where England lost to Germany in the final.  Last week, Powell was appointed manager of Team GB Women's Football team for the London Olympics 2012.

A superstar for England, Arsenal and formally Fulham, Yankey has built a successful career since the days when she was the only girl playing in her local boys team. Regularly referred to as the first professional female player she is currently England's most capped star on 115, making her only the second England Women's player to cross the 100 game barrier.

During a 15 year playing career she has won 25 trophies, including nine FA Cups, one UEFA Cup and a W-League championship while playing for American side, New Jersey Wildcats. She also helped Arsenal to another domestic treble in 2011, grabbing two goals in the Continental Cup final win over Birmingham.

Yankey is also well known and respected for her community work off the pitch coaching youngsters and she was also part of BBC Sport's Academy Masterclass.

West Brom's Three Degrees: Brendan Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis

Although there were black players gracing England's leagues in the seventies, to see three in one team was fresh, brave and exciting.  The three players involved were Brendan Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis.

Ron Atkinson gave the trio their nickname after setting up a photo-shoot with the real Three Degrees who were touring in Britain at the time. The singers wore Baggies shirts while the players were dressed in fur coats.  At a time when there were no rules regarding racism, the players spent games listening to racial abuse and more worryingly, death threats. It was even harder due to the fact the West Midlands was often not the most 'forward-thinking' of areas. In the late sixties a Tory MP, Peter Griffiths, had won a seat with the slogan: 'If you want a n**ger for a neighbour, vote Labour'.

Batson was a right-back, a great reader of the game and probably one of the first to be described as a 'thinking man's footballer'. He started his career as an Arsenal schoolboy and was the first black player to feature for the Gunners first team in 1971. He only featured ten times for the North London team before moving to Cambridge United where he established himself, appearing 163 times and scoring six goals. Atkinson was his manager there and he was the captain when United won the fourth division title in the 1976/77 season. He followed his gaffer to the Midlands the year later. He only ever managed to make the England B team, making just three appearances.

A prolific striker, Cyrille Regis was undoubtedly the most famous of the three. During a 19 year career he played for six clubs including; Albion, Coventry City, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Regis' game was all about his power and strength, you could think of him as the original, Didier Drogba. Originally the Baggies were unsure of signing an unproven youngster from non-league football, but scout, Ronnie Allen, had such belief in the player he offered to contribute to the fee. The club paid an initial £5,000 with the same to follow after 20 appearances. In his first league game for West Brom against Middlesbrough he scored a screamer from 20 yards and so his love affair with the fans started. Boro's, David Mills simply described is as: 'a goal of sheer brilliance'. He was named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1978 after his first full league season and went on to play 610 times in his career, in which he scored 159 goals. He represented England at under-21, B and senior level; picking up 14 caps and scoring three, all of which came for the under-21's.

The first English player to represent Real Madrid, Laurie Cunningham (pictured above) was a left winger with flair and style; some might say way ahead of his time. Although Viv Anderson was the first black player to pull on an England shirt, Cunningham was the first one to feature in a competitive match. Although he only spent two years at the Hawthorns, he, along with Batson and Regis always feature in fan's best XI lists. Cunningham's pace and agility on the ball was one of the reasons Real quickly signed the midfielder, although he didn't seem to get the same recognition at home, only winning six senior England caps. While in Italy, he won the La Liga with the club in 1980 and the Copa del Rey in 1980 + 81. But following this time, the player began to suffer with repetitive injuries although he was part of the legendary Wimbledon team, which beat Liverpool in the FA Cup in 1988. A victory that would've seemed sweet justice to the player, who was part of the Real team that lost to the Reds in the 1981 European Cup Final.  Sadly, Cunningham passed away in 1989 at the age of 33; following a fatal car crash in Madrid, he was playing for Rayo Vallecano at the time.

Batson and Regis were awarded their MBE's in 2000 and 2008 respectively

Viv Anderson MBE

Most famous for being the first black footballer to represent England, Anderson's ground breaking experience saw the start of many changes throughout the game.

As a defender he was known for his gangly physic and he spent the first ten years of his career in a successful Nottingham Forest team. Playing in England in the 70's was far different to the game we all know and love now and Anderson suffered regular racial abuse while playing under the great Brian Clough. A manager who Justin Fashanu also played under, it was clear Clough saw talent before he saw skin colour. When later talking about his time at Nottingham Forest, Anderson said: “Racists were raining down fruit. Brian Clough just said, 'get me two pears and a banana.'”

It was Ron Greenwood who called Anderson up to the national team in 1978, with him going on to play 30 games for his country, scoring two goals against Turkey and the former Yugoslavia in 1986 and 1988 respectively.

During a career that spanned 21 years and seven trophies he played for six clubs including Arsenal, Manchester United and Barnsley.

Keith Alexander

Keith Alexander's story reminds us all of the purity of football, the dream of a boy to go from non-league football to become a well respected player and manager. Alexander started his playing career at the age of 19 with Arnold Town. He played for various non-league clubs over 13 years, including Stamford, where the centre-forward won the FA Vase Trophy.

It was in 1986 that Barry Fry took him to Barnet Town, where he scored 22 goals in 72 during two seasons where the Bees narrowly missed out on promotion to the football league. It was his impressive form at Barnet that encouraged then Grimsby manager, Alan Buckley, to take him to the league club.

But Keith is probably more famous for being the first permanent black manager in the Football League. He managed Ilkeston Town and Northwich Victoria in the lower leagues before returning to former club Lincoln City for a second time, taking the Imps to four consecutive play-offs, including two finals at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. He had a short spell at Peterborough United before taking over at Macclesfield Town in February 2008. He saved the club from relegation and had been awarded a new contract just two months before his death in March 2010, aged 53. As well as clubs up and down the country, the England senior and Under-21 teams, held moments of remembrance and wore black armbands following his passing. He was known for working with many charitable organisations and his family continues this trend.

Former players such as Chris Powell, Chris Hughton and Paul Ince have all cited Alexander's managerial career as an inspiration for their own. In October 2010 he was posthumously honoured with the lifetime achievement award by the Football Black List Awards, who now have an award named after him.

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