Congrats to Andrew Roachford MBE

I want to say congratulations to Andrew Roachford, better known as Roachford, for his MBE which he was recently awarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

I must confess that I have a personal vested interest in this post because Andrew’s heritage is Barbadian (like mine) and his lovely mother Kath goes to my church in St Philip, and we always have a chat after the service about all sorts of things including her two sons.

A couple of weeks ago she whispered to me that Andrew, 54, had been given an MBE and I could see how proud she was from her beaming smile. Kath has also brought Andrew to church when he is visiting her on the island, and I chatted to him once, exchanging pleasantries etc. He was very shy but seemed very down-to-earth and was nice to talk to.

I saw in a Press Association article that he said it was “indeed an honour” to be awarded the MBE for his 30-year music career.

roachford

He said: “To be recognised for the work you’re doing, which is also your passion, from such a high level, is indeed an honour.”

Andrew, who was born in London, is a successful singer-songwriter who’s best known for fronting the band Roachford. They had several chart hits throughout the 1990s, including the ever popular ‘Cuddly Toy’.

In 2010 he joined a new-look ‘Mike and the Mechanics’ and has been touring Europe with the iconic group.

Andrew is a shining example of how Caribbean people positively contribute to the UK in all spheres.

I can’t wait to see his mum accompany him to Buckingham Palace to collect his award!

Find out more about Roachford on the official website – https://roachford.co.uk/

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Deaf poet wins prestigious Ted Hughes award

I’m excited to share with you an article I read today (28 March 2019) on emerging poet Raymond Antrobus who has received the prestigious Ted Hughes award for his debut collection ‘The Perseverance‘ (which was also previously named Poetry Book of the Year in 2018 by The Guardian and The Sunday Times).

Raymond is half Jamaican and half British and was born deaf, and according to the BBC article he was “thought to be dyslexic with severe learning disabilities until his deafness was discovered at the age of six”.

Photography by Tenee Attoh

Photography by Tenee Attoh

Raymond has obviously faced many difficulties in his life including, no doubt, prejudices based on his disability and mixed heritage, but he has more than overcome them and now works around the world as a freelance poet and teacher, dividing his time between the UK and Jamaica.

His poems are said to touch on a range of issues including his deafness, race, and masculinity.

As an aspiring poet myself, it is more than encouraging to hear stories like Raymond’s and to be reminded that no matter what obstacles are put in the way, we can overcome them if we are determined enough and sure of who we are and where we come from.

Below is one of my most recent poems called ‘Colour’ – let me know what you think of it in the comments.

White is always good   peaceful, pure, love

A symbol of light, hope   snowflakes or a dove.

Black is always bad   full of hate, fear and dread

This is how we know   colours mess with your head.

Red is dangerous, but also   romance or a rose

Black is deep darkness   we see how this story goes.

But I am not a colour   that is not how I’m defined.

I am as deep as the ocean   unquenchable, like the tide.

I am a rainbow forged   from multi-coloured shards.

A diamond so priceless, rare   cut from seen, unseen scars.

We are trapped by the colours   they keep us from being free,

to see the real beauty   that’s simply you, simply me.

©Karen Rollins

 

Diversity in publishing: Margaret Busby’s story

If you’ve read the ‘About Me‘ page for this blog, you might have seen that I mentioned I wrote a fictional book which I finished in 2008.

I actually found that book on my laptop a few weeks ago, and looked at it again for the first time in years. I was pleasantly impressed that it wasn’t a complete load of waffle. In fact, in my opinion, compared to a lot of other books out there it’s not half bad!

I wondered, as you might be now, why I hadn’t tried harder to get that book published. I remember sending a few letters out to some small, medium and large publishing houses but never hearing anything back from anyone. Of course that’s not surprising when you know that J.K Rowling (the multi-millionaire author of the Harry Potter series) had at least 12 rejection letters for her boy-wizard synopsis before it was finally accepted.

Rejection is part of the deal when you’re trying to become a published author especially if no-one has heard of you before.

However, we all also know that the reasons for rejections in the UK publishing industry are, in reality, multifaceted and it’s no coincidence that a lot of the writers who don’t get their work shown to the world are undoubtedly black.

Photo credit: blackhistorymonth.org.uk

So, it seems apt that the person I want to write about in this post has been advocating for a more diverse and inclusive publishing industry all her life.

Her name is Margaret Busby.

Margaret, who was born in Ghana to parents with strong links to the Caribbean including Barbados, Trinidad and Dominica, became Britain’s youngest and first black, female book publisher when she co-founded the independent publishing house Allison & Busby (A&B).

Margaret, who had graduated with a BA at the age of just 20 from the University of London, met her future business partner Clive Allison at a party at university and in 1967 they decided to start a publishing company. The pair quickly published their first book and for years after that they promoted and managed a wealth of award-winning work from some of the Caribbean’s most noted authors including Barbados’ George Lamming, Trinidad’s C.L.R. James, Trinidad-born writer Rosa Guy, and Jamaica’s Andrew Salkey.

Margaret was the Editorial Director at A&B for 20 years and in that time she is known for doing whatever she could to make sure that black people had their point of view represented in the publishing world. She was a founding member of the organisation Greater Access to Publishing, is the patron of Independent Black Publishers and a member of the Arts Council’s Diversity in Publishing steering group.

In her own right, Margaret has written for the Guardian newspaper and has regularly worked on TV and radio. She has also written stage plays and song lyrics including a tribute to Maya Angelou which was staged in October 2015 at the Royal Festival Hall.

In 2017, Margaret was awarded the Benson Medal for lifelong achievement by the Royal Society of Literature. Last year, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, The Voice newspaper listed her among eight influential black women who have contributed to the development of Britain.

Margaret Busby’s writing and publishing career is certainly inspirational, but what I find most encouraging about her life is the tireless work she has done, and continues to do, to ensure that black authors get their work recognised.

She created her own sphere of influence in the UK, at a time when black people were openly discriminated against, and she has used that platform to try to make a difference and give us a voice.

I will try to find a publisher for my book who realises that our stories are worth telling.

Further reading:

Black History Month – Margaret Busby: Doyenne of Black British Publishing

Evening Standard – Inspirational black, British women you should know about

 

 

Remembrance Sunday: Lest we forget

On Sunday 11th November many people will pay their respects to the brave men and women who died in the First and Second World Wars and subsequent conflicts to secure the freedoms we enjoy today.

Remembering those people is the least we can do, and in a world that seems to be moving further away from its humanity, I think this day of reflection is an ideal opportunity to stop thinking about ourselves for a bit and contemplate the thousands of people who made the ultimate sacrifice.

My dad, who is from Barbados, served in the British Army. He doesn’t talk much about his service but I know he is proud of being in the military and I am proud of him too. I am also proud of the countless men and women from the Caribbean, or with Caribbean heritage, who have served the UK in uniform from WWI to the present day.

I’ve already written about black WWI soldier Walter Tull on this blog but there are literally thousands of Walter Tull’s throughout our history who haven’t even been recognised for their contributions to keep Britain and its allies safe.

I mentioned in a recent post about the famous ‘Windrush Generation’ how it was news to me that the Windrush ship was actually on its return leg, when it brought hundreds of West Indians to the UK with dreams of a better life.

On the way out to the Caribbean it was packed with soldiers who had fought in WWII and were returning home to their islands with physical and emotional wounds. It saddens me that we weren’t taught that side of the story at all in school.

An article which speaks of the continuing ignorance surrounding our contribution to the UK over the years through blood, sweat and tears, and the damage it has caused, is currently on the BBC website – The Caribbean honours its overlooked WW1 soldiers.

This is a well-written piece by Gemma Handy which specifically looks at servicemen from Antigua and Barbuda who volunteered to take part in the First World War and were still treated badly by the UK.

Speaking to the BBC, the chairman of the Ex-Servicemen’s Association in Antigua Pagget Messiah says: “Blacks were begrudgingly accepted into the war effort, but their support was absolutely essential. Without it, the outcome would have been very different.”

The article also mentions how the Cenotaph in Antigua still does not feature all of the names of the men from the island who died in the Great War between 1914-1918.

But I believe the fact that their story is being told now is still an important act of remembrance, and I hope more stories like this are uncovered and shared so that everyone knows the people of the Caribbean played our part – lest we forget.

 

A Bajan Children’s Laureate

Today I want to post about Malorie Blackman who was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2013-2015.

Malorie was born in Clapham and has Barbadian parents who were part of the so-called ‘Windrush Generation‘. She is the author of a number of bestselling books including the ‘Noughts and Crosses Series’ and ‘Cloud Busting’. She’s also a successful writer for television, penning several episodes of the popular teenage drama ‘Byker Grove’, and created a stage play which was performed in 2002 called ‘The Amazing Birthday’.

MalorieBlackman

Malorie did not become a published author until the age of 28. Before that she was working in the field of computing after abandoning her dream to be an English teacher because a school career’s adviser told her black people didn’t become teachers.

But Malorie kept up writing in her spare time and later on in life tried to get her work published. Despite a few setbacks and rejections (which are the norm for most novelists), Malorie’s stories for teenagers, which mix horror and science fiction, were finally accepted by an editor at Women’s Press.

In June 2013, Malorie gained further recognition when she was named the UK’s first black Children’s Laureate.

In an interview with The Guardian’s Susanna Rustin following her appointment, Malorie spoke about how she didn’t read a book featuring black characters until the age of 23.  She added: “I was very aware that I was not in the books I was reading. I still remember feeling I was totally invisible in the world of literature… Then I thought either I can whinge about it or try to do something about it”.

Malorie revealed that she started her well-known ‘Noughts and Crosses Series’, which focuses on the elite black ‘Crosses’ and the underclass white ‘Noughts’ who are former slaves, after watching a documentary about the high-profile racist killing of black British teenager Stephen Lawrence. The books enabled Malorie to explore some of the racism she experienced as a child growing up in south London as the child of Bajan immigrants.

She believes (as I do and have written about on this blog) that it is important for black people to write their own stories from their own unique perspectives. She also advocates taking a wide approach to history in schools to ensure that children are aware of the past from a multitude of points of view, so they see themselves in the people and places that they are learning about, and don’t feel as if the past is literally being whitewashed.

Malorie told The Guardian: “We need more books that are specifically about the BME [black and minority ethnic] British experience, and that’s why I bang the drum for getting more diverse books out there, and for getting rid of the idea that if a book contains pictures of a black or Asian child, it’s going to have a limited market.”

In my opinion, Malorie’s own rise from the child of Caribbean immigrants to accomplished author and the UK’s first black Children’s Laureate is worth teaching to children who may feel their story is not worth telling. Her success and perseverance are an example to follow and her writing is an important voice for the minority in the UK.

Further reading: The British Council

Windrush Day 2018

Sorry for the gap between posts – it’s been a hectic few months.

Anyway, I had to return this month because there’s an important anniversary coming up for the black British community on June 22nd – the 70th anniversary since the arrival of the infamous Empire Windrush.

HMT_Empire_Windrush_FL9448

Now we all know, and I hope this blog has shown it too, that black people were significantly present in, and contributing to, the UK for centuries before the Windrush came to these shores, but obviously it is only fitting that we recognise this momentous occasion and celebrate the bravery of those first arrivals and the contribution they and their children have made to the UK ever since.

I have posted before about my mum taking the decision to come to the UK when she was just 19 years old to train as a nurse in 1967, and how I couldn’t imagine leaving everything I knew as a teenager for a life in a foreign country.

The 500 West Indians on board the Windrush will have faced a similar mixture of fear and trepidation – excitement at travelling to the ‘Mother Land’ but apprehension about leaving their loved ones and the life they had built for an unknown future.

Then of course, we all know that when they arrived, even though they’d been invited by the UK to come to rebuild the country after the horrendous damage caused by WWII, they were met with racism, anger and discrimination from every tier of society.

But of course they’d also come to the UK for personal reasons – to have a better life and possibly to help their families back home by sending remittances – so despite the hostility and ignorance of the British, many of them would stay and make a significant contribution to the UK financially and culturally.

I recently read on the Black History Month website that the Windrush was actually on its way back when it journeyed to the UK from Jamaica to Tilbury in 1948.

On the first leg of its voyage it actually went out to the Caribbean with hundreds of servicemen who had fought for Britain in the Second World War and were now returning to their islands with wounds and medals. I’d never heard this aspect of the Windrush story before and that’s an example of how history can be manipulated and key sacrifices forgotten.

Anyway, I’m glad the descendants of the people on the Windrush and others are making sure that those first few hundred West Indian migrants are remembered on June 22nd.

I won’t go into the recent scandal of deportations and mistreatment of the Windrush generation by the current Conservative government on this blog, but needless to say I believe it is our duty to make sure that our community’s contribution over hundreds of years, not just starting with Windrush, is never whitewashed.

So I urge everyone in the UK to salute Windrush Day 2018 by attending as many of the planned events as possible.

This is a chance for all of us to publicly show that we are proud of our ancestors and the journey they undertook; the courage they demonstrated; and the determination they displayed.

Further information – Windrush Day 2018

James Peters: England’s first black rugby union player

This month I want to go back into the archives and write about the first black man to play rugby union for England, James ‘Jimmy’ Peters (August 1879 – 26 March 1954).

Peters was born in Salford, Greater Manchester to a Jamaican father and white mother. His early life was a bit like Oliver Twist as after his father, who was a lion tamer, died (he was mauled to death by lions in a training cage), he was abandoned by his mother and sent to join another circus troupe as a bareback horse rider.

At the age of 11 Peters broke his arm, and was sent to stay at Fegan’s (yes Fegans, not Fagan’s!) orphanage in Southwark and subsequently Little Wanderers’ Home in Greenwich, where he discovered his sporting prowess and captained several of their sports teams.

Peters trained in printing and carpentry and eventually moved to Bristol, where he played for Bristol Rugby Club between 1900 and 1902 (apparently some players actually resigned because they didn’t want to play with a black man). In 1902, Peters moved to Plymouth where he represented Plymouth RUFC and the Dorset county side until 1909.

On March 17th 1906, Peters became the first black player to wear an England shirt when he won his debut cap against Scotland. It was a controversial decision because of his skin colour, and the issue around race was why Peters would not play many more games for England.

In October 1906 he was picked to play against South Africa but the Springboks refused to take the field when they noticed a black opposition player. Eventually the game went ahead, and Peters went on to be capped for England three more times between 1907 and 1908, but the issue around his race significantly curtailed his career.

In 1910, Peters lost three fingers in a dockyard accident, but he defied the odds and continued to play rugby union until 1912. The next year, after growing increasingly disillusioned with union, Peters returned to the north west of the country and took up rugby league and played for Barrow before transferring to St Helens in 1914, until he retired from the game.

The fact that Peters was known as “Darkie Peters” during his rugby career tells you all you need to know about the racial climate at the time. Every time he ran out onto the field, Peters must have been stared at, taunted and called names, but his love for rugby and skill at the game was enough to make him continue to play.

It would take 84 years before another black man would play for England, Chris Oti, but it is testament to the contribution of Peters and others after him that now no one bats an eyelid when a black player is chosen for the International rugby union team. In fact, one of the reasons I have always vehemently supported England’s rugby union and rugby league sides is because of the number of black players that were around in the late 80s/ early 90s when I was getting into sport.

Oti, Jeremy Guscott, Martin Offiah, Victor Ubogu, Steve Ojomoh, Adedayo Adebayo et al are players I could relate to, and I was more than happy to cheer them on when they were wearing the England shirt, and felt immense pride whenever the national side won.

Of course, I had no idea until recently that James Peters preceded them all, but I am so glad that through this blog I have learnt a little about his life and legacy.

Sources: World Rugby Museum / Black History Month / ITV News / Wikipedia

Black Panther: My thoughts

So I want to share some of my random thoughts on ‘Black Panther’ and although you may be thinking this post is slightly ‘off brief’, I’d argue that the film does showcase the talents of several black British actors who have Caribbean roots, so hopefully I’m more than justified in critiquing it on this blog.

wakanda (2)

Copyright: Marvel

Disclaimer: If you don’t want to know what happens in the movie then I suggest you look away right now.

First of all, I haven’t been so excited to see a film since, well, as long as I can remember.

I’m a sci-fi fan and have seen a lot of the Marvel movies, but none have made me feel anything like this one, and even before the opening scene I was ready to give the film 10 out of 10 just for making me excited to go to the cinema again.

So let me start with what I liked about the film – everything!!!

Just kidding, but I loved pretty much everything that matters – the cast and casting, the story arc, the pace, the visual effects, the script, the costumes, the characters etc etc.

Black Panther oozes style and class, and that’s not just because it’s filled with some of the best looking ‘brothas and sistas’ ever (one friend said “there aren’t any ugly people in it!”), but also because this is a film that’s aware of how it’s speaking for a community – and it has a lot to say!

There aren’t many films that transcend the movie industry and represent something more, but this film is definitely one of them.

Before I went to watch it, some friends who’d seen it before me said it filled them with pride in their blackness. They were uplifted to see people who looked like them referred to as kings and queens, and it made them feel even better to see these people with their natural hair, wearing African clothing, and kicking ass!

Some of my friends said the movie also made them proud of how many amazingly talented black people there are in the world right now, taking centre-stage in more ways than one, and using their platforms to make powerful statements.

Black Panther speaks to, and for us, and it spoke to me as not just a movie about what might have been had Africa never been colonised and our ancestors never been stolen from their land, but as to what we are capable of achieving when we treat each other as the royalty we are, and unshackle (not uncouple) our minds from the past.

Now we all want to live in Wakanda, and why not? It is obviously ideal – the sunsets are beautiful, it appears to have no crime, the people love themselves and how they look because they haven’t been influenced by a disapproving outside world, men and women have equal rights to contribute and reach their full potential – I could go on and on.

Of course you might say, it’s a fictional country so it would be perfect, but the premise remains that this points to what is possible and what heights people can reach when there are no limits.

Trouble only arrives in Wakanda from outsiders who want to use the country’s precious and mystical substance, Vibranium, for something evil.

And that is where the main protagonist comes in. An outsider, who is actually half Wakandan, in the form of villain Eric Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan) who has plans to depose the popular and much-loved new King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), steal the throne, distribute Vibranium to the black masses and force the country and its people into the world spotlight.

Killmonger wants to ‘liberate’ black people around the globe by arming them with Wakandan technology and encouraging them to use violence to take power from the predominantly white governments who have oppressed them for centuries.

I had mixed-feelings about Eric, and I actually read an interesting article after watching the film which expertly examined the character, and made me realise why I didn’t dislike him.

It argued, among other things, that Eric is not a ‘traditional villain’ mainly because the kernel behind his plan (to lift up black people who’ve been oppressed and beaten down for so long) is not really evil but is something a lot of us want, and is even actually what is partially put in motion at the end of the film.

We might not like how Eric proposes to go about it, but it’s not difficult to get on board with the idea of making the world more equal for all races by overthrowing the overt and covert racism which infiltrates the fabric of most Western societies.

I presume the varying methods of Eric and T’Challa were meant to echo the approaches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr during the American Civil Rights struggle – that’s certainly what I got from their intense dialogue and fighting scenes.

We all know that with those two individuals, even though the ideal was the same – black liberation – how they wanted to go about it was markedly different (at least initially).

But in the end Eric is defeated, although not necessarily because of what he wanted for his people, but more because of his lust for power, which even led to him destroying Wakanda’s long-established succession plans (in the form of a field of Vibranium), making it clear that he had no intention of ever leaving the throne and pitting him against the people he wanted to rule.

Eric did not appreciate the rituals of the kingdom, and wanted to control Wakanda in an oppressive fashion, which mirrored the tactics of the colonists he was supposed to despise (and some African leaders since then as well).

He said he’d learned from them how to take what you wanted, but he had not learned that this method is unsustainable, as human beings are not the easiest animals to dominate for too long. Eventually we will plot, plan, scheme and overthrow because the human spirit is even stronger than Vibranium, and can never be oppressed to the same degree as the human body.

I went to Africa last year, and one of the most moving sites I visited was the slave museum in Zanzibar, which is built on the site where slaves were held before being shipped thousands of miles from Africa – never to return.

Slave_memorial_Zanzibar

Outside the museum there is a monument which consists of five slaves in a pit who are chained together at the neck – the chain is an original (let that sink in) and signals the terror and bloodshed which took place on this historic site.

In the cramped and claustrophobic chambers beneath the museum, I received a horrifying firsthand glimpse of what black people went through as they waited to be hauled onto ships that would take them to Europe, the Caribbean and North America.

These chambers are so small that even me, at just over 5ft tall, could not stand up straight in some places. I broke down and sobbed as I imagined the hundreds of men, women and children who were kept in those holes, standing in their own waste, crying and dying where they stood, all because they had dark skin.

I say all of this to demonstrate just one of the reasons why Black Panther has become such a ‘moment’ for the black community and why it meant so much to me.

A black director, black screen writers, black producers, black actors and actresses et al in a multi-million dollar (maybe soon to be billion dollar) Hollywood movie, rightly fills us with pride, and most importantly of all with hope.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting swept up in some sort of ‘Obama is President, racism is dead’, hysteria – I’ve been around too long to fall for that (and look who we have now – racist in chief!).

But I can’t help but think that this movie, along with other slight but ongoing tremors such as ‘Black Girl Magic’, ‘Black Lives Matter’, the natural hair movement, and black people in general increasingly owning and loving their skin colour, are all signs that we are maturing as a race and reaching a place of no return, where black people know, and truly believe, that ‘we control we’ and there is nothing we cannot do.

I urge you to go and watch the film, and if you’ve already seen it, go and see it again and again and again – as many times as it takes to fill you with the mantra that ‘individually we are can make a difference, but collectively we can change the world’.

Wakanda forever!

 

Goodbye Cyrille

So most of you will probably know that former footballer Cyrille Regis died suddenly on Sunday (14th January 2018) – he was just 59 years old.

There’s no doubt that Regis was a pioneer for black British footballers – I can only imagine what he went through when he played, and had to listen to countless racists and hooligans as they booed, heckled and shouted monkey chants and other insults while throwing bananas onto the pitch.

But from all accounts Regis faced this unbelievable vitriol with courage, dignity and skill.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37924448

@cyrilleregis Twitter

The words ‘hero’ and ‘trailblazer’ are bandied around far too much, but both of those titles are more than fitting for Cyrille Regis. During his time on the pitch he became a ray of hope for every black child in the UK who dreamed of escaping their reality and finding ways to reach their full potential.

Regis was born in French Guiana (as it was known then) and moved to the UK with his family in 1962 when he was four years old, after his father Robert, who was a labourer from St Lucia, had emigrated a year earlier in search of a better life.

Regis trained as an electrician and worked in that trade until he became a professional footballer. He was playing semi-professionally for Hayes when he was spotted by West Bromwich Albion’s chief scout Ronnie Allen and moved to the club in 1977 for an initial fee of 5,000.

Regis was at Albion at the same time as two other black footballers, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham, and the trio would later be nicknamed ‘The Three Degrees’ by their manager Ron Atkinson. Whilst at West Brom he also played in a testimonial match for Len Cantello which pitted a team of white players against a team of black players – the black players won 3-2!

During his career Regis played for Coventry (where he won the only major cup of his career – the FA Cup in 1987); Aston Villa; Wolves; Wycombe Wanderers and Chester City.

Regis had dual French and British nationality but chose to play international football for England – which speaks volumes!

He made his debut for the national side in February 1982, becoming just the third black player to be capped by England at the highest level at that time, after Viv Anderson and Laurie Cunningham, but he only played in five international matches.

After football Regis worked in various coaching roles before becoming an accredited football agent. In 2008, he was awarded an MBE.

When Regis’ death was announced on Monday 15th January the number of heartfelt and glowing tributes showed what a difference he made to so many people. His former manager Atkinson told the BBC that Regis was “the best centre-forward”, but was “a better bloke than a player”.

Viv Anderson added: “Cyrille was a demon on the pitch but off it he was a kind and warm-hearted person. All three of them [Regis, Cunningham and Batson] were pioneers. I still look up to them. They forged a way for everybody and were admired by all, not just West Brom fans.”

It’s so hard to describe how much of an impact Cyrille Regis and other black sportsmen and women had in the UK during the 1970s/ 80s when race relations were at an all-time low and racism was rife.

I can only talk from my personal experience and say that I am beyond grateful for the pain and sacrifice they must have gone through in order to make it a little easier for the ones that came after them.

The dignity they displayed, and the equality that they worked so hard for, did and does lift up countless black British children, who can only aim to leave a legacy as inspiring and enduring.

Cyrille – thank you and sleep well.

Read more – Cyrille Regis was a ‘football pioneer’