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.

@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’



The big G

It seems appropriate as the World Athletics Championships have just finished in London and Team GB finished sixth in the medal table (in large part due to the amount of UK athletes with African / Caribbean roots) to post today about two sporting legends from the 80s/90s who were an inspiration to me growing up on a council estate in Fulham.

They are Daley Thompson and Tessa Sanderson.

Now anyone of a certain age will know about the achievements of these athletes throughout the years during a time when you could still see NF (National Front) scrawled on walls, racism was even more rampant than it is today and people seemed to think it was impossible to be black and British.

WikipediaThompson, who is 59 now, is actually called Francis Morgan Ayodélé Thompson. He was born in Notting Hill to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother and suffered early childhood trauma when his dad, who was a taxi driver, was shot dead in Streatham.

He was sent to a school for troubled children at the age of seven and initially wanted to be a footballer before settling on athletics. Of course now we know he became one of the greatest decathletes of all time, with his career reaching its pinnacle in 1980 and 1984 when he won ‘the big G’ at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympic Games. He’s also won the top medal at the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.

Daley was a winner and his determined persona along with his down-to-earth approach to life (apparently he hates fame) were the main characteristics that made me want to watch him and cheer his success along with the fact that he looked a bit like me.

Sanderson was born in Jamaica in 1956 and moved to Wolverhampton in England with her family when she was six. She is obviously now known as one of Great Britain’s best female javelin throwers having won the Gold medal at the Olympics in 1984 (one of six Olympic Games which she competed at) and three top prizes at the Commonwealth Games in 1978, 1986, and 1990.

When I think of Tessa the words – well-spoken, ladylike, gracious, strong and competitive come to mind – and I guess these personality traits are why she was always well-loved by the public.

Since the end of her amazing athletic career Tessa has continued to be an inspiration outside of the sporting world after becoming a mother to twins Cassius and Ruby Mae at the age of 57 when she adopted them with her husband.

She has also been awarded a CBE for her services to Sport England and is currently pursuing a modelling career at the age of 61.

I don’t know if sporting icons, such as Tessa and Daley, know how much their achievements on a personal level encouraged so many others, but I can say that watching them compete for the UK during my childhood was truly an inspiration to me. So I’m sure that the mixed-heritage group of athletes who put their heart and soul into Team GB last week are providing the same level of hope and motivation for countless black, white and Asian children across the UK right now.

Tessa Sanderson’s website

Daley Thompson’s Twitter page



Stepping stones and milestones

Since November 29th 1978 through to the match against Scotland on November 18th 2014, 76 black players of either African or Caribbean descent have pulled on a white shirt and played for England’s international football side.

Below is a timeline of some of the major football highlights achieved in the UK by players who were either born in the Caribbean or are of Caribbean descent between 1881 and 2013.

1881 – Andrew Watson (born in British Guiana / Guyanese mother) won three international caps for Scotland


1909Walter Tull (Barbadian father) signed professionally for Tottenham Hotspur for a signing fee of £10 (pictured above)


1921 – Jack Leslie (Jamaican father) was the only professional black player in England during his time with Plymouth Argyle (pictured above)

1937 – Alfred Charles (born in Trinidad) was the first black player to sign for Southampton but only made one appearance

1948 – Lloyd Lindbergh “Lindy” Delapenha (born in Jamaica) joined Portsmouth


1951 – Giles Heron (born in Jamaica) became the first Afro-Caribbean player to play first team football for Celtic (pictured above)

1960 – Tony Collins (black father – origin unknown but likely Barbadian) was the first black manager in the English Football League, taking charge at Rochdale A.F.C. from June 1960 until September 1967

1968 – Clyde Best (born in Bermuda) one of the first black players in First Division football and was awarded a MBE in 2006 for services to football and Bermuda


1971 – Brendon Batson (born in Grenada) was the first black player to play for Arsenal’s first team and was awarded a MBE in 2000 and OBE in 2015 for services to football (pictured above)

1977 – Laurie Cunnigham (Jamaican parents) became one of the first black Caribbean players to play for England at any level when he turned out for the U21s v Scotland


Nov 29th 1978 – Viv Anderson (Jamaican parents) became the first Black footballer to play as a full international for England and was awarded a MBE in 1999 for services to football (pictured above)


1981 – Justin Fashanu (Guyanese mother) was the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee with his move from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest (pictured above)


May 1981 – Garth Crooks (Jamaican parents) became the first Black Caribbean player to score in an FA Cup final (pictured above)

1982 – Luther Blissett (born in Jamaica) was the first black player ever to score a hat-trick for England

1988 – Garth Crooks (Jamaican parents) became the first black chairman of the Professonal Footballers’ Association (picture see above)

1990 – 2010 Dwight York (born in Tobago) jointly holds the record number of participations in different World Cup competitions, including qualifying stages – six in total

1991 – Aslie Pitter (Jamaican parents) founded Britain’s first and most successful gay football club Stonewall FC (in 2010 he was appointed a MBE for his work against homophobia


June 1993 – Paul Ince (Barbadian parents) became England’s first black captain (pictured above)

1997 – Uriah Rennie (Jamaican parents) became the first Black referee in the Premier League


May 1998 – Sol Campbell (Jamaican parents) captained England at international level (pictured above)

1998 – Robbie Earle (Jamaican parents) scored Jamaica’s first ever World Cup finals goal in a 3–1 defeat by Croatia


1998 – John Barnes (born in Jamaica / Trinidadian father / Jamaican mother) was awarded a MBE and in 2006 he was voted by Liverpool fans at number five in their poll of 100 players who shook the Kop (pictured above)


2000 – Ian Wright (Jamaican parents) who was one of England’s most capped players was awarded a MBE for services to football (pictured above)

2006 – Shaka Hislop (Trinidadian parents) took part in Trinidad’s first ever World Cup finals appearance in 2006

Mar 2008 – Rio Ferdinand (St Lucian father) captained England at international level

June 2008 – Paul Ince (Barbadian parents) became the first black British manager in England’s Premier League

May 2013 – Ashley Cole (Barbadian father) captained England for one night only to mark his 100th England appearance


2013 – Paul Elliott (Jamaican parents) became the first Black footballer to be awarded a CBE. The honour was for services to equality and diversity in football (pictured above)

An officer and a gentleman

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in Kent in 1888 – his father was Barbadian and his mother was English. He became an orphan at the age of eight and was brought up at a national Methodist children’s home in Bethnal Green.

Tull became the second mixed race person to play in the top flight Football League when he joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1909. In 1911 he joined Northampton Town where he made over 100 appearances before WWI cut short his promising career.

Tull died on the battlefield in France after a military career that was as distinguished as his time as a footballer. His life is a unique, educational and moving story that is an inspiration to every person of Caribbean descent.


References / further reading:

A 19th century black footballer

When it comes to the contribution of black Caribbean people to Britain I think most people would agree that sport seems to be where we have been most successful in making our mark, and this is especially evident in terms of the national game – football.

If you asked any fan who follows English football to name three inspirational players with Caribbean roots, past or present, I don’t think they would find it too difficult.

It certainly doesn’t take too much research to find footballers of Caribbean origin playing now at the very highest levels of the game which is why I think we take it for granted that this was always the case. But the fact is there had to be someone who was first, and that person undoubtedly suffered some discrimination and prejudice to get the chance, and then finally the recognition, they deserved.

I was amazed to find that the first black Caribbean footballer who is believed to have played professionally in the UK actually started his career in Scotland and his name was Andrew Watson.

Copyright: Scottish Football museum

Copyright: Scottish Football museum

Watson actually had a Scottish father, Peter Miller Watson, and a black mother, Hannah or Anna Rose, who was from Guyana (or British Guiana as it was known before 1966) which is where Watson was born in May 1856.

According to research Watson left Guyana with his wealthy father when he was quite young and moved to Britain where he was schooled at Kings College in London. He is said to have excelled at his studies, but nothing matched his skills on the football pitch, and he soon made a name for himself as a strong, dependable full back.

When his father died in 1869 Watson was left a small fortune and moved to Scotland sometime around 1875 where he joined his first amateur football club Maxwell FC. In 1876 he played for Parkgrove FC where he also became the club’s administrator organising their fixtures among other duties.

Copyright: Scottish Sporting History

Copyright: Scottish Sporting History

In about 1880 he joined what was the biggest club in Britain at the time, Queens Park FC, and also became the club secretary.

A year later he gained his first International cap for Scotland and played on winning teams against England and Wales. He moved back to England to find work, which made him ineligible to be picked for Scotland, and became the first black player to play in the English Cup when he turned out for a side called Swifts. He would later play for another English team called Corinthians and also return to Queen’s Park for a brief period.

In 1887 Watson played for Bootle, who were based in Liverpool, and as they were known to pay their players wages and a signing fee it is believed that this is when he became the first black professional football player although unfortunately there are no records to prove it.

Watson was married twice and had four children and despite the belief that he died after moving to Sydney in Australia, he is actually buried in Richmond cemetery in Surrey.

There is no doubt that Watson would’ve suffered racism during his life and career but it is testament to his spirit and skill that he has a place in the history books. His story shows how far people of Caribbean ancestry have come in Britain, especially in the world of sport, and how much they have had to endure to earn a place on the field.

References / further reading: