Thanks to a select group of pioneering black Bajan footballers, no country in the world has had a greater impact on the history of English football than Barbados. That statement might come as a shock to some. After all, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have reached the World Cup Finals whereas Barbados has never come close to qualifying.
To be honest this also came as a surprise to David Gleave and me as we wrote Football’s Black Pioneers – The Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 English League Clubs.
One of the reasons this fact is little known is the modesty of Barbadians. We believe that now is the time to cast aside this bashfulness and SHOUT from the rooftops all that these Bajan ‘football pioneers’ have achieved and how they overcame racism and unthinkable attitudes to influence the history of English football.
The first and most famous was Walter Tull, currently the subject of an excellent on-line exhibition created by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society.
Walter was the son of Daniel Tull a carpenter, born on the Clifton Hill Estate, who found his way to England where he married a local white woman. Tragedy struck as Walter’s mother died, closely followed by his father. He was brought up, along with his brother Edward, in an orphanage in East London.
Edward would enjoy much success in life becoming one of the first ever black dentists in Britain but it is Walter’s story we are telling here.
An excellent footballer, Walter signed for amateur side Clapton FC in October 1908 and won an FA Amateur Cup-winners medal that season when his team beat Eston 6-0 in the Final. Unusually, Walter didn’t score in that game, having been a prolific marksman for Clapton throughout the season. Walter was also training as a printer and passed his apprenticeship shortly before he joined Tottenham Hotspur (the famous Spurs) as a professional on 13th May 1909 immediately before joining his new team mates on a tour of South America.
On his return to England Walter made his Football League debut for Spurs in a 3-1 defeat at Sunderland. This was Spurs’ first ever game in the top Division of English football. He was the first black player to appear for Spurs.
In a game at Bristol City in1909 Walter suffered the most horrific racist abuse. Walter never played regularly for Spurs after that. Many feel that the Spurs’ directors didn’t know how to handle the hostile crowd reaction towards Walter.
The Athletic News of 20th April 1909 described Walter as having the “rare distinction of being the only coloured player in first-class Association football” and was the “son of a West Indian gentleman.”
Newspaper reports from the time variously described Walter as:
- A gentleman of colour
- A man of colour
- The only coloured player
Perhaps the most racist comment, although in those days no doubt well intended, was the description of Walter as “Dark skinned, massive in build, strong as a lion, was Walter Tull. If ever a man of his skin had red blood and a white man’s heart it was Wally.” The writer no doubt believed that a white man’s heart was somehow superior to that of a black man.
In October 1911 Walter joined Southern League side Northampton Town where he also became that club’s first black player. He was a first team regular until War broke out in 1914.
Walter did not hesitate to enlist and in December 1914 joined the Footballers’ Battalion – the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment as a Private. After training he was sent to the Western Front in November 1915.
He rose to the rank of Lance Sergeant but contracted pneumonia in the spring of 1916 and was also suffering from shell shock. He was hospitalised in England for three months before returning to France.
In October 1916 he fought in the Battle of the Somme.
Walter was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant (officer rank) on 30th May 1917. Army regulations at the time were clear that anyone who was a ‘negro or person of colour’ could not be an officer. There was no question of Walter being able to pass as ‘white’ and his fame was such that everyone knew he was of mixed heritage. It is a mark of the esteem in which Walter was held that an exception was made for him. His fellow officer Second Lieutenant Pickard wrote that Walter was “brave and conscientious” and “liked by his men.”
Walter’s officer training took place in Scotland and it was during his time there that in February 1917 he signed as a footballer for Glasgow Rangers. Sadly he was never to pull on a Rangers jersey.
In August 1917 after Walter had returned to France as an officer, he wrote to his brother Edward saying that he was going to seek a transfer to the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR). There is no evidence that he carried out this intention. Although the BWIR was for black troops, all its officers were white. Walter would again have stood out as a black person in what was then a white man’s environment.
In November 1917 the 23rd Middlesex Regiment was posted to the Italian Front. During his period here Walter was cited for bravery.
Walter saw action in Italy until March 1918. Just as he had when a footballer, he led from the front. There is evidence that Walter was recommended for a Military Cross, not least of all in the form of a letter from Second Lieutenant Pickard, which said Walter “had been put forward for the Military Cross and certainly earned it.” To this day no such award has been made, the Ministry of Defence claiming they have no record of any recommendation.
Walter had a spell of leave in England in February 1918. Tragically, he had just one month left to live.
Walter returned to France on 8th March 1918 and was killed in action near Favreuil on 25th March during the First Battle of Bapaume. His body was never recovered.
Walter is commemorated at the Arras Memorial along with 34,784 others who gave their lives.
It is now commonly acknowledged that Walter was not the first black British officer but perhaps, he quite possibly was the first to have been born in England.
The second Barbadian ‘pioneer’ is Eddie Parris and he really should be as well-known as Walter Tull. He was the first black player to appear for Bournemouth, Luton and Cheltenham but his main claim to fame is that in 1931 he became the first black player to play international football for Wales. He was only the second ever black international (after Andrew Watson who played for Scotland in 1881.) It would be 48 years before another black player featured for Wales.
Eddie’s story starts in the parish of St Michael where his father, John Edward Parris was born on 3rd October 1874 to John Parris and his wife Rebecca Parris nee Aboah.
We don’t know when John (also known as Eddie) arrived in Britain but in October 1909 he married Annie Alford in Chepstow, Wales. Although only 24, Annie was a widow, her deceased husband having been 48 years older than her. She already had two children only one of whom, a girl called Mabel, lived with her.
John and Annie settled in Chepstow where they had two more children, Eddie on 31st January 1911 and another daughter, Annie, who was born on 6th September 1916. John worked for the Post Office as a wireman or telegraph linesman. It was a skilled job.
Like so many men of his generation, John’s life was disrupted by the outbreak of World War One. He enlisted on 26th September 1916 and was posted to the Royal Engineers. He would have been one of the few black soldiers serving in a regular unit of the British Army. He left his wife to care for their three children, the youngest of whom was less than three weeks old.
Following a period of initial training he was assigned to duties in Salonica, Greece. John’s role was to provide support to the troops by utilising his skills as a wireman.
Living conditions were harsh. Winter and summer brought extremes of climate and disease – especially malaria – caused many more casualties than the fighting. In October 1917 Eddie was diagnosed with malaria. All too often this proved fatal but Eddie was fortunate and was able to re-join his unit.
Although the War technically ended on Armistice Day, 11th November 1918, it took a while for soldiers to be discharged and some proved more essential than others. That was the case with John, an authorisation was made that he should be ‘temporarily retained for Military Duties in accordance with Demobilisation Regulations.’
On 20th June 1919 Eddie was involved in an accident in Salonica and suffered second degree burns to his face and right hand.
The injuries were serious and one month later John was invalided back to England. He was admitted to the Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield for treatment and a medical assessment.
He was discharged from hospital on 23rd August when a Medical Board comprising a chair and two members decided he had no disability.
He was however allowed to leave the Forces. John was once again a civilian and could return home to Chepstow and see his youngest daughter Annie for the first time since she was 20 days old.
All of this means that Eddie had an unusual childhood. He was the product of a mixed marriage, something that was widely frowned upon at that time. He would have been one of the very few non-white people in Chepstow. And for three years between 1916 to 1919 he was the man of an otherwise all female household – albeit he was only 5 years old when his father went to War.
What is clear is that he could play football. While he was playing for Chepstow Town, he was spotted by Bradford Park Avenue manager Claude Ingram and signed for the Yorkshire club, then in the old Second Division (now the Championship), in August 1928.
Eddie made his debut at outside left and scored in the 42nd minute in a 1-1 draw in a Third Round FA Cup game at Hull City on 12th January 1929. He was only 17 years old.
Herbert Campbell a reporter for the Leeds Evening Mercury reported under the totally politically incorrect headline of: COLOURED BOY’S CUP TIE HIT. Goal in first big game.
“The ball being cut across to the right and then flying back across goal for Parris to run in, and although going on the ground along with his tackler, Goldsmith, spring to his feet and lift the ball from the corner of the penalty area with superb accuracy and strength over Maddison’s uplifted arms.”
Eddie also played in the replay, which Bradford won 3-1 as well as eight League games in the remainder of the season, scoring four more goals.
Eddie went into the record books for all time on 5th December 1931 when he became the first black player to play football for Wales. The match against Ireland was played at Windsor Park, Belfast before 11,000 people and Ireland won 4-0. Eddie never won another cap but he had earned a place in history.
One newspaper, partly realising that history was being made commented;
“Rarely, if ever, has a coloured player appeared in an international Soccer match, and much interest was aroused by the announcement that Parris, the Bradford outside left had been selected to play for Wales.”
Eddie continued playing for Bradford until 1934 when he joined Bournemouth and became their first ever black player. Eddie repeated that feat at his next two clubs; Luton and Cheltenham.
Eddie died in Gloucestershire in 1971. He is remembered as only the second ever black international in the history of British football.
If you want to know more about the life of Eddie’s father John Parris you can read his story here: John Edward Parris – A Black soldier in World War One (historycalroots.com)
The third Barbadian ‘pioneer’ is Albert Payne who in 1946 became Tranmere Rovers’ first black player. Albert was the grandson of Barbadian Joseph Stanley Payne. Joseph was the son of Nicholas and Sarah Ann Payne nee Wilson.
As a young man Joseph went to sea and, as so many seamen did, eventually made Liverpool his home. It was here that he married a local white girl, Sarah Ann Mansfield, in 1880. In 1893 Joseph and Sarah had a son, George Henry, who joined the growing ranks of Liverpool’s mixed heritage community. Sadly Joseph died at sea in 1899.
In 1918 George Henry married local girl, Isabella McDevitt, and they had at least three children together, one of whom was George Payne. George would go on to make 467 appearances in goal for Tranmere Rovers in all competitions.
George Payne had an outstanding career at Tranmere but he wasn’t their first black or mixed heritage player, that honour belongs to Albert Charles Payne who made his debut on 31st August 1946, more than six months before George who was his cousin.
Albert was born in Liverpool on 11th November 1923, the son of Albert Ernest Payne and, like George, the grandson of Joseph Stanley Payne.”
Albert was on Tranmere Rovers books’ when the Second World War broke out. Inevitably Albert was called up to serve his country and, as a twenty year old he was involved in the D Day landings in 1944. He was shot and wounded in the shoulder, carrying a scar for the rest of his days.
After the end of the War, Albert made his Football League debut on 31st August 1946. On that day he became Tranmere’s first black or mixed heritage player. Albert was a wing half who, in the words of his son, “liked to get stuck in,” sometimes at considerable cost to himself, he broke his leg at least once during his career.
In 1952 the life of a professional footballer was neither particularly glamourous nor well rewarded and Albert decided to leave the game and move to London.
Albert really landed on his feet when he started working for John Aspinall who had made his fortune hosting private gaming parties. When Aspinall opened the Clermont Club in London’s Berkeley Square, Albert became head valet catering for the needs of the gamblers. Albert was well regarded by Aspinall who gave him various gifts during his time at the club.
Albert died in South London on 3rd August 2008.
Tommy Best was born in Milford Haven in Wales on 23rd December 1920. His parents were Thomas Daniel Best a seaman who was born in Barbados in 1884 and Welsh-born Gladys Mariena Best.
Tommy would go on to be yet another history-making footballer of Barbadian heritage.
In 1921, the population in Milford Haven was only 7,772. In 2001 99.2% of the population described itself as white. No doubt that percentage would have been even higher in 1920. Tommy must have stood out in the white-dominated Milford Haven of the 1920s.
Tommy served in the Royal Navy in World War Two and was stationed aboard HMS Gloman, a minesweeper. The ship was damaged by German bombing while berthed in Belfast which meant Tommy and the crew had to remain there longer than planned. While there he played for Drumcondra of Dublin who were a man short for a cup tie against Belfast Celtic. Tommy scored a goal and although Belfast Celtic were eliminated they were impressed enough with Tommy to sign him. Tommy therefore became the first black player to play professionally in the top tier of Irish football.
Like many black players of his day he was referred to as ‘Darkie’ Best but did not regard this as offensive, it was, he said, more a term of affection.
He spent a season at Belfast Celtic but had to leave as he was posted to Queensland, Australia. Tommy didn’t like Australia as he was unhappy with the racism shown towards Aboriginals.
At the end of the war he came home and played for his local side Milford who reached the final of the Welsh Football League Cup in 1946/47.
Tommy attracted the interest of several league clubs. He eventually signed for Division Three (North) Chester in July 1947 becoming the first black player for the club.
In 1948 Tommy joined Cardiff City, this meant going up a Division as Cardiff had recently been promoted to Division Two. The transfer fee was £7,000 which was a record sale for Chester.
Tommy made his Cardiff debut on 30th October 1948 in a 2-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion. He was the first black player to appear for the Welsh club.
Tommy had a great start to the 1949/50 season scoring five goals in the first eight games including the only goal in a 1-0 home win over great rivals Swansea. However, results weren’t brilliant with Cardiff lying in 12th position when Tommy was injured in late September. In Tommy’s absence Cardiff slumped to 19th place before he reappeared on 19th November in a 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United. This was to prove Tommy’s last game for Cardiff and he joined Division Two side Queens Park Rangers in December 1949. Where he became the first black player for the London side.
Tommy made his Queens Park Rangers debut on 10th December in a 1-1 draw away to Blackburn Rovers and scored his first goal exactly one week later in a 1-1 home draw against Leeds. He made what was to prove his last ever League appearance at Swansea on 10th April 1950, Rangers won the game by the only goal.
He later had spells with Milford Haven, Bromsgrove Rovers and Hereford United.
Mainly due to the War and starting his English League football career at the age of 26, Tommy had a short career in League football – only 81 appearances over three seasons with three different clubs. But his total of 28 goals was a respectable if not prolific return. Some felt he should have been capped by Wales but he never was.
Tommy lived a long life, dying in his 98th year in 2008.
The next footballing pioneer from Barbados was a highly competent footballer but found even greater fame and fortune as a comedian and TV personality.
Charlie Williams was not only the first black player to appear for Doncaster he was also the first black comedian of any fame in Britain.
Charlie was brought up in a small village in Yorkshire. There were only two black people in the entire village, Charlie and his father (also called Charles) who was born in Barbados in approximately 1879.
Charlie was a Yorkshireman through and through. He had a rich Yorkshire accent and had little experience of West Indian culture or traditions. His father had been a seaman who for some unknown reason ended up living in Yorkshire many miles from the the sea from 1919 until his death in 1944.
Life was hard as a single parent. Charles was illiterate, so Charlie would read to his father every evening. The pair had an incredible bond and Charlie was heartbroken when his father died.
On the football field Charlie attracted the attention of professional clubs and eventually signed for Doncaster Rovers and by 1947/48 was playing in their reserve team.
He was a no nonsense player. His attitude was “you might get past me, the ball might get past me, but never both at the same time”. He was recognised as one of the hardest players in the league.
Charlie made his debut for Doncaster on 3rd May 1950 in a home game against Tranmere Rovers, 15,107 fans turned up to see Doncaster draw 1-1.
Strangely Charlie played no more first team games until 1954/55 but he became a regular for the rest of his career totting up 171 League and cup games for Doncaster before leaving in 1959.
A black player was a real rarity in the early 1950s. The only other one of note at that time was Roy Brown at Stoke. Charlie must have stuck out like a sore thumb but he’d had that all his life in South Yorkshire.
Charlie suffered racist comments both from opposition players and their supporters. In typical Charlie fashion and almost certainly influenced by his father’s teaching he simply turned the other cheek. Some might say he should have fought back but we can really have no idea what it was like for Charlie to have been in a totally white environment but with a black skin. To the watching public Charlie was a black person and therefore ‘not one of us’ but Charlie was as Yorkshire as they come and knew no differently.
In February 1960 Charlie accepted a lucrative offer to go and play in Australia for Sydney FC. However, once the Australian authorities examined his documentation and found he was black, the offer was withdrawn. This caused massive controversy in England as well as Australia. Eventually the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies became involved and had to stress that there was no colour bar in Australia. The job offer was hastily renewed but Charlie stuck to his principles and decided to remain in England, a decision he never regretted.
Charlie gradually built his reputation as a singer and comedian in the social clubs of Yorkshire. He got his big break through the TV show The Comedians. This show broadcast stand-up routines from club comedians and Charlie was not only very funny but was also unforgettable as a black comedian with a broad Yorkshire accent.
It’s as well that Charlie had a successful career as a comedian as he suffered racism in trying find other employment once his football career was over. He once applied for a job as a delivery driver for a baker. The baker said he’d liked to have employed Charlie but people wouldn’t be happy about having a ‘coloured’ person delivering their bread so he had to turn him down. Outwardly Charlie seems never to have felt bitterness or hurt. We will never know how he felt inwardly.
Charlie died on 2nd September 2006.
No one can ever replicate what Charlie went through. In today’s multi-cultural Britain there will never again be another person who was brought up in such unique circumstances. Charlie was a black boy brought up as a Yorkshireman in a totally white dominated world. There were no black children at his school, no black families in his home town, no black people in newspapers, no TV or social media and no black faces in the cinema.
For lots of reasons there will never be anyone quite like Charlie Williams but he left a lasting legacy on the football pitch, the stage and in black history.
There can’t be any other footballer who received an MBE, featured on This is Your Life, has a commemorative plaque in their home town, achieved the accolade of being voted his club’s all-time cult hero and received a life time achievement award at the Black Comedy Awards. Charlie Williams did all of this. Not bad for the son of an illiterate Barbadian seaman.
This link provides more details of Charlie’s father: Charles Williams: A Mystery (historycalroots.com)
The next Barbadian to feature is Roland Butcher. Don’t worry, we haven’t switched sports to cricket! Roland was in fact the first black player to feature for Stevenage Athletic Football Club. He does of course have an even greater place in sporting history as he was the first black player to play cricket for England.
Roland was born in St Phillip on 14th October 1953. His parents moved to England in the late 1950s leaving Roland and his sister, along with several cousins, in the care of his grandmother. The plan was that the parents settled in England and then called for Roland and his sister to join them. However, life in Barbados was good for young Roland who excelled at cricket and showed no desire to move to England. Nor was his grandmother keen to let the youngsters move from her care. The responsibility for bringing up so many grandchildren clearly had a positive effect on her and she lived into her 100th year.
Eventually, in May 1967, when he was 13 years old, Roland’s parents had to insist that he and his sister come across to Stevenage where the Butcher family had settled.
Roland quickly made friends and found that football, rather than cricket, was the preferred sport. Thus cricket took a back seat for a while. He quickly became passionate about football, playing it at every opportunity.
Ironically it was through football that Roland got back into cricket. One Sunday after playing football at St George’s Park in Stevenage Roland and his mates, tired and hungry, were getting ready to return home for Sunday dinner. A group of men from Stevenage Cricket Club’s Third XI were setting up a cricket match and they asked if any of the footballers wanted to play as they were a man short. Roland reluctantly agreed to play and went home to change into a white shirt and then return to the park.
He doesn’t recall doing anything outstanding, “a couple of catches and a few runs” but he was asked to return the following week. He quickly advanced into the Second and then the First team.
The Comet newspaper of 19 August 2015 quoted Peter Allen, the president of Stevenage Cricket Club, recalling how Roland made his debut for the club.
“It was extremely controversial and I was called before the full club committee meeting to explain why I had selected someone so young for the first XI.
I told them he was a natural and they should back my judgement. Fortunately they did and on his debut against Hitchin, I remember Roland took their attack apart.
He was as good a player I have ever played with, even at that age and believe me, we have had some good players over the years here at Stevenage.’’
Roland was also to meet another person who would have a great influence on his career – Cyril Hammond. Cyril was a native of Stevenage and club secretary of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. He recommended Roland to the county and, after a trial, Roland joined Gloucestershire.
Gloucestershire decided to allow Roland to join the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Young Cricketers in 1970. He spent two years there along with the likes of Ian Botham.
Roland also made two appearances for Gloucestershire Second XI in 1971. He didn’t set the world on fire, averaging only 17.66, but he did finish above team mate Zaheer Abbas. There can’t have been many 17-year olds who can boast such a feat. Zaheer, then 24 years old, went on to score 108 career centuries and is the only player to have scored a hundred and a double hundred in a first class match on four occasions.
While at Lords, Middlesex watched Roland and liked what they saw. In 1972 they offered him a contract which he duly accepted. He meant no offence to Gloucestershire by joining a rival county but they weren’t too pleased. They were probably even less pleased when, in 1978, Roland hit his maiden First class century (142) against his ex-county. Always an explosive batsman, 112 of his runs came in boundaries.
Roland went on to give sterling service to a very strong and successful Middlesex team also becoming their first ever black captain.
Meanwhile back in Stevenage, Roland continued playing football and appeared on a semi-professional basis for Biggleswade and Stevenage. He played as a striker but didn’t make many appearances as cricket eventually came to dominate his sporting life.
Roland has maintained a connection with football. He is a UEFA certified coach and took his coaching badges at the same time as current Leicester City manager Brendan Rogers who later, as Academy Director, employed Roland as a coach at Reading before he left to join Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. Roland has also worked with Arsenal, coaching schoolboys and played most Sundays for 10 years for the ex-Arsenal players’ side in charity events at both football and cricket.
Roland won his first cap for England in Bridgetown against the West Indies on 13th March 1981, a game marred by the tragic death of England manager Ken Barrington on the second day. When I interviewed Roland I asked him how his decision to play for England rather than the West Indies was taken by his fellow Bajans.
He told me he was treated royally by his fellow West Indians. There was, in general, no animosity but he did tell me of a letter, which he still has, from a disgruntled West Indian supporter. It began “Dear Butcher” and went on to state “You’ve taken us back to the days of slavery. Judas was paid 13 pieces of silver, how much were you paid?”
Roland Butcher will always have a place in sporting history as the first black player to play cricket for England. He played in three tests and three One Day Internationals. He served Middlesex for 16 years and also played for Tasmania and was coach of the Bermuda national team. He scored over 12,000 runs, hitting 17 centuries with a best score of 197 at Lords against Yorkshire in 1982. He is a respected cricket administrator and his views are often sought by the West Indian and British media. He also speaks eloquently and authoritatively about wider issues such as the British Government’s treatment of the Windrush generation. But he is also celebrated as Stevenage’s first black player and one of the pioneers of the 1970s who helped pave the way for today’s black footballers.
Andrew (Andy) McArthur Alleyne
Andrew (Andy) McArthur Alleyne is usually said to have been born in Springtown, Barbados on 19th May 1951 but our guess is that his place of birth was in fact Speightstown. What is known for certain is that as a child he moved, like many Barbadians, to Reading in England. In fact Speightstown is twinned with Reading.
Andy signed for Reading and made his League debut against Southport on 21st October 1972. He was the first black player to appear for Reading. It was a remarkable debut as Andy scored Reading’s equaliser – from the half-way line. The Liverpool Echo of 23rd October 1972 described the goal as follows; “Andy Alleyne, Reading’s young West Indian full-back who was making his debut, hit a speculative ball into the Southport goal area from the half-way line and goalkeeper Gregson allowed it to slip through his hands into the net.”
Reading manager Charlie Hurley showed faith in young Andy and made him virtually a regular in the right-back slot. However, Andy’s first season was to prove to be the peak of his career. In the summer of 1973 Hurley signed Scot Stewart Henderson from Brighton and he made the right back position his own. Andy managed only six appearances in 1973/74.
The following season was little better with Andy starting only 15 League games.
Andy was released by Reading in May 1976.
Andy’s release from Reading coincided with a more important landmark in his life when he married fellow Barbadian Maureen Braithwaite in Reading on 8th May 1976.
Sadly Andy was diagnosed with cancer while in Barbados in 2010. After a long illness he passed away in Reading on 20th June 2012. He was 61 years old.
As proof of Andy’s popularity with the Reading public a memorial service in his honour held at the Reading Globe was attended by over 1,000 people.
Although he made only 53 appearances for Reading he is fondly remembered as a fine full-back and at only 5 feet 5 inches tall with blistering pace gained the nickname “Pocket Rocket”.
Dave Busby was born in London in 1956 and was brought up by his mum Velma who was from Six Mens in St Peter.
After an unsuccessful trial for Brian Clough’s Derby County, Dave signed for Brighton where after playing well in the Youth and Reserve teams, he was named as substitute for the home game against Shrewsbury on 20th October 1973. He became Brighton’s first black player when in the 78th minute he ran onto the Goldstone Ground in place of John Boyle. Brighton won the game 2-0 in front of 5,308 fans.
Dave was barely 17 years of age when he made his League debut so he clearly had lots of potential.
At the end of October 1973, the sensational news was that Brian Clough was to be the new Brighton manager and he was bringing his assistant, Peter Taylor with him. The pair had left Derby County in controversial circumstances and were now dropping down two divisions to take the reins at Brighton.
Although Brighton didn’t do well under Clough, Dave couldn’t force his way back into the first team. Clough preferred to sign and play established players.
Clough’s ill-fated reign ended before the following season started when he left to join Leeds United. Taylor remained at Brighton.
Dave had done enough in the 1973/74 season to be offered a professional contract which he duly signed in August 1974.
Taylor must have been impressed by Dave in pre-season as he named him as an unused substitute in two of Brighton’s early games in August 1974 before he came on as substitute in a losing League Cup game at home to Reading on 5th September 1974. Dave had one great chance to score, lobbing the goalkeeper but then seeing the ball hit the bar.
Dave’s big day came on 7th September 1974 when he made his full debut at Blackburn Rovers. Brighton lost 1-0 but Dave played the full 90 minutes. He almost scored too, a professional foul by goalkeeper Roger Jones prevented him from doing so.
After missing the next game, Dave came on as substitute on 18th September 1974 in a 1-1 draw with Port Vale.
Things seemed to be looking up but strangely Dave never featured in the first team again. In fact, the Port Vale game was the last time he played League football. He was handed a free transfer at the end of the season. At 18 his Football League career was over.
After Brighton, Dave put ideas of a professional football career on hold. Then, he was invited for a trial with Blackpool where he did well enough to be kept on for three months without making the first team. He then joined non-league Barrow after shining for them in a pre-season friendly game against his old side Blackpool.
He became the first black player to appear for Barrow when he made his debut at home to Yeovil Town on 18th August 1979.
There is no doubt that Dave had the talent to reach greater heights as a player. He told me that as the only black player at several of his clubs he felt isolated and lacked a mentor to whom he could talk and turn to for advice. Perhaps with more support and understanding in his early playing days he would have learned these lessons more quickly but how much better if racist comments and behaviour had been stamped out of football much earlier.
Just when it might have seemed there were no more football records Barbadians could break, along comes Tony Ford, the son of a wrestler called Charles Herbert from St Simon, to break the record of most outfield appearances of any footballer in English League history. Only Peter Shilton has made more appearances than Tony, who played 1,081 games.
Tony joined his local team Grimsby Town on leaving school and progressed swiftly through the youth and reserve sides. On 4th October 1975 Tony became not only Grimsby’s youngest ever player but also their first black player.
The match was a Third Division affair at Walsall watched by 4,113 people. Manager Tommy Casey sent Tony on as substitute for Phil Hubbard. The match ended 2-0 in Walsall’s favour. Tony was still only 16 years old.
Tony made his full debut at Swindon on 25th October 1975, a 3-0 defeat. Unsurprisingly, he was voted Grimsby’s Young Player of the Year that season.
1977/78 was a real breakthrough season for Tony. He became a full-time professional earning £40 a week and more importantly gained a regular place in the side.
After a couple of mediocre seasons, 1983/84 saw Grimsby finish in 5th place in what is now the Championship, level with Manchester City. Tony played all 42 League games and was voted club Player of the Year. He repeated both these feats the following season.
In March 1986 Grimsby appointed a new manager who promptly placed eight players on the transfer list, one of them being Tony.
Tony knew the writing was on the wall when he was dropped to the Grimsby bench for the game at Sheffield United on 15th March 1986. It was the first time he hadn’t been in the starting line-up for 174 consecutive games.
Tony was again on the bench the following week when he came on in a 1-1 home draw with Sunderland. He was substitute the following week but this time playing for the team he had played against the previous week – Sunderland, who had signed Tony on loan for the rest of the season.
Stoke City signed Tony for £35,000 on 30 June 1986 but he never established himself there and left to join fellow Second Division side West Bromwich Albion for £150,000 shortly before the March 1989 transfer deadline.
The pinnacle of Tony’s playing career was his selection for the England B team in May 1989. He made his first appearance on 19th May 1989 coming on as substitute for Paul Gascoigne in a 2-0 win over Iceland B in Reykjavik. Three days later he played the whole game as Norway B were beaten 1-0 in Stavanger.
Tony played in 88 of West Bromwich’s 92 League games in the following two seasons. West Bromwich struggled though and after just avoiding the drop in 1989/90, slipped into Division Three in 1990/91.
Tony made a surprise return to Grimsby, now back in Division Two, in November 1992. He remained there until May 1994.
Grimsby manager Alan Buckley made the decision to release Tony at the end of the 1993/94 season. It seemed a logical move to make. Tony was only days away from his 35th birthday. No one could have imagined that he would play another 311 games spread over the following eight seasons.
Tony joined Grimsby’s local rivals Scunthorpe United in August 1994 and started 38 of his new club’s 42 League games in 1994/95. The following season Tony appeared in 38 of Scunthorpe’s 46 League games.
Modern day players and managers often complain about fixture congestion but Tony not only managed to play five games in 14 days over Easter 1996 he also scored in four of them. And he was 36 years old!
Despite being voted Scunthorpe’s Player of the Year in 1995/96 Tony was released at the end of that season.
In October 1996 Tony became coach and assistant manager to his friend Steve Parkin at Third Division Mansfield Town. He went on to play 116 games for the club.
On 16th January 1999 Tony broke Terry Paine’s record of 824 League appearances by an outfield player when he appeared for Mansfield in a 3-0 defeat at Plymouth.
At the end of the 1998/99 season Tony was awarded the PFA award for services to football. Previous winners included Pele, Brian Clough, Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Bobby Charlton. Exalted company indeed.
The New Year Honours list of 2000 included the award of an MBE to Tony for services to association football. Quite an achievement for a product of the Nunsthorpe estate in Grimsby and the son of a wrestler from St Simon.
Steve Parkin with Tony as his assistant had moved to Rochdale where their success had been noted by Barnsley who persuaded the pair to make the move to Yorkshire.
Barnsley had a huge squad of 45 professionals and Tony felt it was the right time to retire and let others take his place.
His time at Barnsley was not a happy one. Tony and Steve Parkin lost their jobs shortly after the club went into administration in October 2002.
Tony then received an offer to become assistant manager at Rochdale. He jumped at the chance but a run of only one win in 13 games in the period up to 15 December 2006 caused the Rochdale directors to dismiss the management team.
I asked Tony the secret of his longevity on the football pitch. He puts it down to being hyper competitive throughout his life. He sees every day as a challenge but in a positive way. He even has regrets about retiring at such a young age – 42!
The final Barbadian to feature in Football’s Black Pioneers is Micky Welch who was born in Spooners Hill, St Michael in 1957 the son of Winston and Cora Welch nee Boyce.
On 12th February 1985 Southend manager, the World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, signed 26-year old striker Micky Welch on a month’s trial from non-league Grays.
Thus it was that on 23 February 1985 at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road ground, Micky Welch became the first black footballer to play for Southend. Blackpool won 1-0 in front of a crowd of 4,272. Micky played only a further four games for Southend. This together with the two starts and two substitute appearances he made earlier in the season for Wimbledon was the sum total of Micky’s Football League career. Although he could play in both defence and attack all of his League games were as a forward. He failed to score.
Little more is known about Micky. After his brief flirtation with League Football he returned to Grays who in his absence had gone on to win the Isthmian League Division Two South title in 1984/85.
1987/88 saw further honours for Grays as they were promoted to the Isthmian Premier Division.
Micky also had later spells with Isthmian League sides Tooting and Mitcham, Dorking and Yeading making his last appearance in 1995.
So, there we have it, of the 92 English League clubs, ten had Barbadians or players of Barbadian heritage as their first black player. Only Jamaica with 15 can beat this but no country can boast one of the first black officers, the first black professional player in Ireland, a player with over 1,000 games, a major TV personality and a world class cricketer. The impact Barbados has had on English football has for too long been forgotten it is time now to shout it from the roof tops.
About our guest author: Bill Hern
Bill Hern is co-author with David Gleave of: Football’s Black Pioneers – The Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Clubs. Four years of original research has not only identified these history makers but have also uncovered a wealth of fascinating and often eye-opening personal tales.
This book features an incredible variety of emotive human stories and forgotten characters, together with a powerful theme of struggle against now-unthinkable attitudes.
Football’s Black Pioneers provides a new perspective on the lives, careers and experiences of ground-breaking black footballers. It tells the unique stories of the first black players to represent each of the English Football League clubs.
This collection of rich and hugely varied stories spans 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. The book includes personal interviews with many of the players – including Viv Anderson, Chris Kamara, Tony Ford and Roland Butcher – and family members of stars from the more distant past.
Football’s Black Pioneers – The Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Club is available from the publisher Conker Editions, Amazon or any good book store.