The documentation and acknowledgement of racism in football has been highly publicised in recent years and as a result of this many agencies joined forces to campaign to be rid of racism from football. The “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football” campaign was started by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) in 1993. It is supported by all the game’s governing bodies, supporters’ organisations and local authorities, and works to challenge racism at all levels of the game. It is perhaps the most famous and so far successful campaign to ‘kick out’ one of footballs most hated ‘traditions’. We will talk more of this later.
Racism will come in many forms and types. It can be directed from one ethnicity to another, between religions and beliefs as well as singling out individuals. This happens at every level of football, from grass roots right up to the premiership and especially on the international stage with England. It is important to state here that the construction of a ‘hot potato’ like racism is so broad and diverse within this sporting subculture that that there is neither the time nor the space to do the subject justice within the confines of this essay.
Ever since the first professional black footballer, believed to be Arthur Wharton, racism has been evident in football, from players, supporters, coaching/administration staff and the media. Wharton was of Euro-African descent, coming from a middle class family. He entered the professional game in 1889, having joined Preston North End three years previously. Wharton was initially signed as a goalkeeper, although he could also play outfield, as a winger. Indeed, Wharton's sporting talents also extended onto the athletics track, where he gained national recognition as A.A.A.100 yards champion in 1886, becoming the first British athlete to run under ten seconds in both heats and finals (Vasili, 1998). Vasili is accountable for much of the research of black footballers prior to the 1950’s. Vasili’s account’s of the torrid racist abuse the versatile West African had to put up with indicate that from the minute a “Darkie” (Vasili, 1998) played in England they were under scrutiny from opposing white others. The shot-stopper cum winger was highly thought of by team-mates as well as local supporters. Wharton enjoyed popular celebrity status, and was interviewed by the local press and in Athletic Journal', at that time one of the leading sports magazines in this country; however, it wasn’t uncommon for reporters to refer to Wharton in a racist manor. He was referred to as “Darkie, Nigger, Othello, Coloured Colonial, South African, West Indian and a Gentleman of Colour” by a number of different media. When Wharton went to a Lancashire based club he was described as ‘new caught’ game; one paper went on to say “Stalybridge Rovers have bagged a real nigger as goalkeeper in Wharton, who is none other than the “Darkie” who used to guard the North End at Citadel” (Vasili, 1998).
Between 1919 and 1939, a small number of black players emerged, playing for a variety of British clubs. Unfortunately, their efforts have either been largely unrecognised or forgotten, even by the clubs they played for. Their experiences suggest that they, too, were the victims of racial prejudice and discrimination, both on and off the field. Illustrative is the case of Jack Leslie, a London born Anglo-African player with Plymouth Argyle in the 1920s and 1930s. Leslie had made a strong impression as a goal-scorer, managing to score more than 400 goals for Plymouth between 1921 and 1935. He was once, erroneously, informed by his manager, Bob Jack, that he had been selected to play for England. However, he was never to make the national team. 'He must have forgotten I was coloured' Leslie remarked ruefully later (Vasili, 2000: 62). Sixty years on from that humiliation, Leslie was still convinced that it was the fact that he was black that prevented him from making the England side. He was probably right (Williams,
3.3 In 1938, Northampton Town signed John Parris, who later went on to play for Wales, thus becoming the first black player to represent any of the home national sides. However, his achievements have not been widely celebrated. A player who could have equalled the prominence of Wharton and Parris, had not the war interrupted the early years of his career, is R.H. Brown, who signed as an apprentice for Stoke City in 1938. He didn't make his league debut until the resumption of the League competition in 1946. He spent only a year playing alongside the lauded Stanley Matthews, who was transferred to Blackpool in 1947.
As the game became more widely played within the European-colonised areas of Africa and Asia, so the potential supply of black footballing talent from those continents began to increase. In addition to this new development, the late forties saw the beginnings of an influx of immigrants arriving from the British colonies, most of whom had been persuaded to leave their country of origin in order to meet the growing labour shortage in Britain. This was to have an impact (albeit, limited at that time) upon professional football in this country. As is, in many ways, the case with today's transfer market, the shortage of quality home players led to increasing competition and inevitably pushed transfer fees upwards beyond the scope of many clubs. This moved many club scouts to look abroad for less expensive 'foreign' talent and thus, increased the numbers of non-British born black players playing in England.
Prior to the 1950’s and indeed possibly the 1960’s it was very uncommon to see black footballers, but nowadays it is commonplace. In fact, around 25% of all professional footballers in Britain are black. However, in the 1993/1994 season Carling survey of Premier League fans, only 1% of fans described themselves as non-white. It is argued that this is due to a prevalence of racism amongst traditional soccer fans (Social Issues Research Group [SIRC] ). In the post-war era, black players have infiltrated the football league, growing in numbers and recognition. With this, the racism and stigmas toward these ‘colonial’ players also grew from the late 1970’s onwards.