Triumph for Black Stars over Racism; BOOK REVIEWS

By Williamson, Richard | Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), April 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

Triumph for Black Stars over Racism; BOOK REVIEWS


Williamson, Richard, Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)


ARTHUR Wharton could not have known what he was starting when he arrived in Staffordshire in 1882 to train as a missionary teacher.

The Ghanaian kept his hand in as a goal-keeper by turning out for the local soccer club and went on to become Britain's first black professional when he signed for Rotherham.

These days it would be unthinkable for top clubs or the England team to turn out without several black players. But they have had a long, hard, struggle to establish themselves in the teeth of a storm of racist abuse and prejudice.

Even as I began reading Phil Vasili's Colouring Over the White Line (Mainstream pounds 15.99) the papers were full of stories about Emile Heskey being spat on and racially abused while playing for England under-21s against Yugoslavia.

It seems that some things never change. Remember 1984 when John Barnes stunned the Brazilians with a wonder goal in the Maracana stadium? You would think he had made all of England proud but on the plane home a gang of British Nazis abused John and told him his goal didn't count.

Vasili has an important story to tell but it's not just the famous who are celebrated here. The book's real value is in rescuing and remembering the many forgotten pioneers and the players who toiled away for scant reward and more than a little abuse.

People like Stephen Mokone, who joined Coventry City in 1956, Gil Heron of Kidderminster Harriers and Villa players of the '50s Stanley Horne and Kevin Keelan.

Who now remembers Hong Y 'Frank' Soo, son of an English mother and Chinese father who played for Stoke alongside Stanley Matthews and represented England in wartime internationals?

They are not all saints by any means and Phil Vasili presents an honest warts-and-all account of their misadventures as well as their achievements.

It's also a story of icons and role models, players like Clyde Best, who inspired a generation of young black players. …

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