Book Reviews: Beating Racism on Terraces by Degrees
Williamson, Richard, Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
IT may be difficult to imagine but 20 years ago we were pretty good at football around these parts.
Villa, Blues, Wolves and the Baggies were all in in the top division - but then it all went horribly wrong.
Now only claret and blue is seen at the highest level with Birmingham and Wolverhampton engaging in an annual struggle for promotion.
It's even worse for West Brom who have spent this season clinging on for dear life at the foot of the first division.
Several of our teams have flirted with bankruptcy over the years and Villa's Cup Final appearance is as close as any have come to real achievement for a very long time.
But Dave Bowler and Jas Bains can remember when the Albion were not only covered in glory but genuine title contenders.
It was the end of the 1970s and the side boasted its famous Three Degrees - Cyrille Regis, Brendon Batson and that forgotten genius Laurie Cunningham.
They tell the story in Samba In the Smethwick End (Mainstream pounds 9.99) which is what you might call a book of two halves.
The first part is all about the impact of the three stars who headed a new wave of black footballers who were to change the game.
They were not the first black players in league soccer but the fact that all three were together in a top team was what made them important - plus the fact that they were very good indeed.
That was vital in the battle against racism.
As Bowler and Bains say: 'The level of prejudice was so great that only practical demonstrations against that stupidity could hope to change attitudes.' The Three Degrees, nicknamed by Ron Atkinson, were certainly good enough for that. They were also an inspiration to youngsters and had an impact on racial attitudes beyond football.
Bowler (a Baggies fan) and Bains (a Wolves supporter) remind us just how appalling things were in the Midlands.
During the 1964 general election Smethwick became the focus of a national storm when supporters of the Tory candidate Peter Griffiths used the slogan ' If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.' Griffiths was elected and an outraged Harold Wilson duly branded him a 'parliamentary leper. …