Britain Is Becoming Obsessed with Race and in Football It's Worse Than Ever. (Sport)

By Cowley, Jason | New Statesman (1996), January 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

Britain Is Becoming Obsessed with Race and in Football It's Worse Than Ever. (Sport)


Cowley, Jason, New Statesman (1996)


My father took me to see West Ham United for the first time in 1974. I was eight years old and shouldn't really have been there, for I was an Arsenal fan, something that always baffled him. I remember very little about the game, beyond that Derby County were the opponents, that it was a drab, goalless affair and that the Derby winger Alan Hinton (I think that was his name) wore white boots.

My father was born in Upton Park and much of his childhood was spent in Forest Gate, where the late-Victorian terraces of the East End give way to the open scrubland of Epping Forest. West Ham was his home team, his pride. Yet he was a reticent man, a child of the Blitz, and I was often embarrassed, when he took me to West Ham, to see him singing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", as he swayed in time with the strangers around him.

I watched West Ham a lot in the mid-to-late Seventies--after which I began to see my own team, Arsenal. There is one player, in particular, from that period whom I have never forgotten: the Bermudan-born Clyde Best, one of the pioneering black players of the English game. Best was heavy and clumsy -- and missed more opportunities than he scored for West Ham. He was never popular; I often heard him being abused from the terraces, by both home and away supporters. The abuse was sometimes virulently racist.

The Seventies were a time of rapid change in football, not least because the first generation of British-born black players was emerging. It was routine back then to hear these players mocked and jeered from the terraces and, off the field, to hear their commitment and discipline being questioned by those who should have known better. There were progressive managers, such as Ron Atkinson of West Bromwich Albion, who had three outstanding black players -- the late Laurie Cunningham, a thrilling winger who ended up at Real Madrid, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson. West Brom were often targeted by the racist element at West Ham, some of whom sold the National Front's magazine Bulldog outside the ground -- the same magazine that would later award WBA a "golden banana" for having the most black players in one team. …

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