Who was the first black footballer to play for England?

November 10, 2020 Off By Oha

Viv Anderson, Laurie Cunningham, Emma Clarke and Kerry Davis are among the trailblazers to have made history with the Three Lions

Viv Anderson

The first black man to play a full international match for England was Viv Anderson in 1978.

Born in Nottingham, defender Anderson spent the first 10 years of his career at Nottingham Forest, breaking into the first team under Brian Clough in 1974.

Anderson was an important part of the Forest side which won promotion to the First Division in 1977, lifting the title and the League Cup a year later. He was called up to the England side by then-manager Ron Greenwood soon after, making his debut in a 1-0 friendly win over Czechoslovakia at Wembley.Editors’ Picks

English football in the 1970s could be a hugely hostile place for a black man, and Anderson was regularly subjected to racist abuse from fans.

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Anderson told ITV: “I remember going to Carlisle; something happened and I’m sat down within five minutes. [Clough] said, ‘I thought I told you to warm up.’ I said, ‘Well they’re throwing apples and pears and bananas at me.’ He said, ‘Go back out there and get me two pears and a banana.’

“Then in the dressing room he pulls me and says, ‘I did that for a reason, you know – because if you let them dictate to you, you aren’t going to make a good career and I think you can play. Don’t let them influence you in any way.’”

Anderson went on to enjoy a hugely successful career, winning back-to-back European Cups under Clough at Forest.

His competitive debut for England came in a 2-0 win over Bulgaria in qualifying for the 1980 European Championships.

Anderson left Forest for Arsenal in 1984 and, three years later, became Sir Alex Ferguson’s first signing as manager of Manchester United.

Viv Anderson Manchester United

He eventually won 30 senior caps for England in an international career spanning 10 years. Short spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Middlesbrough followed, before his retirement in 1995.

Across six clubs, Anderson won all there was to win in English football, with medals for the First Division, FA Cup, League Cup and Charity Shield, as well as two European Cups and the European Super Cup.

While Anderson was the first black man to win a senior international cap for England, he was not the only such pioneer.

In 1962, West Ham full-back John Charles became the first black man to represent England at any level when he made his debut for the Under-18s.

Charles played alongside World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore in West Ham’s defence but retired from the game at just 26 due to a recurring hamstring injury.

A report from BBC London revealed that in 1971, Benjamin Odeje became the first black male to represent England when he played for England Schoolboys against Northern Ireland in front of 70,000 fans.

Decades before Anderson made his senior debut, Plymouth striker Jack Leslie was called up to play the Republic of Ireland in 1925. However, he was dropped from the squad before making his debut.

Leslie’s family believed he was dropped after a scout was sent to watch him play and realised the colour of his skin, having been called up on the strength of his goalscoring statistics in the days before video footage was available.

The first black woman to play for England is thought to have been Liverpool-born Emma Clarke in 1881. Clarke played in a match against Scotland in Edinburgh which is widely considered to be the first organised game of women’s football.

The first black woman to play in an official England international was Kerry Davis in 1982. Davis scored twice on her debut against Northern Ireland and went on to become England’s record goalscorer with 44 goals in 82 games, until her tally was surpassed by Kelly Smith in 2012.