Football is a game that is designed to bring people from every type of background together, but that hasn’t always been the case. Incidents of racism within the ‘beautiful game’ have been all too familiar. However, there have been several black pioneers who have had a huge impact in fighting racism within the sport as well as wider society. October is Black History Month so it is only fitting to celebrate these black icons of English football.
The Ghanian goalkeeper is universally regarded as the world’s first black footballer. He moved to England in 1882 at the age of 17 before relocating in the North East in 1884. Wharton began his career at Darlington before moving to Preston North End. It was here that he made a real name for himself, establishing himself as an unorthodox, agile ‘keeper. In 1886 he was picked to play for the highly prestigious Newcastle district team.
Wharton left Preston behind in 1888 to focus on athletics and even set a new world record in the 100 yard dash at Stamford Bridge. In 2003 he was initiated into the English Football Hall of Fame in acknowledgement of the huge influence he made within the sport. Wharton has since been honoured with a statue at St George’s Park National Football Centre.
Heralded as one of Liverpool and England’s most talented wingers, Barnes scored an impressive 198 goals throughout his illustrious career. Barnes was born and raised in Jamaica but moved to England at the age of 12. He is seen as a legend by both Watford and Liverpool, appearing 547 times for the two clubs combined. It was at Liverpool that Barnes became a world superstar, winning eight trophies as well as being named FWA footballer of the year on two occasions.
Barnes has always expressed his opinions when it comes to racism, suggesting American Football’s ‘Rooney Rule’ be introduced to the Premier League. The rule states that at least one ethnic-minority candidate should be interviewed for head coaching positions in the NFL. Barnes has also appeared on the BBC Breakfast show and Question Time to discuss issues of racism in football and society.
Powell is currently the manager of Brighton Women in the FA Women’s Super League. She is most recognized as the first female and black manager of any England national team. Powell was an extremely talented player herself, scoring 35 goals in 66 games for England Women. After she hung up her boots she dived into the managerial game.
The Lewisham-born coach took over the reins of England Women in 1998 and stayed for an extraordinary 15 years. Powell guided England to the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup in 2007 and 2011. She was additionally the first woman to be awarded the UEFA Pro License in 2003, the highest qualification a coach can obtain.
Sterling is the only active player in this list and is here for good reason. Having been on the end of consistent racially-motivated attacks from English tabloids, Sterling decided to stand up for a team-matte in heroic fashion last year. He accused the Sun and Daily Mail of “fuelling racism” and encouraging “aggressive behaviour” against young black men – accusations which are justified considering Sterling himself was described as “bragging” and “flash” for buying his mother a house by the aforementioned papers.
The English international has since been a highly influential activist in regards to racism within football urging society to “wake up” and realise racism is still prevalent in the United Kingdom. He was also instrumental alongside the players’ union in organising a 24-hour social media boycott in April of this year in protest of racial abuse within English football. Sterling isn’t just in the spotlight for his valiant actions he has also developed into an outstanding footballer, earning 53 caps for England by the age of 24 as well as being voted the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year for the 2018/19 season.
Last modified: 7th October 2019