First England Black Footballer describes how it used to be
Black History Month was brought to life at West Thames College, Isleworth when Ben Odeje, the first black footballer to play for England, visited on 16 October. Ben spoke to students about his experience of football in the early 70s, seemingly a world away from modern day football matches.
Ben made history in 1971 when he made his debut for England Schoolboys, playing against Northern Ireland. However, it was only earlier this year that Ben Odeje was officially recognised at England’s first black player at any level. Previously Laurie Cunningham, who first played in 1977, was believed to hold this title.
Racist chanting and fruit throwing were all things Ben recalls experiencing during football matches. It was a way the players and fans would try and put him off his game, he explained. He didn’t let it stop him though: “When they behaved like that I knew they were trying to put me off my game, so I must have being doing something right,” he said. “It made me play even better. I just carried on. If they threw a banana at me I ate half of it and then threw the rest back to the crowd.”
When asked about his thoughts on racism in football today he said, “We’re in a better position now. Years ago being racially abused was something that was accepted by fans, managers and players. Now it’s not tolerated in football matches in this country, but there are still incidents which have received media attention recently showing it’s still relevant.”
Since retiring from professional football Ben has worked as a coach for QPR and now coaches children in north London football clubs.
October 22, 2013