Some people think Albert Johanneson was the first black player to play in the Football League; the truth is he wasn’t even the first black player to appear for Leeds!
That honour goes to Gerry Francis who first played for United in November 1957. He and Albert went on to play together three times for Leeds at a time when even one black player on the pitch was a rarity.
Following four years of research, local author Bill Hern and his co-writer David Gleave have written a book called Football’s Black Pioneers telling the stories of the first black players at each of the 92 Football League clubs, and there are some fascinating tales to tell!
How many people, for example, would know that Dennis Walker was, in 1963, the first black player to play for Manchester United? Dennis went on to play for York City as did Albert and Gerry. Indeed York were the first club to sign four black players, Tony Collins (the first ever black manager in the League while with Rochdale) having also played for them.
The book spans the period from 1895 right up to the present day and Yorkshire teams feature at both ends of that spectrum. Arthur Wharton was Sheffield United’s pioneer in 1895 having previously played in the League for the now defunct Rotherham Town. The first black player at the League’s newest club, Harrogate Town, was Leeds-born goalkeeper Denver Mitchell, the son of a West Indian RAF serviceman who settled in
Leeds at the end of World War 2. Denver first appeared for Harrogate in 1976 when they were in the Second Division of the Yorkshire League – what a rise in status they have had! From a Yorkshire perspective the book includes Barnsley’s Steve Mokone who would go on to serve 12 years in a US jail, Willie Clarke of Bradford City, the first black player to score in the Football League and of course, the one and only Charlie Williams of Doncaster who achieved even greater fame as a comedian.
Eddie Parris is included as a pioneer at Luton, Bournemouth and Cheltenham but his greatest claim to fame came in 1931 when, while with Bradford Park Avenue, he became the first black player to represent Wales.
More recent players to feature are Lloyd Maitland (Huddersfield), Ray Daniel (Hull City), Andy Morris (Rotherham United) and Tony Cunningham of Sheffield Wednesday.
Bill and David personally interviewed many of the players included in the book amongst them being Chris Kamara, Tony Ford and Viv Anderson who, apart from being the first black player to play for Nottingham Forest, was the first to win a full England cap back in 1978. Viv also penned the foreword for the book.
So if you want to know the story of the first black player at your club, why not buy a copy of Football’s Black Pioneers from the publisher Conkers or Amazon or any good bookshop. It would make a great Christmas present!
A big thank you to East Leeds Magazine for this awesome book review.