After pouring my heart and soul into last night’s match, I woke up to the reminder that England is far from the post-racist society it claims to be
It’s OK To Be Upset, It’s Not OK To Be Racist
This is our official campaign response to the racism toward Black people and the Black players from yesterday’s Euro Final.
This is why Cephas Williams created The Black British Network, to keep the conversation going, to work with industry leading organisations and the Black community to dismantle systemic racism and create an equal playing field for the economic advancement of the Black community in the UK.
Let’s Change The Narrative For Life
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“I had to develop a thick skin”
Trailblazer Benjamin Odeje made history in 1971 when aged 15 he became the first black footballer to play for England at any level.
“I did not realise at the time… I was just going out to play football,” he said.
His leading role came 50 years after one of the first black players in the UK, Walter Tull, took a leading role for Spurs and Northampton Town before he was killed in the First World War.
Mr Odeje was called up to play for the England Schools Team as a striker and his first match was against Northern Ireland. They won 1-0.
Football-mad Odeje had played since he was a young child back home in Nigeria. When his family moved to England when he was 10, it helped him make friends near his home in New Cross.
“I would kick the balls against the wall at the back of the flats and that was my training ground for me arriving in England and I joined the school team,” he said.
“Football has been my life ever since I can remember.”
The 65-year-old father of four now runs Atlantic Sports Development soccer school at Queen’s Park.
One pupil told him he had opened the doors for a succession of black players including John Barnes and Raheem Sterling.
Sadly he has had to endure racism and said the incidents were “too many to mention”. He’s had bananas thrown at him. His response – to eat half and throw the rest in the direction it came from.
“That used to make me play even better,” he said.
“It will never be eradicated,” he added, but believes it comes from ignorance and aims to be a role model by showing young players how to excel and focus on their sport. I just had to develop a thick skin and not let it worry me so much as it would affect my game.”
He also encourages players to report racism so it can be challenged. However, he said football is powerful and can break down barriers, uniting people.