The Best of the North West: Celebrating Black History Month

October celebrates Black History Month

It’s hard to imagine a time when black sportsmen and women did not feature in sporting sides all around the world, with many of our most loved and idolized players, managers, and athletes featuring in the world’s best line ups and events today.

From Michael Jordan to Muhammed Ali to Serena Williams, the list is endless of the great black sporting heroes of the past few decades.

But it has not always been this way, as during the early stages of the 20th-century black sportsmen and women were few and far between, with the first black footballer to represent England in a full international game not coming until 1978.

Viv Anderson claimed the honour when he made his debut against Czechoslovakia during a 1-0 win.

But now let us take a closer look at some of the stars closer to home who defied the odds and inspired a generation.

First up we have someone who maybe your Dads, Dads, Dad might remember seeing play and that’s Arthur Wharton.

Notable for becoming the first black professional footballer in the football league back in 1886, Arthur would go on to be part of Preston North Ends famous invincible side that enjoyed well-earned success during the late 1800s, engraving him in North End folklore forever.

Born in Ghana, before eventually moving to England in 1882 it wasn’t just his footballing ability that made Arthur so popular within the North West, the Ghanaian born legendary figure was also a keen cyclist and cricketer who represented Lancashire proudly in his younger years.

Wharton died in 1930 at the age of 65 and was buried in an unmarked grave, the grave lay unmarked until 1997 where he was rewarded with a headstone after a campaign by anti-racism campaigners Football Unites, Racism Divides.

Wharton’s Legacy was secured forever when he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003 to celebrate his iconic achievements in the game.

From the first professional footballer in the football league to the first black player to play for Liverpool back in 1977, his name, Howard Gayle. 

The Liverpudlian made headlines back in the ’70s signing a contract with his hometown club, which he says was a victory for the black community of Liverpool. Gayle’s most iconic moment remembered fondly by Liverpool fans of the 1980s came in a European Cup semi-final triumph of Bayern Munich in 1981.

Gayle had been brought on as a substitute in place of Kenny Daglish 10 minutes into the game and was arguably The Reds best player on the pitch despite constant racial abuse from the German support.

The winger who played an influential role in Liverpool’s quest to a third European Cup was controversially substituted 61 minutes later after coming on, as manager Bob Paisley protected him from a second bookable offence and further racial slurs from the home end.

Gayle would go on to receive a winner’s medal, becoming the first black player to play for Liverpool ever to do so. In 2016 he was to be nominated for an MBE for his achievements in football and his campaigns against racism.

Refusing the MBE nomination, he stated “I had to decline the nomination for the reason that my ancestors would be turning in their graves after how empire and colonialism had enslaved them.”

Fast forward now to more recent times with this next section dedicated to another marvelous Merseyside influential sporting hero in the form of Nikita Parris.

Born March 10, 1994, in Toxteth, Liverpool, Nikita has become one of the most internationally renowned women’s footballers in the world making her debut for Everton in 2011 where she spent 4 successful years before moving to Manchester City in 2015.

The Liverpool born lass enjoyed her most trophy glistened years of her career so far at The Citizens, winning the FA Women’s Super League and two FA Women’s Cup’s, she also played a key role in City’s Champions League semi-final runs and was named  Football Writers’ Association Women’s Player of the Year in 2019.

The highly-rated women forward has also been capped by her country an impressive 50 times, representing the Lionesses at the Euro 2017 and the World Cup in 2019.

But it is her off-field inspiration to many young black women’s footballers that makes her so popular across the country, as this week she was just one of two players from a Black Asian Minority Ethnic background to be selected in the upcoming England squads.

Parris has since called for more help and support from the Football Association, the aim is to help players from a less privileged background gain better access to facilities and enable them to progress into the professional world of sport.

Speaking in an interview this week Parris said: “I do think that it is imperative that we do go inside these communities and really try hard to make sure it’s accessible for young people to be able to play the sport. I have been a great advocate of saying that.” 

Lastly, we celebrate the sporting achievements of another North West based female athlete, known as Katarina Johnson-Thompson or KJT, most recognizable for her participation and glory in events such as the heptathlon, pentathlon, and High Jump and overall dedication to British athletics.

Spending the first year of her life in the Bahamas before moving to Halewood with her mother, where she would grow up to develop a love for athletics and the world of sport.

Representing Liverpool Harriers Athletics club, her earliest notable achievement came in 2009 at the world youth championships in Italy, Thompson taking home the gold medal in the heptathlon.

Her fine youth career continued as she broke Jessica Ennis Hill’s junior record in 2012 with a score of 6007, announcing herself on the stage of athletics and among such highly respected competition.

KJT’s proudest moment came when she represented Brittan at the London Olympics in 2012, placing a respectful 13th place in the competition, although she did not take gold, silver, or bronze she has inspired another generation of young British black athletes.

Concluding the best of the North West it’s safe to say the world has changed a lot since the days of Arthur Wharton, but for many, the struggle continues, as they search to find equality and opportunities in the world of sport.

Stories like Howard Gayle and Katarina Johnson- Thompson, among many countless others around remind us all that there is one thing we can all unite on, hope and inspiration.

As many more athletes continue to inspire, we must join them in celebration of what has been done, but also what is still to come in the future.