It’s been almost 30 years since Paul Canoville, the first black player to play for Chelsea, retired from professional football but he remains a very busy man. Paul spends much of his time doing charitable work across the globe with The Paul Canoville Foundation, as well as the Guy Mascolo Football Charity.

Away from his educational work, Paul helps out in the hospitality department at Stamford Bridge and even finds time to respond to the frequent media requests to tell his captivating life story.

Last month, Paul was kind enough to speak to Paul Mortimer, Kick It Out’s Professional Player Engagement Manager, about a number of important issues including his charitable foundation, his battles with cancer and drug addiction, as well as his experiences suffering racism at Chelsea in the 1980s. In the final part of our exclusive series, Paul Canoville talks:


The Fight Against Racism

As one of the most prominent black ex-professionals in football, it will come as no surprise that Paul Canoville is passionate about the subject.

“Anti-discrimination organisations have a big part to play,” Paul says. “But I’d say they should do more.

"Players like myself, that were in the game, that received it the most don’t do enough. I’m not called enough. ”

Paul is keen to stress his desire to take on a more central position against racism.

“I was called on by Kick It Out as a young man, to go talk in prisons – that was new for me. It was great, I opened up, because I was in a similar position being locked up. So I can be open and explain how I felt, what I went through growing up and how racism affects you.

“It was so open, it was great.”

Paul explains how he jumped at the chance to do more work in prisons.

“I was up for it – that’s how I felt. I was nervous – which I was happy about, because if I wasn’t nervous, then something was wrong. I was always nervous. But as soon as I started talking – bam – everything came out.”

Paul turned his attention to those who star in the game today. He is of the belief that current players could have far more of an impact on young children than ex-professionals like him ever could.

“These players are looked up to more by the current generation of youngsters.

“If these players come into a school, and tell the kids – ‘when I used to go to school, I didn’t take it seriously, until I realised how important it was.’ Are you telling me a kid won’t take in that knowledge?”

“If the clubs really want to give back, then the up-to-date players – they’ve got to get them out there.

“If the kids saw that a current player come in and give them this message, I know they would listen. I know they would. I went to a school in Kensington and all they asked me was ‘do you know Lamps (Frank Lampard)? Do you know (Didier) Drogba? Do you know (John) Terry?’

“If they came in the school, trust me, they’d listen. If they misbehaved in school, the teacher would only have to say ‘oh, is that how you want to behave? I thought you wanted to be a Lampard.’

“The players do have a role, if they can accept one. They have the time – I’m telling you.”

“Some players will see it as serious. But some take a ‘just get on with it’ approach and say ‘oh come on, it’s just a little something’ – it’s not a ‘little something’. And so it’s not recognised that it’s dangerous or that it’s harmful, unless you make a big issue about it.

“You need people to set the trend. We’re seeing it in lower leagues, people are speaking up. But when it’s in the big leagues, it’s ‘I don’t want to seem like I’m making trouble, I didn’t hear anything.’”

Football as a whole has serious questions to answer too, Paul asserts: “But if they do say something, is it going to be taken seriously? I don’t have faith that it will be dealt with right away. I think they hesitate, they take too long. ‘We’re still inquiring’, they say.

“In my playing days, you could see nothing was done – that was part and parcel of the game. Now, things have stepped up but we haven’t progressed enough.”

Paul is asked about an incident from the Russian Premier League last July, in which former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off for his reaction to alleged racial abuse.

“You’re the victim because you were abused and the referee is sending you off? His own club didn’t even back him. How would you feel?”

“I went to Russia and they were looking at me strangely, so I gave them a look back. And then they say ‘oh no we’re so glad you’re here’ – so you say ‘okay’, because they’re being friendly. But I was still told not to stray from here or walk on my own.”

Inevitably, the focus shifts to the World Cup in 2018, which Russia are hosting.

“No way would I go over and watch England. Are you mad? I would support England, but I will support England from afar. Call me chicken, I don’t care. But I’m not going to a country where they say we’re accepted – they’re might be some parts, but in other parts, I don’t want to put my life in danger. I’m sorry.

“I think someone will walk off. I really do. I reckon one of the players – be it the African nations or otherwise – will walk off. I’m not taking that. And I will back him.

“What will happen? I don’t know. Will there be fines? They should discuss it before the players get there. So once we’re there and it’s happened, a man’s walked off. Are you going to punish him? He’s the victim and you’re going to punish him? They’ll be an uproar. Trust me.

“It’s disgusting. Because they should be doing something now. They should be putting pressure on Russia now. Black players are coming, African nations are coming, what are you going to do? You need to find out and let those people know beforehand. It’s quiet. Everybody’s waiting on that.”