"A lot of people make a lot of it. I don’t think it’s that much to me. I’m just a fella doing a job.”

Viv Anderson, a week before becoming the first Black man to play for the senior England team.

In the official match programme from 29 November 1978, there was no mention of the landmark role Viv Anderson would play that night in the history of the England football team.

“Could be his big night tonight, his first senior 'cap'.”

England manager Ron Greenwood didn’t give the debutant any individual advice merely briefing the team as a whole. Only team captain Kevin Keegan and Bob Latchford offered him any words of encouragement, “just remember, you wouldn’t be playing if you weren’t good enough”, “make sure you do what you do for your club every Saturday”.

Having failed to qualify for a second successive World Cup, England took on the then-European champions in front of 92,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Aged 22, Anderson, replaced double-European Cup winner Phil Neal in the team, playing the entire match at right-back and beginning the move from which Steve Coppell scored the winning goal.

Speaking 10 years ago, Anderson recalls: “The game itself was fairly non-eventful. It was a cold evening and I remember one half of the pitch was soft, the other was hard - nothing like the green baize you see at Wembley these days. We had to change boots at half-time”.

Within 18 months, Anderson himself would win the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest and be heading to the European Championships in Italy where he would start England’s final game against Spain.

The Admiral shirt Anderson wore on that freezing Wembley night is now on display in the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

Mark Bushell of Brathay Trust, spoke of its enduring significance: “Yes, it’s a football shirt but it actually tells a story of how people in general were starting to react to Black workers and footballers succeeding right across the community at a time of a big cultural shift”.

This month, Callum Wilson became the 89th Black or minority ethnic man (and the 39th different goalscorer) to play for the senior team which means two out of every seven England players in the 40 years since have been non-White. However, before Anderson, the 936th man to wear the Three Lions shirt, there were none in 106 years. Looking back in his 2010 autobiography, Anderson was less bashful than he had been in 1978 about his place in history.

“I was the first among unequals! In those days, the number of Black players was limited and we - the original generation - had to fight every step of the way to be recognised”.

Yet, pre-dating him by 53 years, Anderson was not the first Black man to be called up to the national side. In October 1925, Jack Leslie, then scoring regularly for Division Three South side, Plymouth Argyle, was informed by his manager Bob Jack that he had been selected to play for England in a British Home Championship match away to Ireland.

Speaking to The Daily Mail in 1978, Leslie said: "it was quite a thing for a little club like Plymouth to have a man called up. Then the papers came out a day or so later and Billy Walker of Aston Villa was in the team, not me”.

It later emerged that The FA did not realise “he was a man of colour”. Walker played in his place and Leslie was never called up again. "They found out I was a darkie and I suppose that was like finding out I was foreign”.

No man of Asian origin has ever officially played for the senior international team in 146 years but between 1942 and 1945, Stoke City’s Frank Soo, the son of a Chinese sailor, represented England nine times in so-called Wartime and Victory Internationals, the first non-White man ever to do so. Even though the last of those “unofficial” appearances came after the end of the Second World War, Soo was never picked when official international status was restored to England matches that year. Speaking to the Evening Sentinel in 1945 Soo believed he “would have had many more (England appearances) but for his Oriental blood”.

It took a further seven years before another Black man, like Leslie born in Canning Town, was handed an official England match shirt. John Charles, who eventually played alongside Bobby Moore at West Ham, appeared three times for the England Youth Team before later becoming the first Black man to play in the top flight in May 1963.

Speaking at his funeral in 2002, former West Ham team-mate Brian Dear remarked: “Football is surely indebted to him as he undoubtedly paved the way for his Black brothers who now enjoy the fame, riches and adulation, which he most certainly helped make possible”.

Luther Blissett, who, became the first Black man to score for England in 1982, recently spoke to The Daily Mirror about how those early pioneers inspired him to succeed.

“My view was: These guys did this. So can I. These guys had been out there and suffered everything they had to pave the way. They’d done it to make it that little bit easier for the rest of us to come along. To be the first is always difficult. There is always resistance. Nobody believes it is the right thing to do. It’s not the norm. So you got out there and applied yourself as much as was needed to get the job done”.

In 1993, Paul Ince became the first Black man to captain England during an ignominious defeat to the United States.

“For me it was the pinnacle of my career when Graham Taylor made me captain, but I can remember feeling uncomfortable with the questions. Then, after the game, I began to look at it in a different way because I had a lot of parents sending me letters telling me it had inspired their children to get jobs or to start playing football. I don’t know whether they were Black, White or Asian or whatever, but it didn’t matter. That meant a lot, to think that somehow I had inspired people I had never even met.”

This month, Fabian Delph became the ninth Black man to wear the England armband but only one, Rio Ferdinand in 2010, has been named permanent team captain. In 2014, Sol Campbell, who captained England three times during an 11-year international career, claimed that he was deprived of the chance to lead his country more often due to the colour of his skin. "I believe if I was White, I would have been England captain for more than 10 years - it's as simple as that”.

Campbell recently became the first Black England international to be invited to join the National Team’s coaching setup but for Ince, the Premier League’s first English Black manager, there is still a long way to go.

"When I became captain of England people said it was responsible for a lot of Black kids in the ghetto starting to play football.  I was regarded as some sort of figurehead for Black people to get into football.  So it's strange there are no (English) Black managers in the Premier League”.

A report by the Sport’s People Think Tank from 2015, when 23 of 552 elite roles were held by BME coaches, concluded that at the current rate of growth, it would be another 31 years before Black coaches are properly represented in football.

After a season as player-manager at Barnsley (only the third Black manager in the Football League), Viv Anderson continued to fill one of those elite coaching positions as assistant manager at Middlesbrough for seven years under Bryan Robson. A reluctant pioneer he may have been, but a trailblazer nonetheless.

“I can now say that I’m proud of the role I played. It helped pave the way for huge improvements in football that have occurred since then. I am also pleased to have helped the game move away from the prejudices that stood in the way of Black footballers when I started”.


Landmarks for England’s Black footballers

First Youth appearance - John Charles v Israel, Tel Aviv (20 May 1962)

First Schoolboys appearance - Benjamin Odeje v Northern Ireland, Wembley (6 March 1971)

First Under 21 appearance - Laurie Cunningham v Scotland, Sheffield (27 April 1977)

First senior appearance - Viv Anderson v Czechoslovakia, Wembley (29 November 1978)

First tournament appearance – Viv Anderson v Spain, Naples (18 June 1980)

First senior goal – Luther Blissett v Luxembourg, Wembley (15 December 1982)

First senior hat-trick - Luther Blissett v Luxembourg, Wembley (15 December 1982)

First World Cup finals appearance – John Barnes v Argentina, Mexico City (22 June 1986)

First World Cup start – Des Walker, John Barnes v Republic of Ireland, Cagliari (11 June 1990)

First captain - Paul Ince v United States, Boston (9 June 1993)

First World Cup hat-trick - Ian Wright v San Marino, Bologna (17 November 1993)

First (and only) goalkeeper - David James v Mexico, Wembley (29 March 1997)

First World Cup finals goal - Sol Campbell v Sweden, Saitama (2 June 2002)

First European Championship finals goal - Joleon Lescott v France, Donetsk (11 June 2012)

Most capped footballer – Ashley Cole, 107 (2001-14)

Most goals - Jermain Defoe, 20 (2004-17)


The piece above has been fact-checked and sourced by the author Asif Burhan. However, if you have evidence suggesting that any information may not be accurate, please don’t hesitate to contact Kick It Out on [email protected].