Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out, has written a piece for Football.London, reflecting on the contribution of the Windrush generation on English football.

To read the piece on the Football.London website, click here.


Successful top professional footballers in England are skilful, physically fit, technically gifted and resilient. The high proportion of Black footballers in this country tick all the boxes but they are most equipped with resilience on account of having to overcome racial prejudice, discrimination, social disadvantages, police harassment and a hostile environment. They have also had to watch their parents, grandparents and other family members and friends experience unjust and unfair treatment.

The British public has recently been shocked to read, hear and see the evidence of Home Office inhuman and incompetent treatment of British subjects who came to the UK from the West Indies before 1972, have lived here since, worked and paid their taxes, but now classified as "illegal", because they have not had the right documentation to prove their right to be here.

Having arrived in England as a child in 1957, I was fortunate to have my own passport, having travelled by myself from Guyana, but do not tell the Border Control people that the last stamp in that passport reveals my arrival in Genoa in Northern Italy in August 57 but nothing else after that! If I was not able to show any other subsequently acquired documentation, I could now be made penniless, be in detention and stateless, like many of those who have experienced such degrading treatment.

When I first got involved in early March, working alongside the High Commissioner for Barbados, H E Guy Hewitt, it was to help expose the injustices which have been going on for years against Black people. With the help of the Runnymede Trust, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and excellent and tenacious investigative journalism from Amelia Gentleman of The Guardian, backed by other media coverage, that has now happened and the whole scenario of the Windrush Generation has unravelled for all to see.

Long before the Empire Windrush docked in June 1948 at Tilbury, Essex, with its cargo of over 500 Commonwealth British subjects from the West Indies, British politicians and leading lights have been obsessed with non-white immigration. Queen Elizabeth 1st, during her reign at the end of the 16th century said that there were too many "blackamoors" on the streets of London and should be removed from these shores. There was the colour bar to cope with, Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" forebodings in 1968, Margaret Thatcher and her "swamping" speech in 1978, immigration legislation almost every other year, largely to control non-white immigration, NF, BNP, UKIP, Brexit and now the treatment of the Windrush generation. Throughout this period, Black people, as players or as fans of football, have had to cope with abuse and discrimination.

The scene was set for Black footballers more than a hundred years ago when the earliest pioneers of professional Black footballers, such as Arthur Wharton and Walter Tull, had to endure prejudice, hatred and abuse. Tull's experience was particularly instructive. He played for Clapton FC here in London and enjoyed a successful stay with them, winning three medals, including one for playing in an Amateur Cup final. Tottenham Hotspur recognised his talent, signed him and he made his debut for them against Manchester United in front of a crowd of 30,000. Sadly, he was brutalised by both opponents and fans in a game at Bristol City. Spurs officials panicked by dropping him and moved him on to Northampton Town in October 1911, playing for Herbert Chapman, who later became a legendary manager of Arsenal.

Walter Tull also joined the Footballers' Battalion in December in 1914 and served in the first World War. His bravery, skills leadership and overall actions on the Western Front were duly noted and he was made an officer and led his troops in battles. He was killed at the second battle of the Somme in 1918 and cited for gallantry and coolness and recommended for a military cross. He was denied this award on the basis that a Black man could not legally be an officer as only individuals of "pure European descent" were allowed to lead the white troops. Whatever happened to the Cheddar man?

Today, as we look at the players representing England football teams at all age groups up to elite level, and across the professional leagues and non-leagues and at grassroots level, we can discern the contribution of the Windrush generation through their descendants. They have observed the resilience displayed by their antecedents in withstanding every obstacle thrown their way and learnt from those experiences to overcome the discrimination and exclusion in their everyday involvement in the sport of football. Now their on-field displays reflect exceptional ability and commitment and their talent cannot be denied.

The football fields across London every weekend are inhabited by the many descendants of the Windrush generation. Over the years, many have gone on to demonstrate their excellence. Raheem Sterling is now an Manchester City star also excelling for England. Others include Luther Blissett, Phil Walker, Trevor Lee and Jason Puncheon, to name only a handful. Five of the most legendary local London lads are Ian Wright, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ledley King and Les Ferdinand, all having had fabulous careers and played for England. They have also gone on to successful careers inside and outside the game.

Football has become a focal point for social cohesion as it seeks to shed its association with prejudice, ignorance, hatred, discrimination and violence. Black and Asian people who over recent decades have found it difficult to gain entry and make progress in other aspects of the game, such as coaching, managing, in administration, are now pushing hard to break down the walls of exclusion and denial.

Some of the children of the Windrush Generation are in a battle with government to hold on to their right to stay and are winning that one. Their children, who represent the future, will not be putting up with being second best and in the world of football, their voices will become louder and louder if they are to be denied their rights and equality of opportunity.

Herman Ouseley