‘Trailblazer? I was just a young black kid who wanted to play football’
Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Viv Anderson’s England debut – when he became the first black player to be capped for his country. Jim van Wijk looks back at that landmark moment and considers how far the game has come since
VIV Anderson never saw himself as a ‘trailblazer’ when he became the first black player to earn a full senior England international cap 40 years ago.
A telegram from the Queen, and another from Elton John, were both sent to the then 22-year-old Nottingham Forest defender to mark the occasion on November 29, 1978.
But four decades on, Anderson feels football still has a long way to go to help BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) coaches get over “the next hurdle”.
Anderson was called up by Ron Greenwood for the game against Czechoslovakia at Wembley, which put the young defender firmly in the spotlight. The significance of the occasion, though, was the furthest thing from his mind at the time.
“I was just a young black kid who wanted to play football, that was it. Trailblazer, or whatever, it never entered my head for one second, even with all the publicity we had beforehand,” Anderson said.
“The only thing at the forefront of my mind was the match – make sure you have a first touch, the first header is a good one, pass it to a teammate, all the basic things you do week in, week out, and that is what I had to concentrate on. Everything else on the periphery went over my head.
“My total focus was I just wanted to be in the next squad. Idols of mine were Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Bob Latchford… I was in awe to train with them and be a part of it.
“The only way I could be was playing as well as I could do on my debut, and if I could do well enough, then I would be in the next one, and the one after that.
“It was total tunnel vision of what I wanted to achieve, because I liked being in their company.”
Anderson would go on to be part of England’s 1980 European Championship squad, the only black player included, and again at the World Cup in Spain, before winger John Barnes joined him for Mexico ’86.
Along with other black footballers during that era, the defender, who won the European Cup twice with Forest before joining Arsenal in
The great Mr (Brian) Clough said to me: ‘If you are going to let people on the terraces, or in life, get to you, by shouting things or throwing things, then you are no good to me’… I took that on board really early on because I wanted to be a footballer more than anything else
1984, had to regularly endure racist abuse from the terraces.
Anderson – who would become Sir Alex Ferguson’s first signing at Manchester United and went on to have spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Middlesbrough – recalled how he was determined to stay focused on his football.
“The great Mr (Brian) Clough said to me: ‘If you are going to let people on the terraces, or in life, get to you, by shouting things or throwing things, then you are no good to me. I will pick somebody else, because I can rely on them, and I can’t rely on you, because you are too worried about what people say or do’.
“I took that on board really early on – I must have been about 18 or 19 – because I wanted to be a footballer more than anything else.
“What is the alternative? Go some- where else and have the same problems again and again? It was coming from a time when you just had to get on with it, and if you didn’t then you suffered in your career, and that was a non-starter for me.”
A Press Association Sport study has tracked the progression from Anderson’s first tournament appearance to Gareth Southgate’s England squad at the 2018 World Cup, which featured 12 BAME players out of 23 – 52 per cent of the most diverse group to date.
Anderson, who was player-manager at Barnsley during 1993-1994 and also worked under Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough, hopes it will not be such a long wait for a BAME coach to be given a chance in the England hot seat.
“Young black kids wanted to see Clyde Best, to be like him, other kids
like Rio (Ferdinand) said they wanted to be like Viv Anderson. Now on the management side there is very few to chose from, so that is the next hurdle,” said the 62-year-old, who will be taking part in Prostate Cancer UK’s Football to Amsterdam bike ride next June.
“Is it down to owners? To people who run football? I don’t know why it has not evolved, even more so. We are a multi-nation country now.
“If it is the ‘Rooney Rule’ that brings it back into prominence, then try it, because we have tried everything else for 20 years which has not worked.
“It has to be done properly, not just lip service, and see where it goes from there.
“Up to this point, it has been very little, there are only three or four coaches now. As long as they have the qualifications, they should be given the opportunity.”
Viv Anderson will be taking part in Prostate Cancer UK’s Football to Amsterdam bike ride for a fourth time on June 7-9 2019 Visit prostatecanceruk.org/amsterdam for details of the ride or sponsor Viv at www.justgiving.com/ fundraising/ vivanderson5.
Viv Anderson playing for England against Hungary in 1989
Viv Anderson walking out at Wembley for his England debut behind Dave Watson and ahead of Tony Woodcock and Peter Barnes