Former Chelsea footballer Paul Canoville recalled the horrendous racist abuse he had received from his own fans whilst warming up to make his debut against Crystal Palace in 1982.
“I was warming up and there were the heckles and racist chants from our own fans, I didn’t expect it,” said Paul, who was the first black player to play for Chelsea. He recalled on returning to the dressing room, after the Palace game, how his team mates did not know what to say.
Three years later, things had got better. Paul recalled coming on as a substitute in a cup match with Sheffield Wednesday, scoring two goals and setting up two. “I was applauded by the fans,” said Paul, whose problems with racism extended into the dressing room, where he got into a fight with another player who had called him an ape. “Chelsea didn’t back me,” said Paul, who then went to Reading FC.
Paul Canoville retired early through injury but had more heartache, getting addicted to drugs and having cancer. He overcame both conditions. Paul also suffered heartbreak in 1995, when his son Tye, who had a heart defect, died in his arms. Paul had 11 children.
Paul though rebuilt his life, being asked by Chelsea in 2004 to talk to some children. He later became a classroom assistant. He also does workshops in prisons. His autobiography “Black and Blue” (2008) won a number of awards. Last year, there was a Sky documentary titled Black and Blue: the Paul Canoville story chronicling his remarkable life.
Paul is a strong advocate for black players in the game and their advancement onto the managerial ladder. He is particularly angry at the denial of the possibility to black players of becoming managers in the Premiership. “We played and thought we’d be given a chance but we’re not getting that chance. It is upsetting us a lot – there is the question of how we overcome barriers,” said Paul, who spoke of a scheme in the US NFL whereby a BAME person has to be interviewed for major coaching positions. This ofcourse could become a cosmetic exercise but it would be a start.
The former footballer was also critical of the authorities for showing a lack of support for womens football. “The FA are not supporting women’s football,” said Paul.