Ex-England stars surprise youngsters in Willesden to mark end of Black History Month

Thursday 31 Oct 2019
Former England players Glen Johnson and Rachel Yankey were at the event to mark the closure of 2019's Black History Month

The final day of Black History Month 2019 was marked on Thursday with two BAME England internationals heading to Capital City Academy in Willesden Green to participate in a mixed-gender coaching session and host a special panel.

Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson – who won 54 caps for the Three Lions – and ex-Arsenal winger Rachel Yankey – who was capped 129 times by the Lionesses – were joined by our Inclusion Advisory Board chair Paul Elliott and popular BBC broadcaster Garth Crooks.

“Black History Month is a celebration of diversity and ethnicity and almost an ‘example month’ of all the things we should just be doing all year round,” explains Elliott, who won one England B cap and played for Aston Villa, Celtic, Chelsea and Italian side Pisa.

“We currently have 30 per cent BAME players in English football. That’s what the likes of Viv Anderson, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis worked so hard for.

“In my role as chair of The FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, we continue their push for diversity and inclusion and have fantastic leadership and vision within the organisation in order to achieve it.”

The youngsters enjoyed a coaching session put on by the Middlesex FA

“I think Black History Month is hugely successful and important to students like the ones here,” added ex-Tottenham forward Crooks, who is chair of the Board of Trustees at Capital City Academy.

“It’s a month for schools and establishments to focus on subjects they might not usually engage with.

“These children need part of their curriculum dedicated to allow them to talk about things they have perhaps seen on TV or in the news, especially if they concern them.

“Those from BAME backgrounds can also share their culture, which helps with the education process.”

The 30 Capital City Academy students, many from BAME backgrounds, enjoyed a coaching session put on by Middlesex FA, before getting the chance to pose their own questions to the star-studded panel.

Garth Crooks hosted a Q&A with the youngsters and the panel

“I hope the kids at Capital City Academy enjoy as positive an experience at school as I did,” said 35-year-old Johnson, who retired last year.

“I was one of two black kids at school, but we both won respect quite quickly due to our football skills. Others may have different stories, but I don’t ever feel I was held back because of the colour of my skin. That’s obviously the way it should be.”

Throughout October, Black History Month has been a chance to celebrate some true pioneers in the game, including the world’s first professional black footballer Arthur Wharton, who was born on 28 October 1865 and has a statue in his honour at St George’s Park.

There has also been FA support for a number of local events, including the so-called Middlesex Coaches Hub, designed to provide opportunities and mentors to BAME players and aspiring coaches.

And as England’s men prepare for their 1000th game against Montenegro on 14 November, The FA will continue to celebrate its strong BAME heritage long after Black History Month ends.

To date, 93 different players from BAME backgrounds have won senior caps, including Viv Anderson (the first player in 1978), Ashley Cole (the most-capped with 107) and Jermain Defoe (the top-scoring with 20 goals).

“My idols growing up were Les Ferdinand and Marcel Desailly,” reveals Johnson.

Glen Johnson, Rachel Yankey and Paul Elliott spoke to students at the Capital City Academy in London on Thursday

“I looked up to them because I was impressed with them as people and footballers not just because they were black.

“I have a lot of respect for Ashley Cole and Defoe, too. Fortunately for black players – in all sports, like boxing and NFL, too – there are a lot of black players right now at the very top of their game.”

“My biggest idol as a kid was Ian Wright,” added 39-year-old Yankey, who scored 19 times for the Lionesses.

“I just loved him as a footballer and I could relate to the way he played. That wasn’t because of his skin colour alone, but because he always looked like he was having fun.”

For the students of Capital City Academy, not only did they get to meet BAME role-models spanning four decades, and grab a selfie with some of their idols, but as an added bonus they will get to watch England’s 1000th game against Montenegro at Wembley Stadium after Crooks surprised them, at the end of the event, with 30 free tickets to the game.

By Ben Jacobs