Brendon Batson recalls his younger years in England on National Windrush Day

Thursday 22 June 2023 is the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Windrush, a time to recognise and commemorate the generation of people from the Caribbean, who arrived in England throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Former footballer Brendan Batson was a child of the Windrush Generation and looks back at his own and many of the current Black community’s history in the UK.

Wednesday 21 Jun 2023
Former Arsenal, Cambridge and West Brom player Brendon Batson OBE arrived in the UK as a nine-year-old in April 1962

My brother and I first came to England in April 1962, when I was nine and he was 13 and we arrived between the first Windrush Generation arriving in 1948 and the Immigration Act which came in 1971.

When my mum sent us to England, she had billed it to us as something of an adventure. She sold us the vision of a better life and more opportunity, because that was part of the encouragement for people in the Commonwealth to come to England in that post-War era.

So we were looking forward to it, I’d never been on a plane before and the stories were that everyone was welcoming and that the streets were paved in gold, so for a nine year old it was very exciting.

National Windrush Day
  • Introduced in 2018 and takes place on 22 June every year
  • The first arrival of migrants from the Caribbean docked at Tilbury, Essex on the Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948
  • A celebration of the contribution of the Windrush Generation to UK society
  • Aim to keep their legacy alive for future generations, ensuring that we all celebrate the diversity of Britain's history

At first, we lived with my uncle and aunt and our cousins and I couldn’t tell you exactly when they had come across, but they lived in Tilbury, where the Windrush first docked, so that was the start for us.

Our uncle was working as a laboratory technician and still studying, while my aunt was a midwife, who seemed to have delivered half of Tilbury at the time so she was very well known and respected.

That meant we never really had to introduce ourselves, as we were one of the few Black families in Tilbury as most people from the Windrush had immediately moved on from Tilbury to the areas where there were jobs available.

We went to St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School and were in a council house at first while my uncle was working hard and saving, before he bought his own house up the road in Grays.

That was fantastic and I remember there being a big garden and helping do a lot of work in decorating it so it was like his little palace.

My mum joined us along with our sister exactly two years later, when we moved first to Chadwell and then onto Walthamstow in east London. My mum was a housekeeper for Hilton Hotels and she had secured a transfer from the Hilton Hotel in Trinidad to the one in London.

She worked hard too and it was within 12 months when we bought our own house in Shernhall Street, Walthamstow, where we spent 12 happy years before I moved on.

As a young player at Arsenal, Brendon was invited to join in with the club's League and FA Cup double celebrations in 1971

Growing up at that time, unfortunately racism was just something you had to get used to. We were very much aware that we were in a minority but because you were living with it, you had to deal with it and I learned to deal with it through playing football.

I was fortunate that football was a way out for me, but I saw my brother and his friends go through a lot when they were making their way. I was shielded from that through playing football and I was spotted by Arsenal as a 13 year old by one of their great old players George Male, who I'll always remember fondly.

They guided me through my early years in professional football, I signed schoolboy forms at 14 and joined as an apprentice at 16 when Ken Friar was the assistant secretary and we’re still good friends to this day.

While I didn’t make my way into the team there, I had a good grounding with Bertie Mee as the manager and Don Howe the coach, before I went on to Cambridge United and really started my career.

I was very fortunate in that I had a little bit of talent and had some good breaks along the way, but when I look back, I don’t think I saw another Black player until I was about 14 when I played against another lad on an opposition team.

Out of all the teams in the Regents Park League in London, there was only one other Black player who I played with and he was on Tottenham’s books, I thought he was a terrific player. But at the time his parents wouldn’t let him sign because they said there were no other Black players.

In action for West Bromwich Albion in 1977

So he went off and became an apprentice electrician and that was something which happened with a lot of Black parents who wouldn’t let their kids sign for clubs.

But there were a few Black players starting to come through at the time, and I’ll always remember at West Ham there were players like Clyde Best, the Charles brothers and Ade Coker, who was of Nigerian heritage.

Gradually, the explosion came in the 1970s and then a seminal moment was when Viv Anderson got his first cap for England in 1978 and before then Laurie Cunningham had played for the U23s.

Since then, there’s been 100s if not 1000s of Black players whose families arrived at that time and I think we owe a great debt to that Windrush Generation who came through to help develop post-War Britain.

After the scandal about certain members of the Windrush Generation being threatened with deportation a few years ago, it’s great that people are now recognising the contribution made by those people to the wellbeing of this country.

And with all of the recent incidents that have taken place and football’s response to it all, I think it’s a great thing that the players now feel confident to speak out and to say there has to be change and recognition for those that have come before.

By Brendon Batson OBE Former player and FA IAB member