Bermuda pair among football’s black pioneers
Clyde Best and Calvin “Bummy” Symonds” have been featured in a forthcoming book celebrating the lives, careers, and experiences of English football’s groundbreaking black players.
The book entitled Football’s Black Pioneers, The Stories of the First Black Players to Represent the 92 League Clubs, charts the journeys of well-known and lesser-known black players to have played in England.
Among those remembered are Viv Anderson, the first black player to represent England, Tony Ford, the former Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion midfielder, and Chris Kamara, now a presenter at Sky Sports.
Best, a trailblazer for black players in England during the 1960s and 70s, helped smash the glass ceiling that hindered players from minority backgrounds.
While his 58 goals in 218 games for West Ham United etched his name in the club’s folklore, he suffered extreme abuse from the terraces, mirroring the strong resistance to immigrants landing on Britain’s shores back then.
Best, whose autobiography The Acid Test, was published in 2016, feels proud to have inspired the next generation of black players and is flattered his exploits are still being celebrated.
“All of this happened 50 years ago and yet we’re still talking about it,” Best, 69, said.
“It goes to show you must have done a good job and could play a bit. If you couldn’t, I’m sure people would have let me know!
“Before me there was John Charles [the first black player to play for West Ham in 1963], and guys like Clive Charles and Ade Coker, all at West Ham.
“Then came Brendon Batson, a kid at Arsenal who went to West Brom, where he joined Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis.”
While the trials and tribulations Best faced during his time in England are known to many, Symonds’s story is far less well documented. Perhaps better known for his cricketing achievements, Symonds, the most successful St George’s captain in Cup Match, became Rochdale’s first black player in 1954.
The former Key West Rangers forward made just one appearance for Rochdale in an away game against Barrow in 1955 before his career was cut short because of a knee injury.
Symonds returned to Bermuda later that year where he continued his domestic career at PHC Zebras.
“It’s really nice that this book has remembered a player like ‘Bummy’ who played way back in the 50s,” Best added. “He played in the era before me almost 70 years ago. It’s lovely to have people still talking about us.”
Now 88, Symonds said he experienced little racism in England and, other than the injury that curtailed his career, has only fond memories of his time at Rochdale.
“I’m very proud to have been among the first black players in England,” Symonds said. “I’m didn’t have too many race problems. I heard a few people say, ‘come on, darkie’ when I was on the field, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
“People treated me really nice and my only disappointment was my knee injury. I had two operations and they wanted to give me a third.
“My specialist at the Rochdale Infirmary recommended I return to Bermuda and sit in the saltwater because there was nothing more he could do for me. I took his advice.”
Symonds said he was indebted to a football enthusiast from England, who worked as a Belco engineer and spotted the 16-year-old playing for Key West Rangers.
“I have to take my hat off to a guy called Bill Buckley,” Symonds added. “He used to stay in the community. In those days whites played with whites, and blacks played with blacks.
“I used to think, ‘what’s this little white man doing over here?’ He was very enthused with my play and wanted to send me to Bolton Wanderers for a trial. When they couldn’t take me he asked me if I wanted to go to a lower club. I told him that I just wanted to get off the island.
“When I got to England, I never dreamt it would be so cold. I was doing really well until the injury set me back.”
Football’s Black Pioneers by Bill Hern and David Gleave will be published by Conker Editions on August 20.
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