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Best to feature on CNN racism in football show

Bermuda legend Clyde Best will share some of his darker memories from his West Ham playing days on a major CNN report on racism in football tonight.

‘It’s Not Black & White’, presented by World Sports, features several black football pioneers including England first black captain Viv Anderson and ex-West Bromwich Albion ace Cyrille Regis and his former team-mate Brendon Batson.

Best, who was a trailblazer for black players in England during the 1960s and 70s, helped smash the glass ceiling which for so long had hindered athletes from minority backgrounds.

While his 58 goals in 218 games for the Hammers etched his name in the club’s folklore, the big striker suffered some extreme abuse from the terraces, mirroring the strong resistance to immigrants landing on Britain’s shores back then.

“People weren’t used to seeing people of colour on the field in those days. I was always taught that you’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for the people who are coming behind you, and that’s what kept me going,” Best told CNN.

“There were certain things that were said and done, but you’ve got to put them in the back of your mind and be strong and do what you have to do.”

Best’s persistence in coping with the hate mail and the fan abuse some of it from his own club’s supporters helped pave the way for the likes of Anderson, and Albion trio Regis, Batson and Laurie Cunningham, who were famously dubbed ‘The Three Degrees’ by their manager Ron Atkinson.

Aged just 17, Best arrived in the UK from Bermuda to play for West Ham in 1968 the same year British politician Enoch Powell made his infamous “rivers of blood speech”, predicting a future of endless racial strife and riots if immigration continued.

Batson, whose adopted Midland’s town of West Bromwich neighboured both Wolverhampton Powell’s political constituency and Birmingham where the infamous speech was delivered.

He told CNN the level of abuse from supporters was ‘astonishing’ at times.

“People said to me that as black players came to the fore in the early ‘70s, that was almost an opportunity for those racist groups the BNP, the National Front to come out and vent their fury at black players.

“The football authorities did nothing about it, so for the black players coming through and particularly when I was at West Brom, we would seem to get the brunt of it because there were three of us and the volume was quite astonishing at times.

“It wasn’t pleasant. What it did to you was almost galvanise us, to say, ‘This is our profession, this is our career. We’re not going to be driven away so we’ll see you next week, next month, next year,’ and that’s it, we get on with it.”

In recent months, racism in football has reared its ugly head with Liverpool striker Luis Suarez being handed an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, while Chelsea captain John Terry will face trial in July for alleged racist abuse of Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.

Best, for one, hopes that the world’s most popular sport can focus on living up to it being “the beautiful game”.

“I think the most important thing to remember about soccer, with all of the foolishness that is going on with the racism and stuff like that, the minute a goal is scored, I can be as black as the ace of spades or I can be as white as a snow flake ... the minute a goal is scored, everybody hugs one another.

“The most important thing to remember is that the ball doesn’t care what colour you are.”

Best was inducted into the Bermuda Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and was awarded an MBE in the January 2006 New Year’s Honours list for services to football and the community in his homeland.

“It’s Not Black & White” airs tonight at 4pm Bermuda time, on Saturday at 12am and 10pm, on Sunday at 7am and at 4am on Monday.

Clyde Best, during his West Ham heyday(right), takes on Hereford United Tony Gough.

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Published February 24, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 24, 2012 at 7:45 am)

Best to feature on CNN racism in football show

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