‘Best was a pioneer but it came at a price’
Former West Ham United player and manager Harry Redknapp hailed Clyde Best as a true pioneer and icon for helping to pave the way for future black football players to follow in his footsteps.
During his heyday, playing as a centre forward for West Ham from 1968 to 1976, Best endured constant racism as one of the earliest black players in the modern form of the game, as an upsurge in racial tension spilt over from the streets into the terraces.
Redknapp, a team-mate of Best at the club during 1972, recalled the awful abuse he faced throughout that time, while saluting his former colleague for being an icon, not only for West Ham but in the history of the game itself for the part he played in changing the football landscape during a turbulent time for black players.
“We had an incredible West Ham team back then in the Sixties and Seventies with three World Cup winners and an amazing manager in Ron Greenwood, but a teenager who joined us from Bermuda should be considered just as much of an icon,” said Redknapp as part of a special BBC production for Black History Month in Britain.
“He would become without doubt the most prominent black player in the top level of English football. He was a pioneer, but that all came at a price — almost everywhere we played, he suffered awful racist abuse.
“He was such a special fella, a gentle giant and it was hard for the rest of us to witness.
“Clyde’s time in London coincided with an upsurge in racial violence and harassment, and sadly some of this behaviour spilt over on to the terraces, but Clyde had his own way of dealing with it.
“In 1970 Clyde received an anonymous letter from someone threatening to throw acid in his face if he set foot on the pitch the next day. He was a kid at the time, but Clyde played and not only that, not one to make a fuss he chose to keep quiet about it for over 40 years.
“The special thing about Clyde is that he truly believed it was his job, his vocation, to pave the way for future black players.
“You can’t overestimate the impact he had on the club, English football and society. He was a role model for so many following in his footsteps.”
Reflecting on those dark days, Best, who went on to play 186 games for club, scoring 47 goals, revealed how he went about silencing the racism from the crowd as he left an everlasting legacy in football.
“Every time I touched the ball, the monkey chants would start and I just got tired of it,” he said to the BBC. “I thought I’m going to pick the ball up and show them something special.
“I found out from there that the best way to silence the crowd was to put the ball in the back of the net.
“It was a new thing to see people of colour on the field and you had to be tough. You had to make people understand you’re not afraid of them. It wasn’t easy, but nothing in life is.
“There are a lot of black kids playing now but most of them have team-mates for support. When I played, I played by myself.
“A lot of players are appreciative of what I was able to do for them, but I’m just pleased to have had the opportunity to do it for them.”