Black History Month

Then & Now: Black Sporting Pioneers

Rachel Roberts

In the first of a 2-part series, Rachel Roberts highlights the careers of trailblazing Black athletes and those who are following in their footsteps in today’s game. Part 1 focuses on two of the nation’s favourite sports: football and cricket.


Liverpool’s No.10: John Barnes and Sadio Mané

Legendary Liverpool no.10 John Barnes started out his career at Watford when he was 17, and after playing 296 times transferred to Liverpool for £900,000 in 1987. Whilst there, he won both the league and the FA cup twice, scoring 108 goals. Barnes was named the Professional Footballers’ Association and Football Writers’ Association’s (FWA) Player of the Year in 1987/88, and FWA player again in 1989/90.

For England, Barnes won 79 caps, his first in 1983 where he became the 7th Black internationalist. By the time of his last England cap in 1995, he was the most capped Black player. Barnes has long been an outspoken figure with regards to racism in both sport and society, which he endured frequently throughout his career. He was the 2nd Black player to play for Liverpool and faced abuse from the crowds – there is a famous image capturing him kicking away banana skins thrown at him. Barnes is an iconic player of the game, beloved by Liverpool fans for his speed and skill, much like the side’s current no.10 Sadio Mané.

Senegalese attacker Sadio Mané signed for the club in June 2016 for £30m and in the 4 years he’s been at the club he has been crowned Premier League, Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup champion. In 2019, he was named CAF African Player of the Year, making him only the 2nd Senegalese player to have won the award.

[Mané] also holds the record for the fastest Premier League hat-trick

A prolific forward, Mané was a joint winner of the Golden Boot for the 2018/19 season with a haul of 22 goals, making his total 84 goals whilst playing at Liverpool. He also holds the record for the fastest Premier League hat-trick – scoring 3 goals in 2mins and 56s in 2015 playing for Southampton.

West Indies to England: Roland Butcher and Jofra Archer

Roland Butcher was the first Black cricketer to play for England in an international match, when he made his debut against Australia in an ODI in 1980. He made 52, which was, at the time, the fastest ODI 50 ever scored, and earned a spot on the tour to the West Indies the next year in what turned out to be his only tour with an England team, who were going through a turbulent time. He did initially agree to join the rebel tour to South Africa in 1989 but in light of the anti-apartheid protests, decided not to.

He also played semi-professional football, and was the first Black player for Stevenage. As a coach, he is committed to encouraging talent to break through and has written his manual Achieving Excellence to help coach emerging players in the Caribbean. Butcher has cited his work with the University of West Indies as his greatest contribution to sport. One of the players he has coached was a young Jofra Archer, whose rise in the game he sees as unsurprising.

[Archer] was England’s leading wicket taker and the joint-third highest of all

Fast-bowler Jofra Archer made his England debut in a May 2019 ODI against Ireland, but by the end of that summer he was a key component in the World Cup winning team. He was England’s leading wicket taker and the joint-third highest of all, with 20 wickets across the tournament, which concluded with him bowling the deciding super-over of the Final against New Zealand.

He was included in the ICC’s 12-man team of the tournament, and featured in the Ashes series later that summer, after which he was handed his first central contract with the ECB, making him one of only 6 players to receive contracts for all formats of the game. Archer featured in this summer’s behind-closed-doors matches and is currently playing in the Indian Premier League for the Rajasthan Royals.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll turn our attention to the American women leading in their fields.

Rachel Roberts

Featured image used courtesy of cakeordeath via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

In article photo 1 courtesy of @liverpoolfc via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

In article video 2 courtesy of @englandcricket via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

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