By GAFC News
4th February
Share via

At the Aveley game on 23 January, I was privileged to be introduced to a wonderful man - Mr Benjamin Odeje.

He was the first black player to represent England.

No, it wasn't Laurie Cunningham of West Bromwich Albion, in 1977, as this BBC London article in May 2013 confirms:
'First black player revealed to be Benjamin Odeje'
It is the type of question you might get in a pub quiz - who was the first black footballer to play for England?
The answer most people would come up with is probably not a young schoolboy from south-east London in 1971 - six years before the player the history books record.
BBC London has uncovered evidence that Benjamin Odeje was called up by England schoolboys and made his debut against Northern Ireland in front of 70,000 fans.
‘I remember standing in the tunnel and the band was still playing,’ he recalls. ‘My knees were knocking and if you'd given me the choice to forget it I probably would have, I was so nervous.’
Mr Odeje helped England to a 1-0 win. He went on to play for England a number of times, but the history books seem to have forgotten him.
Instead, Laurie Cunningham is recognised as England's first black footballer at any level.
The West Bromwich Albion man appeared for the Under 21s in 1977.
A year later, Viv Anderson became the first to win a senior cap. But all this took place many years after Ben Odeje pulled on the national jersey.
A spokesman for the Football Association said: ‘We've spoken to our historian, and at the time the English Schools' Football Association ran the team.
‘But we can confirm Benjamin Odeje was the first black player to represent England at any level.’
Born in Nigeria, but raised in Charlton, Mr Odeje has also coached QPR.
He runs soccer schools in north London and hundreds of children aged between five and 13 have been coached by his team.
One parent, John Palmer, told BBC London: ‘It is only right and proper that he gets his correct recognition.
‘He was the first - and here he is still enjoying the game.’
Official recognition would mean a lot to Mr Odeje and his family.
‘It's hard for my children, especially in Black History Month when they talk about history-makers at school,’ he explained.
‘They tell friends I was the first black footballer and other children call them liars. But I am, it is a fact.’
The national side is now a reflection of England's multi-cultural society.
But 42 years ago, a nervous young teenager stood in the famous Wembley tunnel about to make football history.”
Ben told me he now lives in Tilbury and is helping the youth players of Grays Athletic.
A real gentleman, he told me how proud his family were when he was awarded his degree in sports science. I suspect they were also very proud when he played in front of 70,000 people as the first black player to represent England!

We look forward to seeing him at more games here at Parkside. He will always receive a warm welcome.


Share via