Three in one: a black breakthrough for a legendary East London club

Above: birthplace of the Hammers. On the right of Bow Creek / Leamouth is the site of the metal-bashing factory where a works footy team that formed in June 1895 became West Ham United five years later



ONE OF LONDON’S GREAT football clubs is proudly celebrating having fielded three black players in the same team 50 years ago which, the club assures Loving Dalston, was a national first.

Clyde Best: groundbreaker

Clyde Best, Clive Charles and Ade Coker played for West Ham United in front of 30,763 fans at Upton Park on 1 April 1972. Coker scored in the 89th minute of the game against Tottenham Hotspur to give the home side a 2-0 win.

Well done, Hammers, and no doubt a few attenders and journalists commented on the auspicious date. As it happens, the April Fools were some of those in the media, a time when sports writers freely made fantastical comments about the supposed differences between white and black players, eg, “they’re not built for endurance”. Managers were hardly better, one league gaffer publicly opined that “the cold and the mud can destroy them [black players]”.

Clive Charles: American success

Certainly a Hammers landmark worth commemorating, although best to put out of mind the way TV and online advertising, once the Black Lives Matter campaign got going a few years ago, put black and brown faces in pretty well every ad almost overnight. Yes, perhaps a little patronising.

In light of what ethnic minorities have had to face — admittedly, along with progress such as the 1965 Race Relations Act — the 1972 footy match was a big deal. And it helped to get soccer to the present situation, when managers field black stars without fearing the effect on them of “the cold and the mud”.

David Altheer 090422

* At Grow, 98C Wallis Road main yard, Hackney Wick E9 5L, Tuesday 19 April 2022 from 7pm, tickets £10. DJs, live music, interviews with former players, possibly including two of the three 1972 players via video. Signed shirts and other West Ham memorabilia will be raffled. 

Ade Coker: game-changer

* What happened to the three barrier-breakers? Bermuda-born Clyde Best, MBE, was an ever-present in 1971-72 season, his best season, and scored 17 league goals. The next season he played in every West Ham league game. He also played for Dutch club Feyenoord. Clive Charles played 15 games for the Hammers before joining Cardiff City. Later in the US he became an admired coach of both men’s and women’s football and was assistant coach to the men’s national side in the 1998 World Cup finals. He died of prostate cancer in Portland, Oregon, in August 2003. Nigeria-born Adewunmi Coker played for WHUFC for three seasons, eventually moving to America, where he played five times for the USA. 

* Further reading: Football’s Black Pioneers, by Bill Hern and David Gleave (Conker Editions 2020, ISBN 978-1999900854), £16.

BLM©DA200720:© Black Lives Matter sign at Hackney Wick 220720
Sign in Hackney Wick, NE London

* Backstory: Spurs star who died fighting for his country; Great black Britons: Soraya Adejare review; How Loving Dalston raised threat to CLR James name

* All pictures ©, apart from footballer pix, and all for sale for reproduction.

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained. Links to articles in The Guardian do not imply any approval of that newspaper’s historic slavery links

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