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John Simkin

John Charles: Racism at West Ham

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A talented full-back John Charles played for West Ham Boys and in 1960 they reached the English Schools Cup Final. Charles also played for Essex Boys. Charles was spotted by Ernie Gregory and joined West Ham United after leaving school. He was one of the first black players recruited by the club. Ted Fenton was the manager at the time: "When I was taken on the ground staff, Ted told me that I would get called a few names, but to keep kicking them."

John Charles won five Youth caps for England, the first black player to represent England at any level. At the age of nineteen he captained the West Ham team that beat Liverpool 6-5 in the 1963 Youth Cup. The first black player to lead a first-class side to a major trophy.

Ron Greenwood gave John Charles his first-team debut on 4th May 1963. West Ham United lost to Blackburn Rovers 1-0. He did not make the team the following season but he did get to play against Liverpool on 15th September, 1965. It was not until the 1965-66 season that Charles became a regular in the side. This included the semi-final of the European Cup winners' Cup, against Borussia Dortmund.

When he broke into the team there were very few black players in the Football League. John Charles recalls: "I never remember any real racism, certainly not from other players at West Ham or our crowd. Maybe some players respond to it too quickly and become a target when everyone knows it winds them up. If they'd just keep playing they would stop... The idea that West Ham fans are racist is rubbish! They didn't ask if you were black or white; they asked if you were West Ham."

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WHcharlesJ2.htm

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