During 2020, Southampton FC embarked upon a project which began to take a deep-dive into the club’s extensive history, including revisiting the contribution made by the club’s first ever black player, Alf Charles, who was signed back in 1937.
Born in July 1909 in Trinidad, Charles began his sporting journey playing in his home nation, but latterly travelled to the UK with the West Indian Cricket Team, initially employed as a valet. Charles was one of the earliest black players in English professional football when signing for Saints in the January of 1937 and made his first-team debut the following day.
He made his solitary appearance in the Football League in a 2–2 draw at Bradford City on January 9th, 1937, replacing Billy Boyd. He also played in five reserve games, in which he scored two goals, before injury curtailed his career.
Since then, more than 40 black players have represented Saints at first-team level, with Charles paving the way at a time where there was little black representation in the sport, and he remains a significant part of the club’s history.
In order to celebrate the contribution of black players over the years and across the various Southampton eras, the club has designed and installed a plaque at St Mary’s Stadium in memory of Alf Charles (pictured below).
The club has also been running a number of other activities to coincide with Black History Month, including launching its very first bitesize training module for staff members, designed to educate on the importance of Black History Month.
Additionally, the club has filmed a series of podcasts with four special guests, each speaking about their personal experiences and what Black History Month means to them.
Elsewhere, Saints Foundation has been raising awareness in our local communities, many of which have diverse backgrounds and cultures, and speaking about the importance of black history in Hampshire schools, as part PSHE education.
The club’s Equality & Diversity Manager, Ali Wallace, said: “As a club we are keen to continue celebrating Black History Month in order to continue to challenge the sometimes narrow vision of our past, be that in football, in our city or in Britain more widely.
“We have the opportunity to recognise that black history is woven into the history of our football club and the chance to share the contribution of our black players with wider audiences.”