On what would have been his birthday, we today remember and highlight the contribution of the late Alf Charles, who was Southampton Football Club’s first black player.
Born on 11th July 1909, in Trinidad, Charles would become one of the earliest black players in English professional football when he signed for Saints in January 1937 and then played in a 2-2 draw at Bradford City, in the Second Division, on the following day.
His journey to that point began in his homeland, where he was a noted athlete, excelling at both cricket and football, capable of playing in any outfield position in the latter, although centre-half was perhaps his most notable place in the line-up.
He was a key player for Trinidad-based club Everton, who were regular trophy winners, although an unusual turn of events then saw him leave for England, as a clash with an opposition player in September 1933 led to an on-pitch battle, which also featured spectators getting involved, resulting in Charles being among the players given a three-year ban, while Everton also withdrew from the league.
As a result, he was encouraged to head to the United Kingdom, where he had travelled with the West Indian Cricket Team, initially employed as a valet. He started in Burnley, but, after being unable to break through at Turf Moor, he was eventually spotted by Saints while featuring in non-league for Stalybridge Celtic.
He made his one and only first-team appearance with the club on 9th January 1937, replacing Billy Boyd and playing at inside-left, providing an assist for the opening goal of the game, scored by James Dunne.
Charles would also play in five reserve games with Saints, scoring two goals, but injury then curtailed his career. He passed away in 1977, in Burnley.
He is celebrated and remembered at St Mary’s Stadium with a memorial plaque in his honour.