Published 05 August 2022 6 min read
Grassroots Football

Jamaican independence celebrated in grassroots of England

Written by:

Alec McQuarrie

As we celebrate 60 years of Jamaican independence, we focus on some grassroots clubs across England of Caribbean heritage

PLAY GRASSROOTS FOOTBALL

Football is a unifying force in every community, bringing people together no matter their background, race or heritage.

And as people both in England and Jamaica celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jamaican independence, we spoke to grassroots heroes with links to the Caribbean nation whose lives have been transformed by the beautiful game in England.

Martin Shaw King Trust

For Dr Colin King MBE, the anniversary of Jamaica’s independence always has an added significance.

His brother Martin was also born on 6 August and, after his death in 1985, Dr King set up the Martin Shaw King Trust, a charity dedicated to giving those from disadvantaged backgrounds opportunities in sports coaching, administration and media.

And what started as a project to help Jamaican communities in south London has expanded across the country and led to the founding of the Black and Asian Coaches Association in 1995.
Dr Colin King receives his MBE from the Queen for his work supporting 700 BAME coaches across England
Dr Colin King receives his MBE from the Queen for his work supporting 700 BAME coaches across England
Dr King also works with the Jamaican Football Federation to develop coaching courses as part of a lifelong career devoted to causes close to his late sibling’s heart.

“He was a very staunch Afro-centric, believed in Jamaican independence, believed that we should be self-deterministic and believed that Jamaicans should go beyond just participating in sport – they should be coaches and managers,” said Dr King.

Growing up in a predominantly white Brixton in the 1960s, the Kings were made painfully aware of their heritage and educated on the history of colonialism by their mother.

Dr King recalled: “As young children in the 60s and 70s, we were very much the subject of Enoch Powell and that kind of negative response to immigration.

“So Jamaican people like my mum and dad were subject to the 'no dogs, no Irish, no Blacks'. They couldn’t get access to housing and couldn’t get access to good jobs.

“We lived in very impoverished accommodation. It was very difficult to celebrate our Jamaican heritage.”

Times have changed, and while Dr King believes a level of acceptance has been reached, there is still more work to be done to change perceptions of footballers and coaches of an Afro-Caribbean background.

“We keep on being diagnosed as things we aren’t. We’re not Black. We are multi-dimensional. We are coaches first.

“I think my biggest issue is the women’s game now. I think one of the proudest things I did was do access courses for women to work in the game. I think the real thing for me will be when Hope Powell is working in the men’s game.”
Dr King has worked with Powell since she coached at the Ferndale Centre in south London and has enormous respect for the ex-England player and manager and current Brighton & Hove Albion boss.

“Hope Powell has a resilience as a woman with multiple identities that makes her very uniquely special,” he added.

“She is very assertive about who she actually is. She acknowledges her sexuality and her Jamaican heritage.

“She never forgets who she was or where she comes from. She speaks eloquently about race and she was one of the first Black people in an England management position, so I love the woman.”
A photo from Jamaica, taken by Everton Richards of FC Cavalier in Nottingham
A photo from Jamaica, taken by Everton Richards of FC Cavalier in Nottingham
FC Cavaliers

When chairman, treasurer and coach Everton Richards first got involved with the club that would become FC Cavaliers, they barely had enough players to field a team.

And from the brink of folding in the late 80s, Richards has seen the fortunes of the club rise to where it is today – with ten teams across the age groups running strong in the amateur Nottingham leagues.

Richards, who went to the same school as Viv Anderson, arrived in the UK from Jamaica at age nine, and, like many others in his situation, grappled with acclimation to life on the other side of the world.

“The cold was ridiculous. That was a shock. But also I came from a country where you don’t stay indoors," he said.

“You’re always out in the fresh air and we had so much land, hills, trees and rivers where we could roam. It took some getting used to.”

Years later, Richards saw the Cavaliers first team win a Nottinghamshire Senior League and Cup double in 2008 but in recent years the club has dealt with major setbacks, and not just from semi-professional sides poaching their players.

Tragedy struck on 7 May this year, when 13-year-old Samuel Akwasi suddenly collapsed during a game against WBCY FC Rossoneri and died in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest.

On 24 July, a tournament with 18 teams was held in memory of Samuel and his father was asked to present the trophies to the winners.

Richards recalled: “It was a major success. His father was so overwhelmed. He couldn’t believe all these people turned out to honour his family.

“I’ve seen him breakdown a few times but this was the worst one. His wife was in bits, still is. On Sunday, I held him and I said, ‘cry all you want, just let it out’ and it made me cry as well.

“I’m just glad he was there to see the respect people had for his son. He was shocked. You never get over those things.

“If I’m talking to anybody about it face to face, I can’t hold back the tears. It’s just shocking.”

Akwasi was a popular member of the team, joining at under-nine level, and his coach Richards spoke highly of his footballing ability.

He said: “Samuel was a big, strong, quick lad, and he was improving vastly. He had all the physical attributes. When the ball got cleared the guy could be ten yards ahead and he’d still catch him.

“His centre back partner has just been taken on by Nottingham Forest and I think that could have happened to Samuel as well.”

The devastation felt by those connected with the football club is exacerbated by the fact there was a defibrillator close by in an inaccessible building at the Forest Recreation Ground.

In response, the club has bought two defibrillators with money donated by the FA but Richards is appealing to health organisations for more so that an incident like this will never happen again.

He said: “Everyone hopes that we’ll never have a situation like that again, but you have to be realistic in life. Anything can happen at any time.”
The Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club, which is chaired by Des Smith who arrived in England from Jamaica as a 13 year old
The Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club, which is chaired by Des Smith who arrived in England from Jamaica as a 13 year old
Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club

Des Smith arrived in the UK from Jamaica as a 13 year old, reuniting with his parents after nine years apart.

It took a long time to adjust to life in Sheffield but there was one place that made Smith feel at home – the local youth club that soon became the Sheffield Caribbean Sports Club.

It offered boys and girls like Smith the opportunity to make friends and play football, cricket and netball against teams from all over the country.

Smith, whose son Gavin played and managed the world’s oldest football club Sheffield FC, is now chair of the SCSC and remembers the eye-opening early days in a then-alien South Yorkshire.

He recalled: “It was a big culture shock, of course it was. You live in a very hot country, lots of fresh food, cricket being the number one game and we came to a country where you have no experience at all.

“It was very cold. We didn’t really know about racism until we got here. We learned a lot of new words because we were called those names.

“It was a total change. Also coming to Yorkshire as well, they have their own dialect which causes more problems.”

As an adult Smith had brushes with sporting royalty, personally helping England fast bowler Devon Malcolm arrive in the UK and welcomed a very special guest to the club in the late 70s.

He said: “Laurie Cunningham came to the club to meet the members and the football team before his game that evening at Bramall Lane.

“He really inspired us to carry on playing football and to say, ‘look guys, you can make it, despite all the racism, etc.’

“He was just an ordinary guy. He was just like one of us. We knew he was special, but we just talked to him like I’m talking now.”

Smith has fostered a spirit in the club based on respect, hard-work and, most importantly, enjoyment for the game.

“The most rewarding thing is working with so many people who want to play sport,” said Smith.

“The exciting thing is the number of young people involved in the club – we have forty kids turning up to training three, four times a week.

“It’s just fantastic to see them. At a presentation evening a few months ago the place was ram-packed with families and kids and that just made me feel really proud.

“Every moment is a happy one. It’s a great club to work for, a great club to play with. Everybody likes to play for and against the club because we play hard but we have a good time afterwards.

“People walk away making friends.”

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