When you think of black footballers and football firsts few can go further than the first ever black man to represent the full England National Team, Nottingham born Viv Anderson.
A man who lifted two European Cups with his hometown club, a player who played 30 times for his country and had near 600 football league appearances representing the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday amongst others. Our Viv was one of the original heroes not just for people growing up in England of African and Caribbean descent during the 70’s and 80’s, but to the people of Nottingham in general, to the town he represented so successfully, as one of our own.
Born in Clifton where he played for the famous ‘All Whites’ club as a junior, Anderson said “growing up there was only ever one black face on the television playing football in the sixties, and that was Clyde Best, every time you used to put Match of the Day on you would see Clyde Best playing for West Ham and I thought, I want to be like him”
Having spent a year as a schoolboy at Manchester United he joined Nottingham Forest and by 1974 aged just 18 he would make his debut for the club and became a regular underneath Brian Clough as the side gained promotion from the second division to the top flight in 1977.
Viv explained in the early days as a young footballer he suffered regular racism “I remember going to Carlisle, there were not many black faces in Carlisle and after an hour Mr Clough said ‘Anderson, warm up’ So I warm up, and within five minutes I sat back down, Clough said ‘I thought I told you to warm up’ I explained, I have been boss, but the fans are throwing bananas, pears and apples at me”.
Another occasion at Newcastle United “It was my third game in a cup tie, they had Tudor & McDonald and a really good team at the time, I remember going on the pitch (before the game) and the whole stadium were booing and shouting things and I went back into the dressing room and said to the Manager ‘I don’t think I can play today’, he looked at me straight in the eye and said ‘you’re playing’.
Anderson said “there was no alternative, you look now at players like Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, they have a voice. Back in the day, I didn’t have a voice, I had to do what the Manager said”.
A strong robust character who was driven to play the game he loved despite the early abuse he took, Anderson said “In my heart of hearts I just wanted to be a footballer, whatever it took, I just wanted to be a footballer”.
And it was that drive and character that turned him into one of the best right backs of his generation, with Forest following promotion he was part of the famous championship winning team that also won the League Cup beating Liverpool in the replayed final in 1978, and within a few months of the following season Anderson would make history by becoming the first black player to play for England at full level.
Ron Greenwood was Manager at the time as England played Czechoslovakia at Wembley in a game won by a Steve Coppell goal as Anderson recalls “there was a big fanfare, going to interview my parents and people that knew me, being on the six o’clock news, It was a lot of pressure but I just wanted to do well”
‘Do well’ was an understatement in the career of Anderson who’s football firsts didn’t stop there. After retaining the League Cup with Forest, Anderson would play in the 1979 European Cup Final helping the Reds to their first of two successive continental triumphs. By 1980 when Clough’s team won it again, Anderson was already considered as one of the best players in the world.
He moved to Arsenal in 1984, playing 120 times for the Gunners and helping them to a League Cup Final win under George Graham in 1987 before later that year becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s first Manchester United signing, staying at Old Trafford until 1991.
With Sheffield Wednesday he became an Owls favourite in his later years, captaining the side in the FA Cup Final against his former team Arsenal who they eventually lost to in a replay. It would be his last game for Wednesday before taking the role as Player-Manager of Barnsley.
Anderson would later assist Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough during the era of Juninho, Ravanelli et al and in 2000 was awarded an MBE for not just his services towards the game he loved, for not just what he achieved as a man in football, but for the way he did it, with dignity, with pride, with a smile on his face during tough times for black people especially at the time he was growing up.
A great player and a great man loved by many who are inspired by his story, Nottingham born and bred, Anderson will always be an ambassador and a hero that people can look up to whether they are black, white, African or Chinese, to say that no matter the colour or race ‘by believing in yourself, you can always follow your dream’.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @Art_of_Football Viv Anderson making his England debut in November 1978.