The Colour of Football: The life of a football pioneer

The first black African-American to play professional football in the UK returns to his childhood home of Bristol next month to share his story with youngsters growing up in the city today.

Steve Stacey will fly from his home in Australia to talk about how he progressed from his humble beginnings of kicking a ball around in the gas-lit streets of post-war Bristol to playing in the top tier of the English game.

During his six-week visit to his home city, Steve will speak at Fairfield High School, which he attended as a child, and Orchard School in Horfield, the area of Bristol where he lived and first dreamed about being a professional player.

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He will also launch his autobiography, The Colour of Football, on Friday, September 6, at 18.00 in the Sports Bar at Ashton Gate, home of Bristol City, the club where he began his pro career – despite being a Bristol Rovers fan!

Steve’s black American GI father had not been allowed to marry his white English mother, and returned to the United States, leaving Steve as the only black face among a sea of white peers.

But when his football ability saw him become captain of a street team, he felt he fitted in and realised that colour played no part in football.

He said: “No matter what had happened in the past, name-calling, being ignored, I never felt I was less worthy than anyone else on the street again, ever.

“I have considered this often on my journey. With all the glamour of a professional football career, perhaps being captain of the street team was the most important and crucial appointment of my whole life.

“As I grew up, all my friends and those I played football with were white. As I turned professional, I was admired for my skill with the ball, not for the colour of my skin.

“Today, teams are brimming with players of different nationalities and colour, and that is the way it should be.

“But I like to think that, in some small way, I was part of the beginning.”

Steve was a versatile player who could occupy pretty much any position, including that of goalkeeper!

He was eventually sold by Bristol City’s chairman, Harry Dolman, to Wrexham to help raise the funds needed to build the Dolman Stand. His career took him to Ipswich, back to Bristol City and then Exeter and Bath City, until he emigrated with his wife and two daughters to Australia in 1974, where he continued to play – as one of the first ever black footballers in Australia – and coach.

He was nearly 40-years-old when he managed to track down and then meet his father and his US family, which opened his eyes to the suffering of the black community in the area where his father was born and raised – Kemper County and the infamous ‘killing fields’ for black African-Americans.

Steve’s story – and his book - contains fascinating insights into dressing room banter, lots of wheeling and dealing, the frustration of dealing with injuries, and features a host of famous names, from Bristol City legend John Atyeo to one of Steve’s Ipswich – and future England – managers, Sir Bobby Robson.

He spent his life thinking about his ancestral roots and trying to trace them and is looking forward to returning to his own roots, and the city which played such an important role in his formative years. He’ll also be taking part in events to mark Bristol Black History month in October, with a lecture at M Shed on October 9 at 18.00 titled, Ancestral Roots and Football Boots.

Gordon Taylor OBE, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said: “People of all backgrounds, races, religions and cultures can come together through football.

“Steve Stacey is not one of the big stars. But as the son of a black American GI and a white English woman, he was a pioneer. Professional football is all about the Steve Stacey’s of this world.

“The PFA is proud to have helped Steve tell his story. It is one that will resonate with football lovers everywhere and is a great insight into what it was like to be a professional footballer in Steve’s time.”

The Colour of Football is priced at £12 and will be available from book shops, Ashton Gate Stadium from Friday, September 6.

The Colour of Football - Steve Stacey
12.00

Steve Stacey rose from kicking a ball in the gaslit streets of post-war Bristol to running out in the top flight of English football. Often the only black face in the team he was the first African-American to grace the professional English game.

This poignant, funny and at times deeply moving tale, takes you behind the scenes as a professional footballer working up through the ranks while at the same time searching for his roots.

The son of a GI from Kemper County, Mississippi, the killing fields of black America and a woman from Bristol, UK he was given the middle name Darrow, after a black rights advocate.

His 40-year ancestry search underpins his rise through the football leagues. It’s all here, the dressing room banter, the famous names, the injuries as Steve plied his trade with Bristol City, Wrexham, Ipswich, and Exeter then breaking more boundaries as one of the first black footballers in Australia playing for Floreat Athena in Perth.

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