Anderson: I never considered ‘trailblazer’ tag

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Viv Anderson never saw himself as a “trailblazer” when he became the first black player to earn a full senior England international cap 40 years ago.

A telegram from the Queen, and another from Elton John, were both sent to the then 22-year-old Nottingham Forest defender to mark the occasion on November 29, 1978.

But four decades on, Anderson feels football still has a long way to go to help BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) coaches get over “the next hurdle.”

England Manager Ron Greenwood (seated-centre) and his 1982 England World Cup Squad (PA Archive)
Viv Anderson was the only black player in the England 1982 World Cup squad (PA Archive)

The significance of the occasion, though, was the furthest thing from his mind at the time.

“I was just a young black kid who wanted to play football, that was it. Trailblazer, or whatever, it never entered my head for one second, even with all the publicity we had beforehand,” Anderson told Press Association Sport.

England manager Ron Greenwood called Anderson up ahead of the 1980 European Championships. (PA Photos)
England manager Ron Greenwood called Anderson up ahead of the 1980 European Championship (PA Photos)

Anderson continued: “My total focus was I just wanted to be in the next squad – idols of mine were Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Bob Latchford – I was in awe to train with them and be a part of it.

“The only way I could be was playing as well as I could do on my debut, and if I could do well enough, then I would be in the next one, and the one after that.

“It was total tunnel vision of what I wanted to achieve, because I liked being in their company.”

Anderson (left) joined Sheffield Wednesday after leaving Manchester United. (PA Images)
Anderson (left) joined Sheffield Wednesday after leaving Manchester United (PA Images)

Along with other black footballers during that era, the defender, who won the European Cup twice with Forest before joining Arsenal in 1984, had to regularly endure racist abuse from the terraces.

Anderson – who would become Sir Alex Ferguson’s first signing at Manchester United and went on to have spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Middlesbrough – recalled how he was determined to stay focused on his football.

Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson (right) and assistant manager Viv Anderson. (John Giles/PA Images)
Anderson worked alongside his former Manchester United team-mate Bryan Robson, right, at Middlesbrough (John Giles/PA Images)

“I took that on board really early on, I must have been about 18 or 19, because I wanted to be a footballer more than anything else.

“What is the alternative? Go somewhere else and have the same problems again and again? It was coming from a time when you just had to get on with it, and if you didn’t then you suffered in your career, and that was a non-starter for me.”

A Press Association Sport study has tracked the progression from Anderson’s first tournament appearance to Gareth Southgate’s England squad at the 2018 World Cup, which featured 12 BAME players out of 23 – 52 per cent of the most diverse group to date.

Anderson, who was player-manager at Barnsley during 1993-1994 and also worked under Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough, hopes it will not be such a long wait for a BAME coach to be given a chance in the England hotseat.

“Young black kids wanted to see Clive Best, to be like him, other kids like Rio (Ferdinand) said they wanted to be like Viv Anderson. Now on the management side there is very few to chose from, so that is the next hurdle,” said the 62-year-old, who will be taking part in Prostate Cancer UK’s Football to Amsterdam bike ride during June 2019.

Former England players Viv Anderson (right) and Terry Butcher (left) have both got on their bike for charity. (Prostate Cancer UK Handout)
Former England players Anderson and Terry Butcher, left, have both got on their bike for charity (Prostate Cancer UK Handout)

“If it is the ‘Rooney Rule’ that brings it back into prominence then try it, because we have tried everything else for 20 years which has not worked.

“It has to be done properly, not just lip service, and see where it goes from there.

“Up to this point, it has been very little, there are only three or four coaches now. As long as they have the qualifications, they should be given the opportunity.”

– Viv Anderson will be taking part in Prostate Cancer UK’s Football to Amsterdam bike ride for a fourth time on June 7-9 2019. Visit or sponsor Viv at

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