Black History Month: Chelsea players before Paul Canoville

‘From the legends of talent which have followed him from north to south he is going to put a lot of colour into Chelsea football,’ the article starts. ‘His name is Hanley. They found him playing great stuff for Skelmersdale, [a] club near Liverpool.

‘Take Hanley out of his studded boots and he still tops six feet. His husky-shouldered build carries his height perfectly, and when he smiles, which is often, he smiles wide. Hanley is grateful to Chelsea. Because when the future seemed to stop at monotony of the daily shores in Liverpool, Chelsea invited him to step up into fame.

‘You see the point of Hanley’s appreciation: some clubs have a colour bar.

‘But Chelsea have always been broad-minded. Provided the talent is there, so long as a player can be expected to behave reasonably, Chelsea will stand out against any bias.’

The ‘colour bar’ point is well made, and not just in football. Nine years, earlier in 1929, the National Sporting Club had created Rule 24 which forbid any boxer from becoming a British champion except those with ‘two white parents’. That particular bar was not raised until 1948.

Although there may have been black or mixed heritage players at Stamford Bridge in the past, Hanley was almost certainly the first black professional on the books at Stamford Bridge. Like each of his successors up until the 1980s he was also the only person of colour in the squad. For him ‘minority’ was not just a political banding but a stark, everyday reality.

‘I expect much from Hanley,’ then Chelsea manager Leslie Knighton told the Express. ‘I can see him shaping into one of the great personalities of the game.’

The paper hailed the youngster as ‘the most interesting Chelsea signing of the close season’. That was despite Knighton forking out the second-highest transfer fee of the summer for left-winger Alf Hanson who, coincidentally, was the player Hanley loved to watch at Anfield as a boy. 

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