Southampton’s first ever Black footballer was also one of the earliest in English professional football
More than 40 black players have represented Southampton at first-team level, but how much do you know about the man who led the way for better inclusion in the sport.
Alf Charles has the prestigious honour of being the first black person to don the famous red and white stripes, doing so in 1937, although his journey there was far from obvious.
It’s not often that ‘one-match-wonders’ are remembered at all, let alone maintained in such high regard, but Charles’ achievement to break the barrier of being a black sportsman in 1930s England is an inspirational one.
Born in 1909 in Trinidad, Charles began his sporting journey playing in his home nation, but latterly travelled to the UK with the West Indian Cricket Team, initially employed as a valet.
Not only was he an excellent cricketer, he was also good enough to represent Trinidad at football when the inter-island competitions were played while he played for Everton (not that one) in his native country.
During this time, he was given the affectionate name of ‘King Charles’ as they repeatedly won the league-and-cup double.
Charles was most suited to playing centre-half but was capable of playing in any outfield position.
September 1933 brought about an unfortunate incident as Alf became involved in an on-pitch clash that involved spectators.
Charles, along with his brother, was sent off and received a three-year ban from playing football in Trinidad.
That was when he made for England and began his cricketing career, playing for Nelson CC, a time that also brought his prowess as a footballer to the notice of English clubs.
Burnley was his first destination to try and break into English football but he failed to make the first-team at Turf Moor before dropping down to non-league.
That was until a Lancashire scout recommended him to Southampton, whom he signed for in January 1937, and made his first-team debut the following day, at a time when black representation on the city’s streets was almost non-existent.
This was to be his solitary appearance, playing inside-left, in a 2–2 draw at Bradford City in the Football League on January 9th, 1937, after replacing Billy Boyd.
Then Saints-teammate Bill Moore illustrated Charles’ powerful presence after recalling how a ball once hit him on the head and ricocheted over the West Stand.