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Next Euros ‘chance to commemorate black players who paved way for today’s stars’

The call comes as the country prepares to mark Windrush Day on Saturday.

One of English football’s black pioneers has called for a continued fight against racism in sport, as the national team’s make-up at the Euros was hailed for embodying the multi-ethnic society of today.

Ahead of Windrush Day, a joint letter signed by footballers including England’s first black player, Viv Anderson, said that the legacy of migration and multiculturalism is evident in a team featuring stars such as Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka.

Saturday marks 76 years since the HMT Empire Windrush ship brought arrivals from the Caribbean to Britain as part of post-war migration.

The Windrush flag
The Windrush flag will be raised at various locations this weekend to mark Windrush Day (Aaron Chown/PA)

Original Windrush passenger Alford Gardner is among the signatories to a letter which described the national team as “a symbol of England that we can all be proud of”.

The letter, coordinated by think tank British Future, also called for the 2028 Euros, to be hosted by the UK and Ireland, to be a “moment we should mark in a major way”, celebrating the black contribution to the game in a year that will also mark the 80th anniversary of Windrush.

The letter said: “The Three Lions team that we will all cheer on this week in the Euros is a symbol of England that we can all be proud of, embodying the multi-ethnic society we share today.”

It said the legacy of the Windrush “is evident in our football team as it is in our society: from Cyrille Regis, John Barnes and Rio Ferdinand to Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka today”.

It added: “Football can unite us, in support for our team and hope that we bring the trophy back this summer from Germany – before the UK and Ireland host the next Euros in 2028.

“That year also marks 50 years since Viv Anderson became England’s first black full international player and 30 years since Hope Powell became the Lionesses’ first black manager – as well as 80 years since the Windrush arrived in Britain.

“It is a moment we should mark in a major way, celebrating the black contribution to English football and using the game’s unique power to bring people of all backgrounds together.”

Brendon Batson, Arsenal’s first black player, said the 2028 tournament “is a chance to commemorate the black players who paved the way for today’s stars, especially as we mark 50 years since Viv Anderson’s historic first cap and Windrush 80”.

He added: “Most fans don’t think twice now about the colour of a player’s skin. That’s certainly changed since I was playing – it wasn’t so long ago that some sections of fans booed our own players for the colour of their skin.

“We need to keep up the fight against racism in our sport, especially now that players are targeted on social media.”

There was outrage when players Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho faced racism after England lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

Other signatories to the letter include Roland Butcher, the first black player to represent England at cricket, Patrick Vernon, convenor of the Windrush 100 Network, and Sunder Katwala, British Future director.

Mr Katwala said plans for the 2028 Euros must be made “to recognise the pioneering black England players who paved the way for this generation”.

He suggested the Football Association (FA) could host all of the living black England players at a 2028 match to celebrate the anniversary; clubs could celebrate their pioneering black players with new blue plaques highlighting players’ links to towns and cities; and the Royal Mail could consider a new set of stamps for the tournament.

He added that a documentary series “on the experiences of the players, their families and the fans would be a great way to capture this moment of social history”.

A black and white picture of the Empire Windrush ship
The HMT Empire Windrush brought people from the Caribbean who answered Britain’s call to help fill post-war labour shortages (PA)

This weekend events will be held to mark Windrush Day, including a replica Windrush ship moving down the streets of Brixton, south London, to Windrush Square on Saturday and a “Big Caribbean lunch” there with food, music and storytelling on Sunday.

Birmingham will host a carnival procession with live performances and food and a special event where Mr Batson will discuss the Windrush legacy for football.

Meanwhile the Windrush flag will be raised at ceremonies in cities including Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol as well as at NHS hospitals and mainline train stations across the UK.

A full list of events across the UK is available on the Windrush 100 Network website.

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