Campaign to get pioneering Romani footballer recognised

14 May 2014 / News

Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD) is backing a campaign to get a headstone for Rabbi Howell, the first Romani professional footballer and the first Romani international.

Rab was a mainstay of Sheffield United during the building phase of what was to be the club's best ever period and was a vital part of their English First Division winning side in 1898. He then transferred to Liverpool where his experience was undoubtedly crucial to Tom Watson's campaign to build a top class side. Moving to Preston North End in 1901, he played for two and a bit seasons before badly breaking his leg during a match. He was by this time 36 years old. He had been at the top level of English football for 13 years, a remarkable achievement for a player back then.

Rab's pioneering role has recently been highlighted by Steven Kay, the author of a new novel about Rab called The Evergreen in red and white, following Rab through his final turbulent year in Sheffield. It was whilst Steve was researching the book that he got in touch with Rab's granddaughter and his great grandson, Nicholas Pomfret, who is currently Deputy Mayor of Preston. Together they discovered where Rab was buried and that he didn't have a headstone.

"That is something we need to put right," said Steve. "No one who played for England should be buried in an unmarked grave. Rab has largely been forgotten and I'd love to see his pioneering role recognised. He was a great little player and should be remembered. Ricardo Andrade Quaresma, Christo Stoickov, Gheorghe Hagi, Andrea Pirlo, Dani Guiza, Freddy Eastwood and Eric Cantona walk in Rab's footsteps. Raising his profile may help underline that Romani people have a long history in Britain and have been contributing to our culture since the Middle Ages."

Howard Holmes from FURD added: "To kick start the campaign for a headstone, FURD is pledging £250. Sheffield United's Community Foundation are keen to lend what support they can and we hope to widen the campaign and get Rab's other clubs, Liverpool and Preston, on board so that we can raise awareness as widely as possible. Anti-Romani prejudice remains strong throughout Europe - around English grounds it still seems to be a prejudice that carries little taboo."

The headstone is expected to cost around £1,000.

Donations to the appeal can be made via the 'Headstone for Rabbi' link below or by post to Football Unites, Racism Divides at The U-Mix Centre, 17 Asline Road, Sheffield S2 4UJ.

For more information, contact:

Steven Kay:, tel. 07799 250186

Howard Holmes at FURD:, tel. 07973 414722

Councillor Nicholas Pomfret, soon to be Mayor of Preston: 01772 702798.