On Saturday 1st May 1965, Albert Louis Johanneson became the first black footballer to appear in an FA Cup Final as Leeds United met Liverpool. Albert was cheered in anticipation by Leeds fans, but also clearly audible were the widespread boos reserved for England's first Black Superstar.
There were virtually no black professionals in England when, in January 1961, the 20 year old from Germiston township in Johannesburg pulled up his collar against the icy blast as his train pulled into Leeds station.Albert had grown up in Apartheid South Africa, where state-sponsored racial discrimination was the crude tool by which everyday society functioned; sadly he found early Sixties Britain a deeply prejudiced country where institutional racism was firmly ingrained.
Fortunately for Albert, on the field with Leeds, Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner took it upon themselves to become the winger's minders, a sort of early-day anti-racists. Bremner in particular defended Albert against the racist actions of opposition players, fans and club officials.
When new manager Don Revie made Albert his first signing he signalled his determination that lowly Division 2 Leeds were about to build an international reputation. The Real Madrid-style kit soon followed, and as season 1964-5 drew to a close the Yorkshire team were favourites to achieve the League and Cup double. Albert was the exhilarating star of the team, scoring ten times from the left wing that season; but they faltered at the final hurdle, finishing runners-up in both league (to Man Utd) and in the Cup, losing 2-1 to Liverpool.
Now Football Unites, Racism Divides and illustrator Archie Birch from Cape Town have joined forces to publish a 24-page comic book telling Albert's inspirational, yet sadly poignant story. The partnership project has built on the success of a previous comic collaboration 'Arthur Wharton, Victorian Sporting Superstar' between Birch and Howard Holmes, founder of FURD.
Former Blades and Leeds United star Brian Deane has welcomed the acknowledgement that Albert is now receiving as this month's FA Cup Final marks the 50th Anniversary of Albert's appearance at Wembley. Deane commented:
"As young, football-crazy lads growing up in Chapeltown, Leeds, in the early 1970s, Albert Johanneson was a name that we were all familiar with. Although his career was over, we knew he had been a great player for Leeds United and an inspiration for the next generation of black footballing talent in the city.
He was a true pioneer, and one can only imagine how hard it must have been for Albert as the only black person in the stadium, never mind just on the pitch, in an age when there was open hostility against people purely because of the colour of their skin.
I know he received some terrible stick from opposing fans, but he persevered and became a hero both to the Leeds supporters and the black community in the city and beyond.
It is brilliant that his achievements are now being recognised, 50 years after being the first black footballer to appear in a Wembley Cup Final."
The comic has received a Creative Catalyst Grant from the SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015 programme, a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa and the British Council, with additional support from the Fare Network and Professional Footballers Association in the UK, and the South African Football Players Union. 2500 copies each will be distributed in both the United Kingdom and South Africa, and it is planned that the comic will act as a catalyst for a similar partnership that will develop the subject into an animated film.
The comic will be launched in the UK at a special event at the National Football Museum in Manchester on Thursday 28th May, when Albert's daughter Yvonne will present Albert's football medals for exhibiting at the museum. Meanwhile Yvonne has been invited to be a special guest of the Football Association in the Royal Box at the Arsenal v Aston Villa final on 30th May.
For further information about the Albert Johanneson comic book project contact: UK: Howard Holmes, Football Unites, Racism Divides. firstname.lastname@example.org. 07973 414 722 SA: Chris Fortuin, South African Football Players Union. email@example.com. +27 834 565 976
'Albert Johanneson, the first Black Superstar' is the second in the FURD Pioneer series. Copies of the first comic edition, 'Arthur Wharton, Victorian Sporting Superstar' and 'Albert Johanneson, the first Black Superstar' are available from Football Unites, Racism Divides, The U-Mix Centre, 17 Asline Road, Sheffield S2 4UJ, UK. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone 00 44 114 258 7787.
FURD's links with South Africa began when we researched the fascinating history of South African footballers in the UK for a collaborative project with the District Six Museum in Cape Town. The project culminated in an exhibition which was opened at the museum during the 2010 World Cup finals. Read more about it at the link below.