eb’s ‘play~errz’ No.7

. Paul Canoville .


Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Chelsea Feature - Stamford Bridge

 Paul Canoville played football as he wanted to live. Tall and proud. Young, gifted and black.

If you were lucky enough to see any of the 103 appearances Paul made for his No.1 club, Chelsea FC, you would have been left with an overwhelming picture of fitness and enthusiasm as he ran heads-up through defences or down the wing, as a sprinter might run the 100 metres or as a hurdler, dodging tackles with surprising agility and great ball-control. In his less impressive performances he could look a little like Bambi-on-ice but his skill and agility on the ball were never in question.

Paul scored 15 goals for ‘the blues’ in a Chelsea career that lasted just shy of 4 1/2 years before a private, training ground bust-up with a team-mate made life awkward for the gentle giant and he cites that a  move was arranged for him.

He played in Chelsea’s 2nd Division Championship team of 83/84 making 2o appearances with 6 goals and went on to make 37 starts in the 1st Division before that arranged move to Reading.

During Season 84/85 Paul starred with a ‘man-of-the-match’ performance in a remarkable quarter-final Milk Cup match at Sheffield coming on as substitute at half-time with the team down by 0-3. He scored within 11 seconds and was the man to put Chelsea 4-3 up during extra-time, although Wednesday took the game to a replay with a late equaliser.

imgres-1 ‘he ran ‘heads-up’ through defences or down

the wing, as a sprinter might run the 100 metres’

.  .  .

It was the beginning of the 80’s !


Different factions make varying

claims as to where the Chelsea

‘revolution’ all started.

The more cynical and green-eyed

like to claim it was purely down

to Roman Abramovich’s money.

The more purist among

Stamford Bridge’s faithful

will point back to Ted Drake

and his 1955 Champions

~ Ted Drake’s ‘Ducklings’ that

soon became Tommy Docherty’s

‘wee Diamonds’ and eventually

managed to shake off the

music-hall ‘ Pensioners’ tag and

start to challenge for real honours.

For me, as a Chelsea fan

through it all, I reckon the current

Chelsea renaissance began

somewhere between those two

notable landmarks and under the

inspired tutelage of the quiet man

John Neal and the ownership of that

real football ‘dictator’ – Ken Bates.

John Neal was appointed by Bates

in 1981. Later in the 82/83 season

John Neal helped to stave

off the threat of relegation to

the third tier of English football.

During the summer of 1983

Bates made the cash available for

Neal to re-build the team and in two

months he managed to build a

Championship winning team with

names as famous as Kerry Dixon,

Pat Nevin, Nigel Spackman

and Joey Jones.

One of Neal’s first signings had

been a striker from non-league

Hillingdon Borough. He introduced

the young man in a league match

at Crystal Palace in April, 1981.

As chance would have it I was

there on the terracing and

witnessed the terrible racist

taunts and booing that greeted

the young Paul Canoville as he

entered the pitch to make

his debut at half-time.

I left the ground that day and walked home

disappointed, disillusioned and

determined never to return. 




After the terrors and hardships

of WWII began to subside

across the western world

and during the 1950’s,

 Britain’s stock and standing had

risen in the ‘free’ world creating

an ‘Eldorado’ aura around

the British Isles.

Loss of life and manpower and

the need to rebuild the nation, meant

there were now many job opportunities

and members of the commonwealth

were not only free to, but encouraged

to exploit the situation.

Irish, Indians and thousands of

Caribbean emigrants chose to

take the ‘big step’ and move to UK

shores in search of a better and

more prosperous life in Great Britain

– the United Kingdom

(much like many Eastern Europeans

have attempted in recent years

since changes to European Law).

What they actually found was quite

different as it became clear old colonial

attitudes and prejudices were still

deeply entrenched in British culture.

Post-war society was not quite ready

to embrace or accept other colours,

races or religions.

Government legislation introduced

in 1962 and designed to alleviate

racial tensions by vastly curbing

the ease of immigration access only

served to exacerbate negative social

attitudes toward those who were

already here.

In the same year that the British

Government drew up the drawbridge

to our Caribbean cousins the young

Paul Canoville let out his first cries.

Little did he know the part he

would soon play as a British

person, a footballer and a black man.




The story of footballer Paul Canoville is sadly

not a long one as his career was cut

tragically short through injury

but his tale is intrinsically tied up

with the events and circumstances

that surround his life

and for this reason he makes

an appearance at No.7 in ‘eb’s list of play-erzz’.

Paul had more reason than most retiring footballers to experience difficulties in adapting to life without the thrill of the game he loved and had played at the highest level.

Born at a key moment of Britain’s changing society and history, he experienced 1st hand racial prejudice like many black kids growing up in the 50’s and the 60’s and then some shameful crowd hostility from a section of his own teams fans on arriving at his debut performance.

Paul then had to make his mark as CHELSEA FC’s 1st black player, a particularly daunting task in view of a certain minority of right-wing extremists that historically attached themselves to the club and made even more difficult by the Club’s insensitivity and failure to back him when he needed it most.

These factors alone were challenging enough but to experience a career ending injury after leaving the club and by the time he was just 24 with 2 subsequent bouts of cancer. It is perhaps unsurprising that Paul suffered bouts of depression and wandered into alcohol and drug abuse problems. One of his eleven children also died in his arms due to illness.

Gladly the story of Paul Canoville does not stop there and he  is now able to look back on a life fraught with trouble and recognise the positives as well as the negatives.

He has been rehabilitated from drug and alcohol abuse and re-trained to enable him to bring the full benefit of his experience into teaching and training others. Further, he is now pleased to enjoy much better relations with Chelsea FC, ‘his’ club.


. . .

That day in 1981 I happened to attend my first Chelsea game for 9 years had been a sad one for me as I listened to the booing that greeted Paul Canoville, making his debut for Chelsea at Selhurst Park. I strode out of the ground determined that would be the last time I watched my boyhood favourites but before I reached home, less than 2 miles away in Norbury SW16 that day, I realised that was letting the boo boys win the day. Paul Canoville and subsequent black players at Chelsea needed the support of ‘fair’ and ‘ordinary’ people and of course I returned to support the ‘blues’ through one of the most successful periods of their history. Now we have a new history at the club where black players, staff and fans hopefully feel loved and welcome. We also set a new milestone as a club when we appointed the Premier League’s 1st black manager ~ Ruud Gullit.





About edenbray

I've always enjoyed writing and thats all I want to do... .. . I’m not sure why I stopped writing, was it 9/11? .. . Eden Bray is born ugly, wet and covered in blood, mucous and bodily functions. The effluence of my short life .. . I'm a Writer and Artist - since 1966, now a Blogger ~ I write lots of poems, written essays, articles, reviews, opinion + comment .. . please join the shebang but more importantly please leave me a marker with a comment for my ego and my encouragement :- thanks, edenbray View all posts by edenbray

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