Bradford City Legend Ces Podd: "Racism Stopped My Parents Watching Me"

One of the first black players to establish themselves in English football, Ces Podd recalls racism on the terraces and urges caution against it recurring.
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One of the first black players to establish themselves in English football, Ces Podd recalls racism on the terraces and urges caution against it recurring.

To some Ces Podd’s name may bear little significance. To many others however, ex-Bradford full-back Ces is seen as a pioneer who paved the way for thousands of black players to ply their trade in British football without fear of abuse or discrimination.

Having moved to West Yorkshire with his parents as a child from his native Caribbean island of Saint Kits and Nevis, Ces’s natural footballing ability was immediately apparent. Although he did have trials at Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers during his teens, both proved fruitless and, disillusioned with the game, Ces decided to enrol at the Bradford College of Art.

Luckily for him, Ces managed to gain a trial at Bradford City as a right winger. Despite competition for places, the club decided to take him on and after a while on the fringes of the first team, Ces changed position to right back and the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to make a club record 565 appearances for the club in all competitions during the 1970s and early 1980s and is still regarded as a legend by the Bantams’ fans to this day.

“I think the fans realised I felt I was fortunate to be playing for the club who gave me the opportunity to play professional football when other clubs at the time had no black players. It was difficult to even get trials as a black player, I always had a genuine loyalty to Bradford City and still do and I think the fans realise this”.

Ces’ 14 year stay at the Valley Parade goes some way to showing how strong his ties to the club were.

“I was always well treated by the Bradford fans, so much so that when opportunity’s arose for me to join then bigger clubs for much more monies (sic), there was never a genuine thought that I would leave Valley Parade to play for another club when I was never sure if their fans would be as receptive to a black player as the fans at the Valley were”.

Inner city deprivation and worryingly high unemployment levels only exacerbated the racial tensions in Britain at this time, leading to many race riots across country. These riots included high profile unrest in the Chapeltown area of Leeds where Ces would work in later life. It is very unsurprising then that many young black men decided not to play football professionally, even if they had the talent to do so. And who can blame them? If you are being abused and attacked in the street due to the colour of your skin, why would you put yourself in front of 5,000 predominantly white people for 90 minutes every Saturday?

Racism should not be allowed to take the kind of hold it had on the game as it did in the 70s.

“There were many incidents when I was playing in away matches, mainly in the South, when I was the target of racial abuse to to the extent that my mum refused to come to any of the games, although my dad attended all”.

Thankfully Ces’ courage has allowed black players to become part of the fabric of modern football, although he obviously doesn’t take all the credit for this:

“I must commend the FA, the PFA and the governing body of world football FIFA for their stand on ‘Kick Racism Out of Football’. Things have really improved and as a result there is hardly a team in Britain that does not have a number of black players, but we should never get complacent. Racism is not a pleasant thing and should not be allowed to take the kind of hold it had on the game as it did in the 70s”.

The racial abuse received by Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli in his native Italy recently does back up Ces’ calls for us not to get complacent. Whilst it is nowhere near as widespread (in Britain at least) as it was during the ‘monkey chanting’ era of the 1970s, racism does still rear its ugly head in the modern game, with organisations like the aforementioned ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’ being hugely influential in attempting to combat it.

Ces was clearly aware of his position of role model to young black players at the time, shown by his decision to play against a ‘Black All Stars’ team including players such as Justin Fashanu, Luther Blissett and Cyrille Regis for his testimonial at Bradford in 1981.

After leaving the club in 1984 and following spells with Halifax Town and Scarborough, Ces retired in 1988 but has remained heavily involved in the game both in his native Saint Kitts and Nevis, and his second home of West Yorkshire ever since.

I love the West Yorkshire area of the UK as it is where I learned my football.

“I coached the St Kitts National team in the late 90s which was a great experience. It got me involved in working with FIFA which opened my eyes to how much FIFA does for world football in terms of using the game to break down barriers and to spread the joy the beautiful game brings to youngsters and adults alike world wide. i feel blessed to be still involved with the game in a way that im still learning and still earning from it”.

After leaving his role at Saint Kitts, Ces moved back to the Leeds area where he held a variety of roles including coaching at the Leeds United academy, working as a Football in the Community officer for his beloved Bradford City, and also working with underprivileged children in Chapeltown. It is safe to say he was compelled to give something back to the area which had so openly taken him into its collective bosom when he first arrived at the age of 9.

“I love the West Yorkshire area of the UK as it is where I learned my football. I find it a family orientated district down to earth, honest and friendly. I have spent time in London and the South and cannot relate to it, plus my family have settled in Leeds so my UK roots are now in West Yorkshire”.

Somewhat surprisingly Ces has also set up Salsa dancing classes and workshops in Leeds over the last few years, although this does nott represent a complete branch out from football:

“My links with Salsa dancing are from the time i worked with Leeds United as Advance Centre’s director. I was looking for a way of developing mobility with the young players and saw a Brazilian coaching video which showed the coaches using music to assist the players to move with rhythm. I learnt the dance moves and did a few sessions with the young players at the Advance Centre’s. The Leeds University saw the sessions and asked if i could teach some of the students at the union and so I developed salsa dance classes.”

I am sure in light of this I will not be the only one keeping an eye out for players coming out of the Leeds youth academy with unnaturally high levels of Latin American flair.

Ces has recently moved back to the Caribbean to take up yet another youth development role:

“I’m now the Technical Director for the St Lucia Football Association. I am responsible for the development of football in the country from grassroots level to national team. Go to the St Lucia FA website for more info about our projects and progress”.

Whilst he will never be the most famous player in the history of British football due to his loyalty to a lower league team in Bradford City, Ces Podd’s influence both during his playing days and now, upon football and local communities is immeasurable. Let’s hope then that he can continue to pass on his passion and knowledge to young people, whatever the colour of their skin, for many years to come.

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