Tag Archives: Birmingham

Review: Whites vs Blacks: How Football Changed A Nation

The widespread outpouring of emotion sparked by the recent death of Cyrille Regis underlined the fact that he was not just simply a footballer but an inspiration to so many.

Part of West Bromwich Albion’s swashbuckling ‘Three Degrees’, Regis – along with Brendon Batson and future Real Madrid star Laurie Cunningham – would terrorise defences throughout the late 1970s and into the 80s

Arguably the first real black stars of the English game, they even had racists on the terraces – and there were plenty of them at the time – talking about how good they were.

The sad demise of Regis at the age of 59 gave the BBC another opportunity to screen a documentary made by TV sports presenter Adrian Chiles, a lifelong West Brom fan, in 2016.

It chronicled the testimonial match for Baggies stalwart Len Cantello in May 1979, in which the ‘Three Degrees’, along with other black players from as far down the footballing pyramid as Hereford United, took on a team of white players mostly comprised of the WBA starting XI.

In the cold light of 2018, the very thought of such a contest might make many a person wince.

However former Wolves, QPR and Leicester City defender Bob Hazell, who played on the black side that day, said in the film that it was “fantastic, great memories and a great day everybody wanted to be a part of”.

A galvanising moment

What was noticeable about the differing views on the game was that the black players remembered it with far more clarity than those the white players.

John Wile, Albion club captain at the time who played for the white team, reminisced: “I remember all these kids and faces that we’d never seen before, because there wasn’t that many black players playing at that level.

“The game itself I don’t really remember. I think that year I played something like 76 games. So it was just something else that happened at the end of the season.”

This could well be because the team with Regis and Co. won 3-2 on the day; or more likely, because this simply was an historic moment for black footballers in this country.

“This game, if anything, represented a burgeoning progress which the ‘Three Degrees’ would go on to encapsulate”

Only a few years before this match in May 1979, it would have been impossible to configure a side solely comprised of black players from the English footballing leagues.

This game, if anything, represented a burgeoning progress which the ‘Three Degrees’ would go on to encapsulate.

The film portrayed the feeling that the game brought those black players on the pitch that day together, and in a sense, the entirety of the black contingent within the leagues.

It was an important moment to those players even if it was not for their white counterparts. As former Wolves defender George Berry commented in the film: “We wanted to win.”

Institution of hate

However, the game itself was not the sole focus of the documentary, which in a case such as this would have been far too reductive in nature for the subject matter.

Horrific stories of racist abuse were recalled in the documentary, one of the most striking being that told by Berry about playing against West Brom.

“All I can hear from this West Brom fan is, you black b*****d, effing get back up the tree, you effing gollywog – and I’m marking Cyrille Regis!”

‘Death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia – social media risks becoming its own form of National Front-led terrace before our very eyes’

“I just said to this bloke doing the shouting ‘Who are you talking to? Me or Cyrille?’ Cyrille just shook his head.”

The partners, families and friends of black players were forced to stay away from matches even as the far-right National Front infiltrated the terraces. The higher-ups at the FA even refusing to permit Hazell to dreadlock his hair for fear of a backlash.

This was an age where racism around football was almost entirely unpoliced. According to one former NF member and Birmingham City fan, as huge quantities of bananas were bought pre-match ready to be hurled onto the pitch.

The presence of the NF on the terraces, at a time when football seemed to be a dying sport played in crumbling stadia, exacerbated those weekly displays of hatred and bile.

The documentary captured perfectly how the NF aimed to manipulate impressionable young people into doing their bidding.

One rather rotund National Front leader proudly proclaimed: “There is a lot you can do with a football hooligan,” adding that “football fandom is a form of patriotism”.

Happily ever after?

Today, 30 percent of British footballers are black. So given this, why are there so many barriers that still exist within the game?

And, putting the obvious lack of black and minority managers aside for a moment, has that racially-motivated hatred on the terraces gone for good?

Some would argue that improved facilities, leading to higher ticket prices, leading in turn to the gentrification of football, simply priced racism out of the game.

“In the now immortal words of Regis, ‘you’ve got to overcome’ “

Jason Roberts, nephew of Cyrille Regis and former Premier League striker, suggested as much during the documentary. The question posed in the film was: have the racists simply moved online?

Death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia – social media risks becoming its own form of National Front-led terrace before our very eyes.

People with Union Jack flag headers and a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ profile pictures scour the internet looking to aim internalised hatreds directly at people who look, feel and are different to them. Let’s not pretend many of them aren’t football fans – nationalism and fandom again side by side.

However, in the now immortal words of Regis – “you’ve got to overcome.” Thus the opinions of the faceless few on the internet should not denigrating the progress that has been made and which was sparked by the likes of Regis, Batson and Cunningham.

Achievement

Regis and Batson would prove vital cogs in what was the most successful period in West Brom’s history.

Ironically this was overseen by manager Ron Atkinson – a man who whilst working for ITV in 2004 was accidentally heard describing Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly a “f*****g lazy thick n****r” – a sad reminder of how little some mentalities have changed over the years.

Cunningham would go one better than his fellow ‘Three Degrees’ and become the first British player to ever player for Real Madrid. Given race relations in Spain following the Franco years, this was no small achievement in itself.

Cunningham went onto bedazzle defenders at several other clubs before losing his life in car crash in Madrid aged 32. Dion Dublin and Ian Wright paid emotional tributes to their heroes, as if they were kids again, when reminiscing to Chiles.

Thankfully, we now live in a time in which racial hatred has no place in football, or anywhere else, although issues such as that glaring lack of non-white managers persist.

So much progress has been made, however and for that we have in part to thank the ‘Three Degrees’. They helped pave the way towards a far more beautiful game.

Whites vs Blacks: How Football Changed A Nation is currently on BBC iPlayer.

‘I’m no stepping stone’ Langford warns Khurtsidze

Elephant Sport’s Emily Jamieson speaks to British middleweight Tommy Langford about his upcoming fight against Avtandil Khurtsidze.

Speaking at his training camp in Birmingham, he warns his Georgian opponent not expect to “walk through” him.

Langford, 27, speaks highly of his “crazy and loud” fans and his hopes for a big fight in Las Vegas if he defeats Khurtsidze, nicknamed ‘Mini Mike Tyson’.

North Devon’s Langford has won all 18 of his professional bouts so far, with six wins coming via knockouts.

Khurtsidze, who is 10 years his senior, hasn’t fought in over a year, but has 34 wins in 36 bouts, with 21 knockouts and only two losses.

Langford and Khurtsidze meet at the Leicester Arena on April 22nd for the interim WBO world middleweight title. The fight is live on BT Sport.

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British champion Langford eyes world glory in 2017

It was five weeks later than scheduled, but finally on November 26th in Cardiff, Tommy Langford’s arm was raised as the new British middleweight champion.

A spilt decision victory over southpaw Sam Sheedy the reward for an uncertain and tiresome few months in the Langford camp.

The North Devon fighter’s original British title tilt had been scheduled for October 22nd against the then-champion Chris Eubank Jr.

When Eubank pulled out of the fight in mid-September, it was Sheedy who stepped up to challenge for the vacated belt. However due to injuries sustained by fighters elsewhere on the card, the fight was further delayed, resulting in an extended training regime for Langford and the risk of burn-out prior to the big night.

Yet the 27-year-old, signed to Frank Warren, is made of sterner stuff and took his professional record to 18-0 by beating Sheedy. Already holder of the Commonwealth and WBO intercontinental belts, the British title proved to be worth the wait for Langford.

Business

“I don’t really think I’ve realised what I’ve accomplished yet. I don’t think it will set in until I finish boxing,” said the Birmingham-based fighter.

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Langford took his record to 18-0 against Sam Sheedy. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“As a fighter you always look to the next thing, but it is phenomenal. I’m very very proud, I know what I’ve done is quite special and I’ve done it in the right way. I’ve not called anybody out, I’ve just gone about my business.

“It’s just really nice to be recognised as the British champion and to have done what I always believed I was capable of.

“I’ve done very well in winning the British and Commonwealth titles and I’m very pleased at how I’ve finished the year 18-0. But I think what I’m more proud of is that I’ve done that with a year of hiccups really.

“My first fight for the Commonwealth was supposed to be in February; it got put back a month. I had an extended training camp and then got cut in training and had three or four weeks prior to that fight with no sparring.

“But I still managed to get across the line and become the Commonwealth champion.

“And then obviously having to deal with the whole Eubank scenario, them pulling out, a new fighter coming in and then the date being pushed back and still becoming British champion.

“To be honest, if you put it all together that in itself says more about the year than the wins. I think the fashion in how I’ve gone about my business despite having all those setbacks and still managed to churn out the results, I think says a lot for me.”

Control

Whilst Langford has shown his resilience by churning out results, the ‘Baggies Bomber’ felt as though he out-boxed Sheedy at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and puts that down to his team’s tactical approach to the fight.

“I felt in complete control really. I was quite surprised at how comfortable the first six rounds were; I thought I’d find it more awkward to catch him.

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Southpaw Sheedy stepped up to fight Langford after Chris Eubank Jr withdrew in September

“We always had the plan to be very patient and not over-chase or over-throw, because his tactic was to frustrate me and make me jump in so he could counter-punch.

“That was his sole tactic and that’s why he did all the antics of showboating and his corner talking to me throughout the fight trying to wind me up. I just knew I had to stick to my guns.”

Despite being unbeaten in his professional career, Langford still knows the importance of analysing each performance in order to continue to improve – including his British title success.

“The first six rounds I stuck to what I was doing and I put them in the bag comfortably. And when you’re six rounds up going into the second half of the fight, you’re one round off winning it.

“The second half, watching it back, didn’t go how it should have. I did switch off a little bit because I’ve not been in that position before where I’ve been so far ahead.

“I didn’t feel at any point threatened that he was going to win the fight.

“The way I’ve fought in the past I throw a lot of punches, I’m busy and always on the front foot taking the initiative, which is great and it makes for a lot of excitement. But in that fight I didn’t need that style because I was at risk of being caught and counter-punched.

“And when you’re up against those slippery southpaws who just pick and run off, if they catch you with one they’ll settle for 1-0. So I had to be clever.”

Outburst

For all of boxing’s history and status within British sport, a contemporary criticism is that the often staged drama and controversy that preludes a big fight have begun to take a sport in a direction that lacks class and social awareness.

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The ‘Baggies Bomber’ now has three belts to his name. Pic tommylangford.co.uk

There seems to be a general acceptance that Dereck Chisora-type outbursts are as much a part of the sport as the punches thrown inside the ring.

So is it important to Langford that he stays away from these practices as his career continues to take an upward curve?

“Not really,he says thoughtfully. “If I get to the stage in my career where I need big fights and the only way of getting them is to call people out, then that’s what you have to do.

“I’m fortunate enough that my boxing has carried me through, my performances and wins have spoken for themselves and I’ve not had to do it in that way.

“I mean, it is important to me in the person that I am, I’m not that sort of a person.

“It is a sport and a business and that’s the way it should be conducted, you don’t need to be doing that sort of thing. If you fight you fight to win, and you win and then you move on.

“There’s no need to do the dramas in and around it, in my eyes it’s all about the fight; do the fight, win the fight and carry on. And that’s the way I feel sport and business should be conducted.”

Impact

Business, as well as sport, has also taken off for Langford in recent times, something he cites Warren as having a major effect on.

“It gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win”

“He’s been massively beneficial,” Langford enthused. “I’ve been with Frank for three years now and it’s been massive for me. It has given me the exposure that I needed in terms of being on Box Nation and being out there so people can see me on TV.

 

“I started off on the smaller circuit and it was very hard. I was an England international and won national titles at amateur.

“So you turn professional with the opinion, whether it be right or not, that you’re entitled to a certain amount of limelight and you feel that you deserve better than what you’re getting.

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Langford appears on BT Sport ahead of West Brom’s home game with Man Utd. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“The exposure’s not there, you’re not known and you’re doing your job in the ring but you’re not being talked about, promoted or thrust into the public eye.

“We spoke to Frank before I first turned professional and his then match-maker, Dean Powell, who sadly passed away a few years ago. They were very interested at the start but we were in the pit of the recession at that time, the money in any business, not just boxing, wasn’t really there and it was taking a long time.

“So I said to myself ‘I’m just going to turn pro, get myself started and we’ll approach it again when the time’s right’. I got to 6-0 I think, or 5-0 and then it was the right time.

“It’s been a big change in my career and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and it’s nice to know somebody is putting weight behind you.”

Fan base

Warren is not the only major backer in Langford’s corner. A life-long West Bromwich Albion fan, the Commonwealth title-holder has established a solid link between himself, the club and his fellow Albion supporters.

With regular home crowds of over 20,000 the exposure provided by West Brom has enabled Langford to further enhance his reputation and support, something for which he is especially grateful.

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Birmingham-based Langford enjoys strong ties with his boyhood club. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“Since I’ve managed to get a link with West Brom it has done me masses of good. It’s very important in boxing to have a good fan base and have people travel to support you.

“Ticket sales ultimately pay your purse so it’s a sport that can’t go on without fans. It’s been huge to have them behind me and it has put me into a different realm of fighter in the sense that, regardless of what I’m fighting for, I bring huge amounts of fans to the venues. I can top bills and fill venues with my fans.

“The fact that West Brom promote me and support me through social media, on their website or by getting me on the pitch or in the fan zone, it makes the connection even tighter.

“If you look at some of the best-supported fighters in recent history, they’ve all had football teams behind them. It’s a great thing really and I’m really happy that it has taken off the way it has done.”

“I was there for the [Manchester] United game, I was on the pitch as the fans’ champion which was brilliant. It was a packed house and I just thought walking out onto there, imagine if I was walking out fighting for a world title. It would be unbelievable.

“I think it can happen, West Brom are talking like they’d be happy to do it, it’s just a case of getting the right fight that sells it. Frank’s done shows at West Ham before, he likes a football stadium show. But if you get the right show there, yea, definitely I’d be well happy to do it.

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A fight at the Hawthorns would be a dream for Langford and his fans. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“There are a few venues that are open to me and it is simply down to how well I’m supported. [The fans] all jump on board and they love it and I love it as well.

“Everything I win it isn’t just mine. People can say they’ve been there and watched it and supported me all the way through so this title is for the fans as well.”

Challenges

Perhaps more important than where Langford will next fight; the question is who he will next fight?

With an 18-0 record and three belts to his name, there will be plenty of fighters out there that want to avoid him.

But after finishing a troubled, yet highly successful 2016 with November’s victory in the Welsh capital, Langford has his sights set on challenges on a grander scale in 2017.

“I’m confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them”

Outlining his plans he said: “Obviously, being the British champion if I want to own the Lonsdale belt I have to defend it three times.

“[However] I’ve always been of the opinion that if bigger and better opportunities come along, i.e. European or world shots, then I’m going to take them.

“I don’t know what’s next as in the immediate next fight but in terms of the future then, yeah, in 2017 I am looking at putting myself in a position for a world title shot. Whether that be the WBO against Billy-Joe [Saunders], or if other things come along so be it.

“I’m pretty open to anything really, whatever’s best for me career-wise then I’ll do it. If that means defending the British and there’s nothing else on offer, then I’ll defend the British and I’m very confident of beating anything domestically that’s offered up.

“I’m also confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them.”