Nigeria born former Charlton Athletic ace Ben Odeje was the first black footballer to represent England at any level.
Odeje born in Nigeria and as a child moved to England with his parents. The family lived in south-east London, w. Odeje attended South East London Secondary School in Deptford, and his mother worked as a nurse.
In March 1971, as a 15-year-old, he was selected for the England schoolboys team to . Northern Ireland schoolboys at Wembley.
His father was concerned that the considerable publicity surrounding Odeje’s selection, as “the first African to . Soccer for England”, might make him “a marked man” in the match. Playing out of position on the right wing, Odeje helped his team to a 1–0 win.
Ben Odeje’s story is one of racism, respect and, eventually, recognition. The 67-year-old tells a harrowing story of a fan asking him if people still lived in trees in Africa as he made his way home after a defeat in the 1970s.
‘The racial abuse was too numerous to mention. In those days it was just a free-for-all,’ Odeje tells Sportsmail. ‘Even the people supposed to be looking after you, the coaches and your team-mates, referred to you as chalky or sambo.
‘The people who are supposed to be on your side were often the biggest perpetrators. You’re trying to fight it but t.’s now. for you to go.’
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And 51 years later Odeje’s long wait for recognition is coming to an end. As Sportsmail revealed earlier this month, the FA are inviting Odeje to England’s UEFA Nations League clash with Germany a week today as part of a move to commemorate our country’s ‘black football trailblazers’.
Laurie Cunningham was widely recognised as England’s first black footballer when he featured for the Under 21s in 1977. But an investigation by the BBC in 2013 cited Odeje, whose parents are Nigerian, as the first black man to represent the Three Lions in a schoolboy fixture against Northern Ireland in 1971. Recognition may be late in coming but it has come all the same for Odeje.