Alf Charles plaque takes pride of place

By SFC Media time Fri 22 Oct Club
Photo by Isabelle Field

A commemorative plaque celebrating Southampton’s first black player, Alf Charles, has been unveiled in the city’s Cultural Quarter.

Organised by Black History Month South, the ceremony near the Guildhall took place on Thursday and recognised the trailblazing contribution of Charles, who last year also had a plaque unveiled in his honour at St Mary’s Stadium.

Born in July 1909, in Trinidad, Charles began his sporting journey playing in his home nation, where he excelled at both cricket and football, becoming an athlete of significant repute.

He represented his country in the inter-island competitions and was also a key player for his Trinidad-based club, Everton, who were regular trophy winners during his time there. While centre-half was perhaps his most notable position, Charles’s skills meant he was more than capable of featuring anywhere across the outfield.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND, OCTOBER 27, A plaque is installed at Southampton FC’s St Mary’s stadium, in memory of Alf Charles, Southampton’s first black player and to recognise the club’s black history, in Southampton on October 27th 2020, pic by Matt Watson/Southampton FC
Alf Charles plaque was installed at St Mary's Stadium in 2020

A somewhat bizarre turn of events would lead him to England, as a clash with an opposition player in September 1933 led to an on-pitch battle, which also featured spectators getting involved, leading to Charles being among the players given a three-year ban, while Everton also then withdrew from the league.

With no prospect of playing in his homeland, Charles was encouraged to set course for the United Kingdom. Burnley was his first destination, but, after being unable to make a first-team appearance at Turf Moor, he was spotted by Saints while playing for Stalybridge Celtic in non-league.

He made his debut, and what proved to be his only appearance for the club, on 9th January 1937, playing at inside-left and providing an assist for the opening goal of the game, scored by James Dunne, in a 2-2 draw at Bradford City in the Second Division.

A few games for the Reserves would follow, before injury put an end to his Football League career, with Charles subsequently returning to non-league, as well as his cricketing roots, turning out for a West Indies XI against an England XI at Lord’s in 1944.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: Francis Benali(L) and Don John(R)) during a plaque being unveiled to remember and celebrate Alf Charles who was the first black player for Southampton FC as part of Black History month photographed at The Painted Wagon on October 21, 2021 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Isabelle Field/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Franny Benali attended the unveiling ceremony

Charles passed away in 1977, in Burnley.

Black History Month South founder Don John was joined by former Southampton star Franny Benali in unveiling the plaque in the city, with Charles also being recognised alongside those for other individuals and events, including musicians Joe Harriott and Craig David, as well as The Windrush Generation.

Don John said: “The Black Plaque is awarded by Black History Month South to recognise events and individuals who have made an impact on the Black presence in the region.

“Alf Charles, as the first black player of Southampton Football Club made his mark in an environment where black people faced some difficult challenges; some which are still a feature in modern day football.”

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