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Whites v Blacks: How Football Changed a Nation

UNIQUE: The all black team that played in Len Cantello’s testimonial at West Bromwich Albion in 1979

AS PARTof the Black And British Season, BBC Two will be airing a one-off documentary Whites Vs Blacks: How Football Changed a Nation.

On the May 16 1979, an extraordinary game of professional football took place that if played today, would very possibly cause uproar, mass protest and a media frenzy. As part of Len Cantello’s testimonial at West Bromwich Albion, an all-white team took on a side comprised solely of black players – ‘Whites against Blacks’.

For the white team it was nothing more than a light-hearted gimmick, but for the black players it represented so much more. It was a game they had to win. Racism was rife and black people were far from welcome on the pitch, in the stands or in the boardroom.

In this film, presenter Adrian Chiles journeys across England to discover the truths, taboos and real meaning behind this remarkable game. He uncovers rarely seen footage and reunites players from both teams, including Ally Robertson, Bob Hazell, George Berry, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson.

Together with Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson were known as the infamous Three Degrees. The Three Degrees were an integral part of the West Bromwich Albion team, and although experienced racism on and off the pitch, were accepted by both black and white football fans. On his journey Adrian also discovers the so-called Fourth Degree – left back player Vernon Hodgson, who 30 years on from the game, still resides in West Bromwich working as a bin man.

Chiles also meets the wives and girlfriends of some of the famous black players, including Laurie Cunningham’s former girlfriend, Nicky Brown, who provides an insight in to what it was like as an outsider, as well as a white woman dating a black man in provincial England during the 1970s. Adrian also meets the wives of Wolves players Bob Hazell and George Berry – Joy and Maureen - who share their experiences of being WAGS back in the day and victims of racism.

Today, around 30 per cent of English professionals are black. They are role models and superstars, some earning in excess of £100,000 a week. On the surface, everything seems rosy but how far have we really come?

Through encounters with stars like Ian Wright, Les Ferdinand and Dion Dublin and Adrian contrasts the attitudes and conflicts that swirled around that infamous game with the reality of being a black player in the modern era. As Adrian digs through the archive he finds a depressing litany of cases that suggest the spectre of racism is still haunting the game.

This is confirmed by former Blackburn and Wigan striker Jason Roberts, Cyrille Regis’ nephew who shares his experiences of being on the receiving end of racism.

Whites Vs Blacks: How Football Changed a Nation will be aired on BBC Two, on Sunday, November 27at 9pm

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