Remembering Brendon Batson, Arsenal’s first Black player

As Black History Month in the UK is coming to a close, I wanted to give a shout out to a Black British footballer you may not have heard of: Brendon Batson.

Brendon Batson was born in Grenada on 6th February 1953. He moved with his family to Trinidad when he was 6 before moving to the UK in 1962. Despite a teacher suggesting cricket was more his game (ugh!), he signed for Arsenal as a schoolboy and went onto win the FA Youth Cup in 1971.

In the video above, Batson said that Arsenal guided him “through the process of becoming a young pro” which came true when he was 17. He later became the club’s first Black player to play a match when he made his debut against Newcastle United in March 1972.

“I knew very much that Black players were in the minority […] Being subjected to racial abuse wasn’t new; what changed when you got into the professional ranks was the volume.”

Batson said he wasn’t aware of becoming Arsenal’s first Black player but he felt it was more important that more Black players were coming up in the game at the time.

From Arsenal to Cambridge to West Brom

After only 10 appearances, he moved to Cambridge United two years later and made a name for himself as he captained the side to the Fourth Division Championship in 1976–77. His manager at the time, Ron Atkinson, moved to West Brom and took Batson with him. It was there that he became part of a trio of Black players known by Atkinson as the “Three Degrees” (hmm) alongside Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis and lead WBA’s championship charge, where they finished 3rd in 1978–79 and reached the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup.

After retirement

Batson ended his career at West Brom with over 300 games in professional football but went onto become the deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association in 1984 and eventually found his way back to the West Midlands, rejoining The Baggies as managing director. He received an OBE in 2015 for his services to football.

Batson may not get the same recognition as Black players from Arsenal’s recent history but he paved the way and we must never forget that.

More on Brendon Batson

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