Former Reading FC midfielder Paul Canoville revealed that he couldn’t wait to get off of the pitch after his debut for Chelsea.

A ground breaker, Canoville was Chelsea’s first ever black player when he made his debut 40 years ago- but recalled what should have been a proud day as one of his most depressing.

Playing for the Royals between 1986-1988, the 60-year-old made his professional debut in 1982 for the Blues against Crystal Palace.

Opening up about his emotional experiences exclusively to the Reading Chronicle, Canoville said: “The manager told me to warm up for the second half and I was so excited. Then bang, I start hearing the racism, thinking it’s Palace fans trying to put me off.

“I was getting really upset and then I turned around to see it was my own fans and I just thought is this for real? It stopped me. Forget the game, I didn’t want to get on the pitch. I was just waiting for the referee to blow the whistle and I got off of that pitch so fast. It totally took me by surprise.

“Growing up in Southall I saw it all, it was scary with the National Front. You couldn’t walk home safely on your own. Here I was at Chelsea, not understanding what was happening.

“I had nobody to talk to. I didn’t even share it with my mum. When my mum saw the documentary I did with Ian Wright she was right on the phone and we both cried because she had no idea. Nobody asked at the club how I was, so I felt alone. I didn’t want to moan because if you moan you can be seen as weak.

“With today you’ve got the FA, Premier League, Kick it Out, PFA- I’m not saying they’re powerful, but you can make noise and complain."

Reading Chronicle:

Despite being shocked at the abuse he received as a footballer; it was not the first time Canoville had been the victim of abuse in a football setting.

The former Maidenhead United player added: “At 12 I went to my first game, QPR against West Ham. I had to beg my mum to let me go, she didn’t feel safe for me to go but I begged. I can remember it so vividly.

“A white guy looked at me and said, ‘your dad isn’t playing too well’ and I wondered how he knew my dad, because my dad played cricket. The guy I was with just said ‘leave it Paul, don’t worry’. He was talking about Clive Best [one of the first black players in the First Division with West Ham].

“At 12 you don’t realise what that guy meant but it was a sign of racism in football.”

Now with a suite named in his honour at Stamford Bridge, Canoville admitted it took three years for him to feel accepted, with his name being sung from the Shed End after scoring a brace against Sheffield Wednesday in 1985.

Joining Ian Branfoot’s Reading in 1986, after an incident in which a Chelsea team-mate had racially abused Canoville, he was forced to retire after just 21 appearances due to a recurring knee injury.

Since retiring from the game, the left-winger went on to have a tough time, suffering with cancer three times, developing an addiction to crack cocaine, and even suffering badly from Covid-19 and being placed into a coma.


READ MORE: Paul Canoville says sister's voice saved him from coma


He has since used his difficult situations to educate the next generation, having worked as a teaching assistant and setting up The Paul Canoville Foundation to promote confidence, well being, diversity and resilience.

Speaking about his life since the Foundation was set up, Canoville implored: “Since the pandemic I’ve had a serious illness and I’m lucky to be alive. Whether this is my third our fourth chance at life, I’m going to use this platform now to speak out and speak up.”