FA recognizes Benjamin Odeje as first black man to represent England after 51 years of waiting… with pioneer special guest at Nations League game against Germany
- Benjamin Odeje was selected as a 15-year-old for English schoolboys in 1971
- Laurie Cunningham previously recognized as England’s first black footballer
- The legend of West Bromwich Albion appeared for the Under 21s in 1977
The FA will recognize Benjamin Odeje as the first black man ever to represent England, Sportsmail can reveal.
Odeje, 67, has waited more than half a century for them to recognize his position as the first black footballer in an England international game, but his 51-year wait is coming to an end.
Sportsmail has learned that after internal discussions, the Football Association has agreed to officially invite Odeje, who came through the ranks of Charlton in the late 1960s and 1970s, as a special guest to England’s UEFA Nations League game against Germany later this month.
Benjamin Odeje was selected as a 15-year-old for English schoolboys in 1971
He will be present in his capacity as the country’s first black international player, confirming his unique place in English football history in the process.
Laurie Cunningham was previously recognized as England’s first black footballer at any level; the legend of West Bromwich Albion appeared for the Under 21s in 1977. But a BBC investigation in 2013 revealed Odeje as the first black Three Lions player when he was selected for English schoolboys as a 15-year-old, against Northern Ireland in front of 70,000 people at Wembley in March 1971.
Odeje, who played on the right wing, did not play a single minute of professional football but had a successful non-League career, helping England to a 1-0 victory.
Nicknamed Pele for his prolific goalscoring record, Odeje played four more times for English schoolboys, scoring once in a 5-1 win over the Netherlands.
However, he has not received any recognition from the FA regarding his position in this country’s football heritage.
Indeed, in May 2020 an i-newspaper article entitled ‘England’s first black international and his 42 years of waiting to be recognized’ stated that an ‘appropriate gesture to acknowledge his achievement should have been a long time ago’.
Laurie Cunningham was previously recognized as England’s first black footballer at any level
The move to finally endorse Odeje’s status was first floated earlier this year by Paul Elliott, chairman of the FA’s inclusion advisory board.
Debbie Hewitt, who was appointed chairman of the FA in January, released the move earlier this week.
Hewitt — who replaced Greg Clarke following his resignation as chairman in late 2020 after calling black football players “colored people” at a government meeting — has made improving equality, diversity and inclusion central to her stewardship as she strives to modernize the organization.
Odeje is expected to accept the FA’s invitation to attend the game against Germany at Wembley on September 26, England’s last game before the World Cup in Qatar.
Odeje’s presence is part of a wider FA plan to host a table of pioneers who hold a special place in the history of black footballers before the game against Germany.
Relatives of Arthur Wharton – widely recognized as the first black professional footballer – are among those invited.
There is hope that Viv Anderson, the first black player to represent England in a full international, will also attend.