Farewell Cyrille Regis

  • January 19, 2018 16:26
  • Biteback Publishing

In a tribute to the great Cyrille Regis who sadly passed away on Monday this week, here is an excerpt from Emy Onuora's brilliant Pitch Black: The Story of Black British Footballers.  In it, Onuora charts the bringing together of Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson in the legendary West Brom team of the late 1970s and details the racist climate in which they played the game.

Laurence Paul Cunningham was quite simply one of the most talented players of his generation. Possessed of poise, balance and speed, his movement was graceful, effortless and economic. He glided around the pitch and was blessed with great touch, awareness and an ability to play at his own pace regardless of the topsy-turvy, helter-skelter nature of the game going on around him. In a remarkable career, he was the first English player to play for Real Madrid and the second black player to win a full England cap. He played for Manchester United, won an FA Cup winners’ medal as a prince amongst Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang and, at West Bromwich Albion, he formed one third of the ‘Three Degrees’, the legendary footballing trio that formed a critical part of the Ron Atkinson side that achieved considerable success throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. Injuries robbed him of his key footballing faculties while at Real Madrid, and he never fully recovered those key ingredients that made him such a wonderful performer: his easy acceleration and change of pace. While his career declined from its peak of gracing the Bernabéu, the greater tragedy was the cutting short of his life in a car crash at the age of just thirty-three.

English football could be a dire place if open, attractive football was the kind of thing you wanted to watch. Pitches were often devoid of grass and the first shower of rain would quickly turn it into a mud bath. Derby County’s Baseball Ground was notorious for being particularly poor. It was covered in several inches of mud throughout autumn and winter and baked hard in early and late spring as the season drew to a close. Grass seemed to be anathema to the Baseball Ground, as though it were permanently on strike or some grass-based apartheid was at play to prevent it from operating as it should. Coaches valued toughness, grit, determination, work-rate and courage over technical ability. Every team seemed to have at least one midfield ‘enforcer’, who possessed little in the way of technical ability but whose job was to intimidate and brutalise the opposition. Central defenders were typically big, tough tackling and good in the air, but extremely vulnerable to any kind of pace or speed of turn. Full-backs were often of limited technical ability, but were likewise, expected to be tough in the tackle. Up front, target men were often cut from the same cloth as their centre-back counterparts and would typically operate alongside a small, nippy, infinitely more mobile partner to form a big-man/little-man strike force. In midfield, players were expected to get stuck in and display a lung-busting work ethic. As a result, the football served up on a weekly basis often lacked guile and quality and was devoid of anything approaching style. Players would often be covered in so much mud the numbers on the backs of their shirts couldn’t be seen. That is not to say that football didn’t possess moments of excitement. There were plenty of goal-mouth incidents and the attritional nature of the football on show, while not aesthetically pleasing, had its own unique beauty of a kind.

There were of course, exceptions to this. Some teams throughout the leagues had supremely gifted individuals of outstanding technical ability, but they were often mistrusted. Viewed often as ‘Fancy-Dan’, maverick types, they were too showy, too ostentatious and over-indulgent for the tastes of all but a few football managers. They were not to be trusted, particularly when the going got tough, and they would often be overlooked at international level. The England national team’s wilderness years throughout the 1970s and early 1980s was attributable to this rigid mindset. Successive England managers would ignore or give limited opportunities to flair players, and then all too readily dispense with their services when, with the team set up in a strict, rigid and functional formation, they inevitably failed to perform.

Laurie Cunningham was one of the game’s aesthetes. In addition to the fluency and grace of his movement, he had an array of tricks, flicks, drag-backs and general ball skills that were simultaneously baffling for defenders and breath-taking for spectators. Traditionally, in-swinging corners were performed by left-footed players from the right-hand side and vice versa. Cunningham took in-swinging corners from the right with the outside of his right foot. He also had two good feet and was a deceptively good header of a ball, but his hallmark was his ability to run with the ball at opposing defences. Picking up the ball from deep, he could turn defenders inside and out and, with a drop of the shoulder and a change of pace, could beat them from a standing start.

West Bromwich Albion’s Three Degrees marked a watershed in the development of black professional footballers in the UK. Until the 1970s, black footballers tended to exist as isolated examples. Albion’s larger-than-life manager Ron Atkinson, however, turned the blackness of Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson into a somewhat crude publicity drive, dubbing them the Three Degrees after the popular black female vocal trio, who were allegedly Prince Charles’s favourite singers.

Atkinson had transformed the fortunes of Albion, and the side had developed into a successful, attractive team. From the beginning of 1970s, the club had struggled to maintain its First Division status and suffered relegation in 1973. It had gained promotion in 1976 and had performed well, but under Atkinson’s stewardship they began to challenge for trophies and titles. Cunningham, Batson and Regis formed an integral part of the team’s transformation and were the first high-profile club of the era to play so many black players in the same side. The Three Degrees were distinctly of their time.

Regis and Batson were born in the Caribbean and Cunningham was born in north London. Their parents were of the generation that had come to the UK during the post-war period. Many migrated to Britain without any real plans other than finding work and getting settled, and many others came with the intention of staying for a few years and then returning home. Those whose initial plan was to return home often found that employment, settling into a community and, in particular, raising their children in a new country all acted as impediments to their moving back to their countries of birth.

The second generation had a distinctly different attitude to that of their parents, but players such as the Three Degrees learned, in the rarefied atmosphere of English professional football, to adopt some of those characteristics of determination and stoicism that formed a critical part of their parents’ experience. Their parents had faced unparalleled levels of discrimination. Many skilled workers were forced to take jobs several rungs beneath their levels of expertise and competence. Their employment opportunities were characterised by low pay, low status and semi- or unskilled work and they were barred access to promotion, equal pay and often basic employment protection. In housing, the deliberately discriminatory policies applied by local housing authorities and estate agents conspired to consign black communities to the worst housing available, and they suffered discrimination in all other aspects of the social life of Britain, including shops, pubs and clubs. Racist taunts and abuse in the streets and physical attacks and beatings were a common experience, particularly for young men. Even places of worship were often off-limits for fanatically Christian West Indians, as men of the cloth applied their own rather unique take on Bible teachings of ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ and politely and not so politely refused them admittance to church. Their children, mainly born and raised in the UK and without the perspective of immigrants and new arrivals, were not prepared to put up with the indignities their parents were subjected to, and resisted this treatment in more overt ways. Discriminated against in a range of social spaces, including the streets of their own communities, often by right-wing activity or the police-enforced ‘Sus’ (stop and search) laws, they began to develop both organised and spontaneous forms of resistance.

The Three Degrees were of this generation. All had spent their formative years growing up in London; Cunningham had been born there. Their impact was little short of phenomenal for a number of key reasons. Firstly, they could all play. Regis and Cunningham went on to become full internationals and Batson represented England at B level. Secondly, they were members of a successful side that played free-flowing, attractive football that brought Albion some success before Atkinson departed for Manchester United and the side he had built broke up. Thirdly, as a consequence of the team’s success and their manager’s eye for publicity, the novelty of three black players in a top-flight side at a time when black players were still rare proved to be too good an opportunity to resist for the press, in particular, who competed with each other to come up with the most offensive headlines and ways of peddling lazy stereotypes. The final reason was related to the level of hatred and abuse they received during games. At a time when the existence of racist abuse from the terraces often went unreported by match commentators, even when it was evident from Match of the Day or the regional football programmes shown on ITV, such was the level of venom that Granada TV’s Gerald Sinstadt commented on the ‘unsporting’ treatment of the trio by Manchester United supporters in a league game that Albion had won 5–3 at Old Trafford in December 1978. The three had played brilliantly and Cunningham in particular had given United’s defence a torrid afternoon. Uniquely, Sinstadt had commented on their treatment at a time when the media routinely ignored instances of racist abuse towards black players.

However, their impact on the generation of black footballers who aspired to play the game professionally, and those professionals already plying their trade as footballers, would prove to be inspirational. Their contribution marked the point at which the experiences of black players moved from the individual to the collective, more generalised experiences. The Three Degrees marked the point at which any young black professional entering the game knew they could expect to receive torrents of racist abuse, but also knew that given attitudes within the game, they would be forced to deal with this largely by themselves. It is inconceivable that for some black players considering a football career, the poisonous environment in which they had to earn a living wouldn’t have acted as a serious impediment.


West Ham had been the first top-flight club to field three black players at the same time when Clyde Best, Ade Coker and Clive Charles turned out for the Hammers in April 1972 for a game against Tottenham. Before the mid-1970s, black players had suffered racist abuse to a certain degree, but their involvement in the professional game had been different. They were largely viewed as an exotic novelty act. What changed – and the Three Degrees epitomised this sea-change – was the numbers of players coming into the professional game, and the subsequent response from the terraces: a concerted campaign to abuse black players, often involving organised racist groups. Their presence was no longer an anomaly, this was a movement. Viv Anderson was winning titles and European honours under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. Tunji Banjo and John Chiedozie were at Orient. Luther Blissett was terrorising defences as part of the Watford team that had a meteoric rise through the divisions to finish as runners-up in the then First Division. George Berry and Bob Hazell formed a tough-tackling, physically intimidating centre-back partnership at Wolves. Garth Crooks was top-scorer for his home town team of Stoke City.

The participation of these players and others was an affront to those who viewed the game as the preserve of whites. For the far right, who used football to promote their ideology and recruit followers, here in microcosm was the expression of the narrative that the country was being or had been taken over by blacks, and no area of society was safe, including the game that Britain had given the world.


Laurie Cunningham’s introduction to the professional game had been a baptism of fire. Shortly after making his debut, playing for Leyton Orient, Cunningham played against Millwall at their home, the Den, in December 1974. In May of that year, the National Front had achieved 11.5 per cent of the vote in a by-election in the London Borough of Newham and were claiming to have 20,000 members.

In addition to Cunningham, the Orient side included another black player in Bobby Fisher and an Asian player, Ricky Heppolette. As the team coach arrived at the Den, they were met by National Front members, distributing racist propaganda. As they emerged from the tunnel and entered onto the pitch, as well as the usual vitriol, they were greeted with bananas and a carving knife that were thrown onto the pitch. Cunningham and Fisher, in imitation of the 1972 US Olympic athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith, had made black power salutes as an act of defiance.

The game had given the eighteen-year-old Cunningham a taste of the racial prejudice he would face throughout his career. He also recognised his role as a trailblazer and role model, realising that he couldn’t be seen to allow the abuse to affect him because of the impact it might have on other black players. Cunningham reasoned that if he could find a way of dealing with the abuse and the other forms of racial prejudice he faced, it would be easier for others to get a fair chance. He understood that he was going to need to put up with the intimidatory tackling, not only because he was a young, skilful winger, but also to prove that, as a black player, he possessed the necessary ‘bottle’, the mental fortitude that casual prejudice dictated was a key trait lacking in black players.

Cunningham was shown remarkable patience by George Petchey, his manager at Orient, who was to remain a friend of Cunningham’s throughout his life. He was a man prepared to go against the popular and often populist ideas about black players. He was not alone in this regard, but few within the game appeared to be prepared to actively challenge conventional wisdom at this stage. The clubs and the FA appeared impotent and unsure as to how to respond, preferring instead to remain silent, with only few honourable exceptions. Not wholly convinced that football was to be his chosen career, he was torn between a career as a dancer (he had an offer to join the renowned Ballet Rambert Dance Company) and football. He’d developed a reputation as a somewhat indifferent time-keeper with a penchant for fashion and nightclubs. However, he also displayed a canny sense of the political and social environment in which he lived, and embarked on a political journey in order to make sense of his experiences and those of other people in black communities. Assessing his time as a young professional at Orient, he remarked:

There have been times when I’ve been mixed up about the race thing. A couple of years ago I thought that to be black in England was to be a loser. You know, back of the queue for decent jobs. Suspicion on you before anyone knew what you were about.

He continued:

I did have a feeling for ‘Black Power’. It seemed to meet the mood of frustration. It could give you some pride. Then I changed. It sort of struck me that the great majority of people, black and white, are in the same boat, fighting for a decent living. It also struck me down at Orient I was getting a very good break. I got on well with George Petchey. It didn’t matter to him whether I was black, white or Chinese just as long as I could play.

For Cunningham, the footballer’s lifestyle could elevate him above the economic effects of racism, but couldn’t protect him from its psychological and emotional impact. It’s uncommon for footballers to take a political stance, but Cunningham had one. How could he not, given the harsh realities of racism in the game and wider society?


At the beginning of the 1976/77 season, a singular event encapsulated the tense relationship between the police and the black community, something Cunningham no doubt had in mind when he was analysing the way that black people were treated with suspicion as a matter of course. Two hundred and fifty thousand people had attended the 1975 Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest ever turnout. Capital Radio had broadcast live from the event, encouraging attendance from across London. The carnival had become Europe’s biggest street event and was being established as a must-attend attraction for people from the black community from London and beyond. Middle-class residents in north Kensington had organised an anti-carnival petition, signed by 500 people in March 1976. Tension rose throughout spring and summer of 1976 in the run-up to the carnival, and the Metropolitan Police had stated there was to be a heavy presence in response to incidences of pickpocketing the previous year. Three thousand police officers were to be deployed, ten times the numbers from previous years. Pressure was placed on carnival organisers to cancel the event or hold it elsewhere. By the August bank holiday, the scene was set for clashes. Disproportionate and aggressive policing, designed to intimidate or to establish superiority, was met with resistance. In the fighting that followed, 325 police were wounded and sixty people were arrested and charged. Later that day, the police by way of some kind of poorly conceived vengeance on the black community, arrested eighteen young men in Islington, far away from Notting Hill. These young men were first accused of ‘suspicious behaviour’, then arrested and questioned in custody. While in custody, according to the police accounts, all eighteen young men voluntarily confessed that they had gone to the carnival in order to steal and attack the police. The police case hinged on these ‘confessions’ of these eighteen men, seventeen of whom provided evidence that they had been assaulted in police cells. In spite of the best efforts of the prosecution to secure convictions, the jury came up with forty-three not-guilty verdicts, eight guilty and twenty-eight undecided to the range of charges that had come to court. The media response was, as usual, to back the police version of events, even in the face of the evidence as to how the ‘confessions’ had been obtained; there was nothing by way of media or basic journalistic investigative scrutiny of this event. The incident illustrated not only the tense relationship between black communities and the police but, critically, the media’s attitude to black communities.

The press, particularly the tabloids, were busy demonising black communities and especially black youth, portrayed as criminal, job-stealing, slum-dwelling, immigrants rather than the disadvantaged, criminalised and exploited section of British society that, by and large, they were. The press and media in general did not routinely condemn incidences of racism in football until some two decades later and in fact actively contributed to spreading the stereotypes and myths that were routinely ascribed to black footballers.


The era was also a time of increasing activity by the National Front and the British Movement. The far right had first targeted football as potentially fertile ground in the mid-1960s and again made a concerted effort in the 1970s. Far-right literature cynically contained football-related material in a direct attempt to appeal to fans, with Bulldog, the youth paper of the National Front, even having a league table of the most racist fans. While the level of racism in the 1970s was often of a horrific kind, and at clubs where the level of hatred was at its most venomous there existed a significant far-right presence, not all fans who indulged in this behaviour were members of far-right groups. Some indeed were, others had a loose association or alliance and others had no involvement at all but were heavily involved in racist behaviour. Other fans, of course, wanted nothing to do with the behaviour of their fellow travellers. Inevitably, racism coupled with the increase in incidences of football violence turned many off attending games.

There were other developments taking place within the game that were beginning to affect the behaviour of spectators at football matches, too. By the mid-1970s, players’ wages were on the rise, which precipitated an increase in revenue. This increase was, at least amongst the top clubs, paid for by an increase in admission prices. The increases weren’t significant enough to deter the large bulk of supporters, but they had the effect of pricing out supporters at both ends of the supporter age spectrum: pensioners and those of school age no longer attended matches in the numbers they had previously. These two groups generally had a civilising effect on fan behaviour. Older fans – fathers, grandfathers, older relatives – would actively deter bad behaviour by fans, usually by their presence alone. Young children, mainly boys, would often be taken to games by older relatives, but many would also attend together in small groups. The Merseyside giants, Everton and Liverpool, both had a ‘Boys’ Pen’: an area of the ground set aside specifically for under-12s. When crowd crushes or surges occurred on the terraces (which was often), these young fans would be removed from the affected areas or otherwise ‘looked after’ by other spectators concerned about their safety. The absence of these two groups of supporters meant that there were greater proportions of young men and teenage boys, precisely those supporters most likely to participate in football violence, and while this didn’t on its own lead to racist behaviour, the combination of football-related violence and racist behaviour served to make the atmosphere at football grounds more poisonous.

Elsewhere, the start of the 1976 season saw Cunningham continue to produce stellar performances for Orient, but the side struggled both on and off the pitch. Performances and results were poor and the club was crippled with debt. As the season dragged on, it became clear that due to the club’s huge debts and poor form, it was a case only of when, and not if, Cunningham was to be sold. There was speculation about where he might go. Johnny Giles, the player-manager of West Bromwich Albion who had taken the Baggies to the First Division, contacted Orient, a fee was agreed and Cunningham was eventually sold, the first of the legendary Three Degrees to join the West Midlands outfit in March 1977.

A few months later, Cyrille Regis joined him. Regis was born in French Guiana and arrived in England, aged five, without being able to speak any English. A good sportsman, his first love was cricket, at which he represented his county at schools level, and although he played football like any other boy of his age, he didn’t excel. At secondary school, he wasn’t good enough to get into his school football team until he was thirteen. He first played on the right wing and then moved to the striker’s position, where he found that he could score goals. His strength was his speed and he blossomed into a prolific striker and was selected to play representative football for the Borough of Brent. Along the way he had played for a team called Oxford & Kilburn with future England cricket captain Mike Gatting and Mike’s brother Steve, who later played for Arsenal and Brighton. However, it was Cyrille’s performances playing Sunday league that got him noticed and he signed for Moseley in the Athenian League in 1976.

The Athenian League was developing a reputation as a decent source of black footballing talent. The previous year, Phil Walker and Trevor Lee had left Epsom & Ewell to begin a successful stint at Millwall. The eighteen-year-old Regis scored twenty-four goals in his debut season, earning him a transfer to semi-pro outfit Hayes Football Club. Combining work on building sites as an apprentice electrician with playing non-league for Hayes, he scored another twenty-five goals in his first season for them. Fifty goals in two seasons alerted a crop of scouts from league clubs. Eventually it was Ronnie Allen, chief scout at West Bromwich Albion, who persuaded his bosses to pay the £5,000 transfer fee Hayes wanted. Legend has it that Allen offered to pay the transfer fee for the young Regis himself. As Cyrille himself put it:

Story goes that they weren’t sure about me, not that they’d seen me play or whatever, but it came down to money. Five grand and another five grand and Ronnie Allen said well, I’ll buy him with my own money and when he makes it, give me my money back. But there’s also another story that what persuaded him to buy me, he came down to watch me play at Hayes … The ball came across from a corner and I went up for a header … Myself, the goalkeeper, and two defenders and the ball end up in the net and so that persuaded him to buy me.

Along with his capacity for scoring goals, one of the key criteria that had persuaded Allen to bring Regis to Albion was his strength, which was to earn him the nickname of ‘Smokin’ Joe’ due to his alleged similarity to former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier. The name epitomised the somewhat crude depiction of black players at the time, which chose to focus almost exclusively on their physical attributes. Undoubtedly, Regis was strong and powerful and he was also quick, but this description belied his other attributes. Regis would not have been able to play in the top flight for so long and represent England at international level had he been simply a battering-ram of a striker. His hold-up play was intelligent and cunning. His ability to bring others into play was exceptional. His movement was clever and incisive and his finishing was as good as any of his contemporaries. These more cerebral attributes that apply to Regis as well as other black players were rarely analysed in any great detail by a media constrained by a distinctly nineteenth-century perception of black people – and, by extension, black footballers – as ‘exotic’.

Football, like many sports, is a game where clichés are in abundance and within English football they are rife. These clichés often act as a convenient shorthand to convey ideas and concepts. However, in the case of black footballers from this era, the clichés served to present information in a way that not only offered a limited version of the truth but also suggested that the style of play that black players brought to the game was purely and exclusively physical and therefore of limited merit. Bobby Robson, in assessing Johnny Miller, said, ‘Miller had potential without ever really fulfilling it … He didn’t seem to have the aggression and commitment that I was looking for … At the time there was this feeling in the country that coloured players lacked heart. I must admit that I asked myself a number of times, could it be right?’

Germans may be efficient and ruthless, which provides a useful explanation for their prowess at penalty shoot-outs, but this doesn’t preclude admiration for their technical ability. Brazilians possess a rhythmic, samba-inspired footballing style and although popular wisdom often fails to appreciate that the technical ability of Brazilian footballers is rooted in their country’s cultural notions of how football should be played combined with hours of practice to hone that technique, it’s at least admired for its beauty and success. The clichés surrounding black footballers were never juxtaposed with an appreciation of their intelligence and their tactical discipline and awareness. If speed were the only attribute required to play on the wing, that position would be dominated by Olympic sprinters. If strength were the only attribute required to play as a target man, that position would be dominated by powerlifters. Good defensive tactics can often negate speed and strength, and the challenge to overcome this requires a level of strategic thought and planning that often goes unappreciated, even by those who have been involved in the game at the highest level. Knowing how to make the best use of your speed or how to best utilise strength has been a key challenge for generations of footballers, but in spite of achieving this week after week and season after season, the same lazy clichés dominated the perception of black footballers for several decades.

I was like, where’s West Brom. You hear it in the scoresheet, but I didn’t know where West Brom was. – Cyrille Regis

The timing of Regis’s shot at the big time couldn’t have been better. He had just completed his exams and was now a fully qualified electrician. Albion offered him a one-year contract. His employers wished him well and offered him his job back if it didn’t work out. Although he had absolutely no idea where West Bromwich was, he was both excited and apprehensive at the prospect of becoming a professional footballer. Staying in club lodgings in Handsworth, an area of Birmingham with a large Caribbean community, the nineteen-year-old Regis began his professional career. Laurie Cunningham was already at the club, but as Cunningham trained with the first team, Regis, on the reserves, didn’t have a great deal to do with him at this stage.

Regis’s career at Albion began well. Chief scout Ronnie Allen had taken over as first-team manager after Johnny Giles had resigned and Regis had played regularly for the reserves, scoring on his debut. He scored twice on his first-team debut, in a League Cup game against Rotherham, and again on his league debut in a victory over Middlesbrough. In his own words: ‘I’d settled well. I was living in Handsworth, where I felt comfortable, even though I was far from home and I’d had a great start to my career. Strikers are judged on scoring goals and it’s so important to get off to a good start.’

He was blossoming in his quest to make the big time, but something else was happening as well. ‘It was great having him around,’ Regis said of his new-found friendship with Laurie Cunningham.

He kind of took me under his wing and we became friends almost immediately. It was good that one of the first-team players took an interest in me, and with him being black and from London, made it more important. I looked up to him and it’s only when I think back now that me being there was as good for him as it was for me.

Regis highlights the two factors that were key to his initial development at West Bromwich Albion. Of course, he was hungry. As a raw nineteen-year-old, he was keen to show what he could do in the top flight of English football. Although it’s a matter of conjecture as to whether Ronnie Allen had paid for Regis’s transfer out of his own pocket, the manager nonetheless had some form of investment in him and was prepared to give him an extended run in the side. His hunger, and the belief of his manager were important factors, and these alone may have been enough to guarantee his success at Albion, but equally important were his friendship with Cunningham and his residency in Handsworth. Regis remembers: ‘We’d be seen in and around Handsworth and we soon became popular in the black community. People would come up to us and you started seeing black kids taking a real interest in going to football matches.’

His friendship with Cunningham was an important part of his initial experience and ultimately, with the arrival of Brendon Batson, was to define his career at Albion. Playing up and down the country, suffering the taunts together created an important bond in helping the two players to deal with the abuse they received. For Cunningham, this was equally important. Up until then he had been the only black player at the club. Here was someone who was able and willing to share the load.

Handsworth was also an important part of Regis’s ‘settling-in’ period. Becoming a part of a black community provided him with an opportunity to escape from the pressures of justifying his blackness. In Handsworth, he could just be himself. In turn, he became an instant hero amongst the black community. The ability of black players to deal with racist abuse and use the experience as a source of motivation gave inspiration to black communities not only in Birmingham but throughout the country. The experiences of black players in suffering racist abuse mirrored their own experiences, but differed in an important dimension. The dehumanising effects of both racist abuse and racial discrimination offered very few opportunities to resist their impact. Football provided an opportunity to hit back. Here were players who not only took the abuse but turned the taunts of their abusers on its head in order to perform well on the pitch. For black communities therefore, black players who were scoring goals, making goals, tackling and playing well were resisting and fighting back in the only way they were able.

As Regis put it, ‘Black people of all ages would just want to talk to us or just wish us well. I suppose in some way they wanted us to know that we had their support and we weren’t doing this on our own.’

Regis had quickly established himself as a first-team regular. However, before 1977 had ended, Ronnie Allen had taken up an opportunity to manage the Saudi Arabian national side and Albion were on the hunt for a new manager. Veteran defender John Wile was installed in a caretaker role, but Albion appointed a young and hungry manager who’d done very well with unfashionable Cambridge United. Ron Atkinson was to change Albion’s fortunes and play a pivotal role in changing the way that black players were perceived and the way in which incidents of racism were handled.

Arsenal had won the historic league and cup double in 1971. Their domestic dominance was further underlined by the fact that their youth team, containing Brendon Batson, had won the FA Youth Cup the same year. Batson was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada and had arrived in the UK at the age of nine. He was spotted as a thirteen-year-old playing representative football for his district and signed as an apprentice at fifteen. First-team opportunities had eluded Batson and he made only ten appearances in three seasons. He moved to Cambridge United in 1974 and joined a team in the fourth tier of English professional football. United had only been a league outfit since 1970 and there was an amateurish quality to the whole club. For Batson, this was a far cry from his beginnings at Arsenal: ‘At Arsenal the apprentices were raised to be gentlemen as part of our development. We were introduced to fine food, told to dress well, taught good manners and taught discipline. When I went to Cambridge, I wondered what have I got into here.’

However, a few months later, Ron Atkinson was appointed manager and transformed the club. Many of the older players were replaced by youth team players and free signings, and the team began to do well. Atkinson obviously rated Batson highly – and why not? He had played in the top tier of English football for Arsenal and was a fine if very underrated footballer. Batson was a cultured right-back. He was a good solid defender, had good positional sense, was strong in the tackle and good going forward. Quick and athletic, he wasn’t blessed with blistering pace, but was rarely exposed by even the best of attackers. Atkinson had made him team captain as United improved considerably and achieved promotion to the Third Division in 1976/77.

Early in his United career, Batson had been sent off for retaliation after being continually called a ‘black bastard’ by an opponent. He recalled later, ‘The ref actually apologised for sending me off and supported me at the disciplinary hearing. It meant that I wasn’t suspended.’ Atkinson had tough words for Batson and told him in no uncertain terms that he’d need to find a way of dealing with the abuse. Batson learned the necessary lesson and never allowed himself to resort to retaliation throughout the rest of his career. The referee in that incident, however, had shown a level of sympathy for Batson that was entirely out of keeping with the prevailing attitude of football officials. Racist abuse from fellow professionals was commonplace and given free rein. Retaliation would be punished, but there were no sanctions for racist abusers. While black players were often subject to abuse from 30,000–40,000 spectators, in addition to abuse from their fellow professionals and managers, it was far preferable to the experiences of friends and family in the workplace. Batson recalls:

I had friends who worked at Fords at Dagenham. That was a terrible place for black people to work. There was NF [National Front] in there selling their stuff on the factory floor. They’d have all kinds of racist stuff written on their lockers and would get all kinds of abuse. You’d have foreman right in their face, calling them nigger this, you black bastard that, you’d have people spitting at you and all kinds and you couldn’t do anything. You have to remember that fighting meant instant dismissal at Fords, so all my mates had to just take it. So it never really bothered me, I felt safe, we were protected. Of course you might have 40,000 fans giving you dog’s abuse, but I was much better off playing football. Compared to other black people, we had a good life.

United’s improvement under Atkinson had brought the club the kind of success that the relatively new league members could only have dreamed of, and at the start of the 1977/78 season, the newly promoted outfit had made a good start and were in a healthy position when Atkinson left to join West Bromwich Albion. A few weeks later in a £30,000 deal, Batson joined Atkinson at Albion. The Three Degrees had arrived at The Hawthorns.

From Pitch Black: The Story of Black British Footballers by Emy Onuora, published by Biteback



Sean Spicer Memoir

  • January 12, 2018 15:16
  • Biteback Publishing


Olivia Beattie of Biteback Publishing has acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to a memoir by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. The book will describe Spicer’s time as President Trump’s spokesman and promises to shed new light on the headline-grabbing controversies of the Trump administration’s first year.

As Trump’s spokesman during his campaign, transition and first months in the White House, Spicer often jousted with the media on behalf of his boss, most memorably when the media downplayed the size of the inauguration crowd.

He left the White House when President Trump brought in Anthony Scaramucci as communications director – a role the latter would occupy for only ten days before being fired.

The Briefing will tap into Spicer’s first-hand experience to reveal the truth behind the most controversial administration in recent US history.

Sean Spicer said: ‘My book is about taking the reader deep inside key events that I was at the centre of during my time at the RNC, the campaign and the White House. I am delighted to be partnering with Biteback in the UK and Ireland to tell my story in such an important market.’

Olivia Beattie bought UK and Commonwealth rights from Simon Trewin and Mel Berger at WME Entertainment. Beattie said: ‘With his experience working at the heart of the White House, Sean Spicer is perfectly placed to give fresh insight into the inner workings of the Trump administration. Biteback are delighted to be publishing this crucial insider account.’

The Briefing will be published on 23 July 2018. Click here to pre-order your copy today.


Left behind: can anyone save the towns that the economy forgot?

  • November 25, 2017 17:00
  • John Nickson

When Blackpool first prospered, the town was run by local entrepreneurs who served on the council and supported local businesses and charities. Blackpool is now one of Britain’s poorest towns. The private and voluntary sectors have shrunk.  The public sector is predominant. The Council is leading efforts to revive the local economy but recovery dependent upon public funding is unsustainable given a 50% cut to its budget. Cover 9781849548038

Britain’s economic and social problems are beyond the capacity of the state and of any of the sectors acting on their own. The solution is for the public, private and voluntary sectors to collaborate locally wherever possible.  

In response to cuts to youth services, a philanthropic initiative in Bolton has created Onside Youth Zones, a charity aiming to build a national network of quality, safe and affordable places for young people. Partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors, their young members and local volunteers, makes possible a genuine community effort.   Local authorities contribute 40 % of running costs and earn a six times return on public investment via reduced anti-social behaviour and higher youth employment.

Youth Zones illustrate what is possible when the state becomes an enabler rather than a provider and when local interests join forces to respond to community need. Crucially, the state does not dictate terms.

Blackpool’s problems will not be easily overcome but the town is an island of poverty in a sea of prosperity.  There is great wealth in the North West and this should be harnessed to revive the private sector and to create a thriving voluntary sector without which Blackpool cannot prosper. The key is collaboration for the common good.


Our Common Good here for £20! 


Lest we forget

  • November 09, 2017 10:00
  • Biteback


Today, ahead of the events of Remembrance weekend, we are pleased to be publishing the paperback edition of Victoria Cross Heroes Volume II by Michael Ashcroft

The Victoria Cross is Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious gallantry medal for courage in the face of the enemy. It has been bestowed upon 1,355 heroic individuals from all walks of life since its creation during the Crimean War.

With sixty action-packed stories of courageous soldiers, sailors and airmen from a range of global conflicts including the Indian Mutiny of 1857–58, the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902 and the First and Second World Wars, this book is a powerful testament to the strength of the human spirit and a worthy tribute to the servicemen who earned the Victoria Cross. Their inspirational deeds of valour and self-sacrifice should be championed and never forgotten.

Lord Ashcroft, who has been fascinated with bravery since he was a young boy, now owns 200 VCs, by far the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Featuring a foreword by Lance-Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC,Victoria Cross Heroes: Volume II gives extraordinary accounts of the bravery behind the newest additions to Lord Ashcroft’s VC collection – those decorations purchased in the last decade.

Buy the paperback edition of Victoria Cross Heroes Volume II here at special price £9.99


If the state provides less, who will provide more?

  • October 31, 2017 11:25
  • John Nickson

I have a text for this afternoon and it comes from one of the most generous people in Britain. The author’s name will be revealed shortly.  What he said was this:

“We have to learn what it means to be a member of the human race”.Cover 9781849548038

As befits the final presentation of this conference, I promise that I will be positive and optimistic by demonstrating what a practical and moral response to current challenges could be, a response that should give us and future generations hope for the future.

I say this at the outset because you are about to hear an analysis of our current circumstances that might seem anything but optimistic. Britain has much to be proud of but before we can talk about building bridges between ourselves and towards a better future we must be honest and confront what is going wrong.

To put right what is going wrong will be challenging.  New bridges must be built between government, politicians, the public, private and voluntary sectors and all of us as citizens. 

This means significant changes in responsibility, roles and behaviour. This will not be easy but I believe it is possible.

Four months ago the Grenfell Tower fire seared the conscience of the nation.

A few days later, I had lunch with a friend in Kensington, only a mile away from the disaster. She is married to one of Britain’s most senior business men. In addition to expressing anguish about the loss of life and the suffering of the survivors, I was struck by what else she said.

She was appalled by the inequality and social divisions in Kensington, dismayed by the response of local and national politicians and wondered, I quote: “What has happened to the public realm? People like us are not paying enough tax”.

I have given you this perspective deliberately because it reflects the views of several of those I have worked with in my professional life, namely very wealthy people with a social conscience.

One of these is Sir John Madejski, the patron saint of our conference and the author of today’s text. 

I will try to spare John’s blushes.  His good works are well documented so I won’t repeat them all.

However, amongst many acts of outstandingly generous philanthropy, John has endowed The John Madejski Academy in Reading.  This is what John told me as reported in my first book GIVING IS GOOD FOR YOU published in 2013.  His remarks are prescient given what has happened since then:

“The fundamental thing about life is that we enter and leave with nothing.  What we have when we are alive is merely borrowed and money exists to be used.

I believe in sharing my good fortune with my fellow citizens.

I worry that our sense of community, and the sense of obligation to it that seemed so strong when I was young, has broken down.  This is a serious problem with serious implications for our country.

I thought I was well aware of the problems facing young people in Reading and did not need to be convinced that I had a role to play in helping to revitalize run-down schools and give youngsters a better start in life.

After we had opened JMA, I asked the head teacher to describe the beginning of the school day which she said started with an eight o clock breakfast club.

‘We are not running a hotel’ I remonstrated until she explained that for some kids, the first and sometimes the second meal may not be provided at home.  Hungry children do not make either happy or good pupils.  Giving children a start in life has taken on a new meaning.

Most of us are so ignorant and so stupid about the reality of life today.  I was amazed when I discovered how people live just down the road.  The depth of ignorance amongst the middle classes is truly shocking”.

John Madejski is amongst the minority of wealthy people in Britain who think about the needs of society and are prepared to do something about it.

It is indeed a problem that only a minority of the very rich are public spirited but there is a bigger problem that John has identified, namely that both our national and local sense of community has been eroded.  That has implications for ALL of us.

Our topic today is about building bridges post- Brexit.

I believe we need to rebuild bridges irrespective and regardless of BREXIT. Our Kingdom may be united but our society is not.

For many reasons, society is under strain. Globalisation, neo-liberalism, “austerity”, automation and artificial intelligence can all be lined up as culprits.  They are beyond our scope this afternoon.

I wish to focus on how our society works and what we, as members of society, have to do in order to sustain our way of life, for ourselves, and perhaps even more importantly, for future generations.

The accumulation of wealth at the very top whilst the incomes of the majority stagnate must surely be one source of the feelings of discontent and disengagement today.

Encouraging more of the wealthy to give is one way of building bridges between the 1% and the 99%.

In the 1980’s, there were estimated to be 5 billionaires living or based in the UK compared with over 130 currently.

In 2014, according to Office for National Statistics, the wealthiest 10% of households owned 45% of total aggregate wealth, an increase of 21% over the previous two years.

However, the evidence suggests only a minority of the wealthiest are philanthropic.  Coutts Bank estimates that only 10% of clients who sell a business engage in significant sustained philanthropy thereafter.

You may be wondering what philanthropy and charitable giving have to do with anything.  For many, philanthropy reeks of the Victorian age and is only for the super- rich.

My definition of philanthropy is the commitment of time and talent as well as money, with emphasis upon the word ‘commitment’. 

My job this afternoon is to convince you that almost anyone can be a philanthropist, regardless of wealth, and that all of us need to contribute much more to society.


Because the challenges we face are beyond the resources of the state.

It is obvious that philanthropy and charity cannot possible solve all our nation’s problems, nor should they, but I will demonstrate to you how philanthropy can be a game changer when in partnership with the public and private sectors.

The key point is that Britain today is not the same as it was but with less public money.  Britain is a different country from what it was 20 years ago.

Perhaps most significant has been the changing role of the state. For example, although public expenditure may continue to increase in real terms, local government spending in the poorest parts of the country will have been cut by more than 50% between 2010 and 2020. 

Inevitably, this must change what local authorities do and the services they are able to provide.

When I started research for my book OUR COMMON GOOD in 2014, my initial concern was for the voluntary or beyond profit sector.  How could the sector cope with more demand if government support for charities is in decline and charitable giving, according to the Charities Aid Foundation, has been stagnant for decades and may even be in decline despite a colossal increase in personal wealth?

Moreover, CAF reports that charities obtain their financial support from a small civic core, the 9% of the population responsible for two thirds of all charitable activity.

Clearly, annual charitable giving of £10.6 billion cannot compensate for public expenditure cuts of £20 billion in local services or make more than a dent in annual public spending of £814 billion.

In order to help find the answer to this fundamental question about who will provide more, I started by drawing up a balance sheet of the strengths and weaknesses of our country:

On the credit side:

We are a free people with a vibrant and healthy democracy.

We have a record rate of employment and our economy continues to expand, albeit more slowly since the most recent recession.

My generation has not had to fight a war and is the wealthiest that has ever been.

We have a national health service free at the point of delivery.

Younger people are the healthiest ever, have instantaneous access to limitless knowledge and the ability to travel almost anywhere.

Our creativity in terms of the arts, science and technology is recognised internationally and our creative industries are amongst the fastest growing parts of our economy

We are an open and diverse society and that makes Britain an attractive place to live and in which to invest.

On the debit side:

We have the longest period of wage stagnation since the Napoleonic wars and many of the employed are paid so little that they need state benefits to survive.

There are people in our country who cannot afford to feed themselves.

There is a growing wealth gap between rich and poor.

Intergenerational inequality means that the young are not as well off as their parents and grandparents and this trend looks like getting worse.

Mental illness is on the increase, particularly amongst the young.

Increasingly unaffordable housing threatens to become a catastrophe for young people.

There are huge disparities of wealth and resources between regions resulting in social division and weakened communities.

Growing lack of confidence and trust in authority may lead to alienation, polarisation and political extremism posing a threat to our liberal democracy.

These are all symptoms of failure.  The failure of governments of all parties to tackle these over decades suggests that we look elsewhere for solutions.

If we need to find new ways of overcoming problems and to create new opportunities, we should look to the voluntary or beyond profit sector.  The best pioneering charities and philanthropists have been amongst the most progressive forces for centuries:

The abolition of slavery, the creation of social housing, hospices,  votes for women, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the preservation of our rural and cultural heritage are amongst the causes that define our country today and they would not have happened without campaigning charities led by visionary leaders and funded by personal donations.

I have learned from researching and writing my book that contemporary Britain is defined as much by the personal generosity of our predecessors as much as by the State. And I suspect most people would be surprised how much philanthropy contributes to society today.

For example, the ability of the National Health Service to look after us rests upon a bedrock of academic medicine that is almost entirely funded by charitable giving.

A £20 million grant from the Wolfson Foundation has enabled a major research programme into Alzheimers which would not otherwise have been possible.

Pioneering research into the growing mental health problems of young people is being led by a new charity, MQ, that is entirely funded by philanthropy.

The role of philanthropy in tertiary education is becoming more important, particularly at post-graduate level, not least for research and in support of those intent upon a vocational career.

We should ask ourselves this:  who will provide the intellectual capital needed by our knowledge economy that will allow us to compete with other countries who invest more than Britain does?

Our cultural achievements and industries drive one of the fastest growing parts of our economy. This would be impossible without philanthropy and corporate sponsorship.

Many of the poorest would have no access to Legal Aid, cut by both Labour and Tory governments, without philanthropy.

Philanthropists and philanthropically funded think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation have led the campaign for a national living wage.

Philanthropy gave birth to social housing and we urgently need more of both now.

For my research, I talked to more than a hundred people across the country from Belfast to Blackpool via Bromley-by-Bow in east London.  They were philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, academics, think tanks and leaders of business, charities, communities and local authorities.

I came to realise that our concern should not be just for the future of the voluntary sector and civil society.  As 2016 and 2017 unfolded, BREXIT, the effects of climate change, terrorism, the Grenfell Tower fire, unprecedented international migration, the election of Trump and the growth of political extremism should encourage us to think about our values, about what makes our society work, who is responsible for the public realm and the prospects for our democracy.

The fact is that we can no longer depend upon the state for the social, cultural and intellectual capital we need to sustain our society and our economy. At present, it is not clear where this investment will come from.

Let us examine some of the principal challenges we face.

What are the facts about inequality in Britain?

Government may be entitled to say that income inequality has been stable for years, although think tanks forecast that it will increase again.  The real problem is inequality in the ownership of wealth.

As Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator has said in the Financial Times:

“Why should inequality concern us? This is a moral and political question.  It is also an economic problem.   There are two economic consequences of rising inequality- weak demand and a lagging process in raising educational levels”.

He went on to say:

“Less inequality is likely to make economies work better by increasing the ability of the entire population to participate on more equal terms.

The costs of rising inequality go further.  To my mind, the greatest costs are the erosion of the Republican ideal of shared citizenship.  Enormous divergences in wealth and power have hollowed out republics before.  They could well do so in our age.

The rebellion against elites is in full swing…we face the danger that the gulf between economic and technocratic elites on the one hand and the mass of people on the other is too vast to be bridged.

At the limit, trust might break down altogether.  Thereupon, the electorate will turn to outsiders to clean up the system. We are seeing such a shift to trust in outsiders right now, not only in the US but also in many European countries… 

Large numbers of people feel disrespected and dispossessed.  This can no longer be ignored”.

We are now hearing about intergenerational inequality. Is this generation the most spoiled in human history or is it jinxed?

I turned to David Willetts, former Conservative government minister, executive chairman of the Resolution Foundation, and author of the book: The Pinch: How the baby boomers took their children’s future and why they should give it back.

Willetts tell us that in 1974, the average 50 to 59 year- old earned about 4% more than the 25 to 29 year- old.  By 2008, it was 35% more.

The Resolution Foundation reports that hourly pay for those in their twenties is now lower than at any time since 1998.

Those born between 1985 and 1994 were the first who were not better off at the same stage of their lives than their forbears.

Willett’s comments:

“We used to assume that social mobility would slowly improve.  That is why it was such a shock when in 2005, evidence came out that social mobility had declined. This would suggest that young people were losing out in the jobs market even before the recession struck. During the years from 1997 to 2007, which we now see as a debt-driven boom, youth unemployment was actually rising.

We do our best for our own children even whilst our society gives a raw deal to young people as a whole – this is the reason for declining social mobility. We are better at providing for our own children than looking after the interests of the next generation as a whole.  We are indeed better parents than we are citizens”.

Intergenerational inequality is nowhere more stark than the current housing crisis. 

According to the Resolution Foundation, nine out of ten people under the age of thirty- five will be unable to own a home within a decade.

Any would be home owner earning the national average wage of £26,500 will find that 91% of properties in England and Wales are currently beyond their reach.

The Resolution Foundation also confirmed that the high cost of housing, the brunt of it borne by the young, is undermining living standards.   The key finding is that the increase in annual housing costs since the early 1990’s is equivalent to a 10% increase in the basic rate of tax.

Out of every pound of government expenditure on housing, £25 billion a year and rising, 95p is spent on housing benefit and only 5p is spent on building new homes.

Solving the housing crisis is beyond the scope of my book and we are not going to fix it this afternoon but I must confess that of all the research I undertook, I was most shocked by what I learned about the state of housing in Britain today.  If we continue with the current disastrous policy, the problem will be even worse for future generations and very damaging for social cohesion.

We are failing the young. This is the clearest evidence yet that bridges need to be built between mine and younger generations.

By drawing attention to the impact that housing policy has on society and upon the young in particular, should remind us of the role that philanthropy and the voluntary sector have played in the provision of social housing in the past and to ask what role they could play in the future.

150 years ago, the most enlightened Victorian entrepreneurs acknowledged social need in a way that is conspicuously absent today. They were social pioneers.  George Peabody  invested in social housing.  This was enlightened capitalism. 

Peabody invested in bricks and mortar not only to provide homes but also to change ideas about housing.

New thinking is needed now.  Might it be possible to create a multi-billion philanthropic fund designed to create social housing?

I asked the current chairman of Peabody, Lord Kerslake (a former head of the home civil service) for his opinion:

“The role of philanthropy could be two-fold.  Whilst government remains fixated on home ownership, it is also interested in expanding private rentals following the US model.  Philanthropists could take the lead and build apartment blocks (at a contractor’s rather than a builder’s margin) and subsidise social rents from lets at market rates.

Would a new Peabody or group of Peabody’s make a difference? It could but it would be important to hang on to the tradition that providing housing is not just about bricks and mortar.  The Peabody mission is about the ability to live a good life.

Any new Peabody initiative would be about excellent design, green spaces, access to good schools and public transport.  If I were a philanthropist now, I would want to address a range of issues to make a life better for people.

Philanthropists have invested in academies because they understand the importance of education and the need to invest in it.  Can we recreate that same sense of legacy and mission in terms of housing?

We need more people now to emulate what Peabody did in the nineteenth century.  Look at the legacy, an initial gift of £150,000 has created so much social capital in terms of homes and communities and improving the quality of life – and, a balance sheet of billions.”


Bob Kerslake and I spoke in December 2015.  We could not have imagined what was to happen in Grenfell Tower in June 2017.

There is an alternative, there is evidence that there are enterprising and socially responsible people who can give the leadership we need and that, regrettably, our politicians seem unable to provide.

Let us look at east London.  For many the first indication that east London has changed was the opening ceremony for the London Olympics in 2012.  An area once blighted by poverty and neglect has been and continues to be transformed and the Olympic Park is only a part of what is now Europe’s largest regeneration area.

Regeneration began more than thirty years ago and involves a cast of thousands but one man, Andrew Mawson, can claim a leadership role that has been consistent from the moment he became a United Reform Church minister in Bromley-by-Bow in 1984.  Mawson is now a cross bench peer and chairman of one of Britain’s leading consultancies specializing in urban regeneration.

His adult life has been all about the regeneration of east London. His ability to bring together local people, local authorities, businesses, trusts, foundations and others who shared his vision for how society could be made to work and to serve the interests of communities and those who live in them.

Mawson told me that making sure that the interests of the consumer and the public are foremost is one of THE challenges of our times.

As a young man, Mawson found himself on his first Sunday as a minister addressing a congregation of twelve elderly people.  The future seemed bleak and he realised he had no idea what he should or could do to revive the fortunes of a church that seemed doomed in an area where the state ran almost everything, unemployment was 47% and communities were breaking down.

When he was approached by a young dance teacher who wanted to create a dance school, he had no idea that by allowing her to rent space in his church, he had started a social enterprise that proved to the first step towards the remarkable transformation of this part of London.

This modest venture was to prove seminal. The dance school prospered and was followed by children’s nurseries and reclaimed garden squares. Unwittingly, Mawson had created a business model that worked.  He told me:

“It was interesting that in this community where there was a massive dependency culture and much suspicion about meaningless promises from politicians, a strange new word had appeared.  Integrity.  People were promised a nursery and there it was.  Perhaps there were other things we could do together”.

Mawson believes that health and social care has its priorities the wrong way round because too often the patient does not come first. He won over initially hostile local authority leaders and, in the teeth of opposition from the NHS, built the first integrated primary healthcare model in the country. 

This is a community development trust. The patients own the building, not the doctors or a pension fund. They created a beautiful garden and built a cloistered building made of the kind of handmade bricks that were used for the new Glyndebourne opera house. 

Mawson was asked to create a housing association in Poplar but decided to establish a community owned company that now has 9000 properties and runs a £1.7 billion regeneration programme that also includes a school, the health service, local doctors and a building company.

Mawson explained:

“This is how a community is recreated and transformed by housing, health and education coming together and sharing interests.  When it came to building a new £16 million health centre opposite the new St Paul’s Way school, we tried to do so with the NHS but it was a nightmare because they were too slow.  So the housing company, which was concerned about the health of its residents, took responsibility for building it.

Our housing company in Poplar is a social enterprise and we operate like a charity. Welcome to an entrepreneurial community business.  This is what entrepreneurial community public service looks like.  All profits go back into the community.  We are about building communities but not based on fantasies coming out of Downing St called The Big Society or the Third Way”.

Our final example of best new practice is a philanthropic initiative that began in Bolton nearly 10 years ago and is now a charitable enterprise called Onside Youth Zones serving 30,000 young people in the North and the Midlands.  Youth Zones are coming to London next year.

Youth zones give young people quality, safe and affordable places to go to.  This is a public and private sector partnership that aims to empower the young and to combat deprivation and unemployment.

I visited the Youth Zone in Oldham, Lancashire and was impressed by the quality of the new building, the range of sporting and cultural opportunities available to young people in one of the more deprived parts of the North and the work being done to enable the most damaged youngsters to return to education and to find employment.

Capital set up costs of c. £6 million are divided between the local authority and the private sector and the local authority provides 40% of annual running costs, averaging £1 million a year, with the balance being found by local businesses and both local and national benefactors.

Typically, youth related crime has been reduced by 50% and there has been significant increases in youth employment.  Treasury statisticians confirm that the return on public investment is six times using anti-social behaviour and employability as metrics.

This public/private partnership is pioneering because the public sector buys into a charitable objective on the charity’s terms.  This is significant because philanthropy is convening private and public resources at a local level to meet local need.

I asked Bill Holroyd, entrepreneur, philanthropist and chairman of Onside Youth Zones, about the significance of his charitable initiative. He told me that youth services had been severely cut and they were filling a vacuum left by a public sector in retreat. He believes that the state has a leadership role to play with regard to philanthropy but government was showing no leadership and the public sector was too inflexible.  I quote:

“We realised that we would have to do this ourselves.  We were asked (by the state) to do all sorts of things that would have ticked boxes but we knew they were wrong for us.  That is why we started the charity.  We had to be pioneers and do things in the way that we believed would deliver results.

This was unique: private sector, public sector, voluntary sector, volunteers and young people all working together.

The key thing is partnership.  If each sector tried to set up a Youth Zone on their own they would fail.  The combination of all four partners makes a great community effort possible.

In creating Onside, we discovered this massive desire for people who want to do things in their own communities.

Many of our communities are becoming increasingly divided and intolerant.  That is why it is so important for charity and the private and public sectors to be working together.  In our Youth Zones, there is reflection in all parts of the community.  When everyone works together, the results are unbelievably productive”.

Here is a model and a vision for the future that is flourishing in the present. Bridges are being built within communities and between the sectors.

The state may be redrawing its boundaries and providing less but it has not been allowed to abdicate from its responsibilities and is assuming a new enabling role by working in a real partnership with others on equal terms that offer a real return on investment of public money.

Local business is sponsoring local initiatives, often for the first time, and discovering a way of supporting their communities in ways that are more meaningful and rewarding than conventional corporate social responsibility.

Box ticking in both the public and private sectors has been abolished.

Youth Zones rely upon volunteers as well as professionals with a waiting list in of 350 in Bolton keen to serve their community.

Critics will say that philanthropy represents private interests, is unaccountable and cannot provide comprehensive cover.

To which I answer: the kind of partnership between the sectors I have just described means that public and private interests are allied to serve the public interest and thereby philanthropy becomes accountable.

Only the state can provide comprehensive cover and, regrettably, the post code lottery suggests that this maybe too much to expect.

Our world is changing.  Economically, politically and socially, this is a defining moment for Britain.  We must adapt.

What might be the solution?

  • We need to persuade the state to adopt an enabling role rather than a providing role by working in partnership with others.
  • Government must understand that philanthropists are prepared to support the public realm but only in a genuine partnership with the public sector.
  • The opposition needs to understand the limitations of the state and that the social, intellectual and cultural capital we need is more likely to be generated by bringing all the sectors together to release the creative energy of the most public spirited.
  • Politicians of all parties need to listen and to understand that creative initiatives and solutions are more likely to be found at local and community level.  Bottom up often works better than top down
  • The private sector needs to understand that social commitment and responsibility is a requirement of employees, customers and clients and is in the long term interests of business
  • Public services such as the police and the NHS can show that partnership and collaboration with others can reduce demands upon their services.
  • Charities need to adapt in response to changing needs and expectations and be more prepared to collaborate with others and share resources.

If the state provides less, we need an initiative that encourages more citizens to do more, not least to empower communities, to heal division and disengagement.

We need a new narrative. A smart politician would work with the other sectors to create a broad social movement with a vision that inspires the many, a vision that persuades people that their participation matters and will make a difference to their own lives as well their fellow citizens.

The new political message must be:  there is such a thing as society and we are all responsible for it. Voluntary redistribution, the giving of time and money, is as important as tax in sustaining society.

Philanthropy and social enterprise are for everyone and have the power to connect people to society and to their communities.

In partnership with the state and others, philanthropy acts as a catalyst to generate positive change and we need more of it.

The Step Up To Serve project to encourage young people to volunteer is to be welcomed and applauded but an understanding of citizenry and of commitment to the common good should be at the heart of education for all young people. 

They should leave the school with a qualification that demonstrates to higher education and to employers that by volunteering they are aware and socially responsible citizens who are committed to the Common Good.

Yes, I acknowledge the political leadership needed is conspicuous by its absence.  That means that the case for reviving a concept for the Common Good falls to the rest of us.

I will leave the final word to John Madejski who knows all about social responsibility:

“We have to learn what it means to be a member of the human race.  We must teach empathy.  Part of our problem today is that people, institutions, businesses and government lack empathy and this is reflected in a weakened sense of community and social obligation.  By encouraging young people to think of others, they will find that they become empowered themselves.  They will learn to understand what they can do for others, whatever their circumstances.  You  don’t necessary need money to care about someone else”.

John Madejski has proved that this true. He has given away millions but believes that the time he continues to give is of equal if not greater value. That is something all of us can do. Thank you John for being such a great example and for being a brilliant bridge builder.


Our Common Good here for £20!