AGAINST ADVERSITY: Paul Canoville in 1985 (PA)
SCREAMS OF racist abuse hailing from the stands was the norm during Paul Canoville’s playing days as he made his name in the game in the early 1980s and became Chelsea’s first black player.
Abuse came in from all quarters because his skin colour was different and stood out – his own “supporters” would unleash vile chants at the powerful winger if they felt like it.
Canoville, who joined the Blues in 1981 and stayed five years, has endured much trouble throughout his life, having battled and beaten cancer three times and fought with a drug addiction.
He must have enough shocking stories about his time in the game to pass several evenings, and Canoville vividly recollects the hurt of having bananas thrown at him while fans made monkey noises.
The former Blues boy, of Caribbean heritage, told BBC Sport: “I remember scoring a goal and hearing that some fans wouldn't have it because a black player scored. It didn't count, so they said we had lost not drawn.
“How do you live like that? I had to control my anger so many times so outsiders couldn't see. I had to see the bigger picture.”
Speaking about the abuse at Chelsea and how it made him feel, Canoville said: “I didn't want to come out on the pitch. I would warm up inside the changing room and go out just before. I hated being a sub.
“When I warmed up it was 'sit down you n****r'. At the old Stamford Bridge I used to stay behind the goal. It was a long way to the crowd at the old ground.”
The highlight of his time at the west London club was helping them secure the old Second Division title in the 1983-84 season – a career zenith.
Reading signed Canoville from Chelsea in 1986, but only two years later, at the age of 24, a serious knee injury forced him to retire from football. It marked the beginning of his personal problems, chiefly trying to raise 11 children while suffering an addiction to drugs.
MAN MARKER: Canoville tracks Liverpool's Craig Johnston in 1985 (PA)
Now aged 51, Canoville has turned a corner and currently works part-time for Chelsea’s Educate Through Football and runs his own business Motivate To Change Foundation, where he uses his experiences in the sport to talk with schoolchildren at home and abroad.
“I go into schools, telling them how important education is, as well as telling them what I went through - the racism, bullying, the problems, following your dreams and the good times – everything”, he said.
“My new venture is working with ex-offenders and youngsters with behaviour problems, giving them the life skills to get back into the community. I share my story.”
On the issue of his terrible lows and coming back from the brink, Canoville added: “After the football I was properly lost. I went downhill, got involved in drugs and was in a mess.
“I was stealing money to pay for the drugs. It took control and then I had the cancer.
“Now my strength comes from what I do. I cannot wait to go in to schools. I get such a buzz from talking to kids.”
He also aims to aid children overcome their own experiences of racism in school.
“Some schools still have problems with racism and they want to act upon it and bring someone in to have that talk. That's where I come in”, the history-making ex-Chelsea player said.
“I say 'How does that person feel when they go home? And they then ask me questions. Why would that person not want to go to school? It's not right. You wouldn't want that to happen to you. I put them in that position.”