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Just treat Africans with some respect

OUT OF TOUCH: Tony Henry, left, pictured with David Moyes, was dismissed as West Ham’s head of recruitment after his comments about African players

WHAT WAS West Ham's now ex-recruitment director, Tony Henry, thinking when he declared that the club would not be signing any more African players?

How on earth will they avoid relegation without their African players? And how the hell does he think that Africa will survive without the remittances from the African players in the squad? And what part of ‘West Ham are an African team’ does he not understand?

West Ham were the first top flight football team in Britain that my generation ever saw fielding black footballers. And I cannot stress enough what that meant for us who felt like the wretched of the earth in this country that didn’t want us talking for England (let alone playing for it) at the time.

It must have been the late 1960s or early 1970s when I first saw Clyde Best dribbling past the opposition in claret and blue. It would have been on Match Of The Day, and my confidence and pride undoubtedly grew by leaps and bounds that Saturday night. He was Best by name and best by nature. And arguably better than the (Georgie) Best.

Not only was Clyde Best brilliant but this geezer had style and sported the same moustache that Shaft would sport a few years later in the guise of Richard Roundtree. Can you imagine how proud we kids were when we went to school on Monday morning doing our ‘Best’ strut?

And I really did want to support West Ham, only I lived in Tottenham, and back then Totty was a white neighbourhood, and I was more white than black (in dem times). But then again, weren’t we all white before we realised we were African?

In those days black players were like buses. You used to wait ages for one to come along and then two would come in one go. That’s what happened at West Ham. One weekend it was Clyde Best on Match Of The Day and the next weekend it was Clyde Best and Ade Coker. Okay, Ade Coker was not as stylish as My Bermudian Guy (as Grace Jones might have sung) but he was Nigerian – need I say more.

Back in those days, no Hollywood star was going to emulate a Nigerian, so we had to concentrate on his skills on the pitch. West Ham have one of the longest histories of black players. The great John Charles played for them. And so, it seems, has nearly every major black player out of Britain – Ian Wright, Jermain Defoe, Rio Ferdinand and more. Are they not African too? Now, there’s a question.

I don’t know how Tony Henry would have regarded them, but I would be horrified if Rio or Jermain or Wrighty said, no, they are not African. Just because they have each played for England does not negate the fact that they are African. And you don’t need to take my word for it.

Just look at them. Are we not all African, we from whence the sun (nearly) always shines But before we all start celebrating this new realisation, being African comes with some baggage, I won’t even lie to you.

Even African brothers and sisters from the Caribbean seem to have a perspective on their African heritage that suggests that it is somewhat different (however so slightly) from that of their Trinny/ Jamrock/Bajan roots. I suppose that goes without saying.

After all, as much as we would like to say that we are all Africans, the fact of the matter is that we do not all act African – whatever that may mean. Well, I’ll tell you what it means, it means what we were not brought up with the same nursery rhymes and school songs.

Which is a pity, because if we had it would be difficult for some of us who would rather not be reminded that we are all Africans to avoid the obvious. If Africa was really in our cultural DNA, we would all be up in arms whenever a director of football at any team made disparaging remarks about us. We’d give them some mayhem to think about.

Part of that baggage is that we argue. We ARGUE. We arg- fue about anything and everything. Africans even argue about whether they argue or not. It is not for nothing that the five-a-side football team, that I have spent many Sundays injuring myself with, are known as Argument United. And we are not the only Argument United team in north London.

In fact, most of the other Nigerian Sunday league teams are dubbed ‘Argument United’, and if not they are nonetheless united in argument. This argumentative side of Africans seems to be part of Tony Henry’s downfall. He was sacked after his statement that he had had it up to here with African players who, apparently, cause mayhem and are stroppy when they are dropped.

Of course, it is not only African players who throw a strop when they are not picked or when they are substituted. And, as for causing mayhem, we need some clarification.

If you feed us jellied eels and pie and mash because West Hammers are born within the sounds of Bow bells instead of a curried goat in our favourite oxtail stew, what do you expect?

You gotta treat Africans with respect if you want them to work for you, because these days ain’t like the days of enslavement when, if you didn’t like the attitude of an African, you whipped the hell out of them to within an inch of their lives.

Nowadays, in these much more ‘enlightened’ times, we are well aware that some things might be lost in translation, especially if most of your African players are from French Africa, like Kouyate and them lot.

That may not be a strop they are throwing, that might just be them singing your praises. And that may not be mayhem that they are causing, it might just be a jollification. You never know. You just never know.

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