You’ve probably never heard of Albert Johanneson – I know I hadn’t before researching this piece. Sadly, his tale is quite a tragic one, but one that has influenced the FA Cup and perhaps British football more than any other.
Born in South Africa in 1940, he travelled over to the UK to escape the apartheid and racial abuse he was subjected to in his home nation. A talented footballer, he signed for Leeds United, but rather than escape the abuse he was hit with to monkey chants and zulu noises.
Midway through his Leeds career he made it to the FA Cup Final; becoming the first black player to ever do so. But instead of walking out onto the hallowed turf proud, full of excitement, raring to go, the abuse he suffered left him a nervous wreck. His finest moment was destroyed and he was virtually absent on the Leeds left wing.
Like many footballers have, and still do, he turned to drink. His career was never the same, and he died a recluse at the age of just 55 in a small Leeds flat, his body undiscovered for days.
Whilst this paints a rather dark picture of Johanneson, he is comfortably one of the most important players to play the game. That moment he walked out onto the Wembley pitch he gave belief and hope to thousands of other black footballers. They too could achieve what he had.
And they have. The FA Cup today, and indeed British football in general, truly is a beautiful and multi-cultural game.
Players of all colours and all creeds will walk out this weekend to play in the quarter final of the competition, all equals with only talent, and multi-coloured boots defining them.
Johanneson isn’t the only person who has made a real impact on the competition, however, there have been many who have had a significant impact on the sport both on the pitch and off it. The real unsung heroes…
On March 17, 2012 Fabrice Muamba collapsed face down on a football field. We all remember this, it’s a moment football fans throughout the world will never forget. We waited, some praying, most hoping that the Bolton Wanderers midfield maestro would pull through.
Of course, we know he did. After 78 minutes without a heartbeat a miracle happened and Muamba pulled through. Part of that was down to Spurs fan Andrew Deaner, a man meant to be on his day off.
Deaner, a leading cardiologist at the London Chest Hospital, was quick to aid in the situation. He advised the ambulance to reroute to the Bethnal Green Hospital almost eight miles away, rather than the closer North Middlesex because he’d need specialist equipment. That saved his life.
Now, naturally, this is without doubt an act of heroism. He comfortably makes the list of the FA Cup’s Unsung Heroes, but it’s perhaps the after-effects which is most significant to the game. Today there are over 900 defibrillators made available every weekend to potentially save a player’s life and Muamba has gone on to raise huge amounts of awareness on the subject.
Billy the White Horse
There have been many footballing tragedies over the years. The likes of Hillsborough and the Bradford Fire have left devastation on the beautiful game, and if it wasn’t for Billy the White Horse and the rest of the Metropolitan Police patrolling the first Wembley FA Cup Final, there could have been another disaster tainting English football.
Approximately 300,000 turned up to the 125,000 capacity Wembley on April 28, 1923. They surged forward, the stands overflowing, but amazing pictures show Billy the White Horse standing strong and keeping fans in order. Amazingly only 12 people required hospital treatment in the crush and thanks to the work of the horse, the first Wembley final went past pretty much without a hitch. Bolton beat West Ham 2-0, although it was the white stallion which actually secured its legacy forever.
Today the horse is still remembered, with the White Horse Bridge crossing the railway protecting public safety, just as Billy had 93 years ago.
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