Albert Johanneson Memorial
A big thank you to everyone who supported myself and others who suggested that Albert should have some form of memorial at the ground.
This afternoon the club has proposed an excellent solution which will take place early next year and provide a lasting memorial to Albert and also continue the fight against racial abuse that Albert was so affected by. I won’t spoil the surprise by announcing anything yet but I think we’ll all be pleased by the planned solution.
Once again Leeds United has responded quickly to its fans and my thanks go to all involved.
Following a Twitter discussion about Albert Johanneson being represented at the Bremner Redevelopment I have sent the following email to James Mooney. If you agree with me or have comments to add please email James on [email protected]
Thanks for replying to my tweet regarding recognising Albert Johanneson in the Bremner Square redevelopment.
Johanneson’s inclusion is a bit of a strange issue in that he is remembered for his bravery in playing for the club despite being subjected to racial abuse from away fans and, to a small degree, a section of his club’s fans. Being the first black player to feature in an FA Cup Final might be seen by some as his only achievement but that is far from the case.
His innate skill cannot be ignored especially in the early part of his career: Billy Bremner said of Johanneson “when he joined Leeds the rest of the team stood open-mouthed, drooling over his trickery. He was a bloody excellent player and had so much pace and strength, he was a great athlete”.
Johanneson played in an era where racial bigotry was widespread and signs saying “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish” reflected views throughout the country. The Irishman Johnny Giles, who now campaigns against racial discrimination through his John Giles Foundation, described Johanneson’s football skills as “outstanding”.
Latter-day Leeds United player Brian Deane said of Johanneson “we knew he had been a great player for Leeds United and an inspiration for the next generation of black footballing talent in the city.
“He was a true pioneer, and one can only imagine how hard it must have been for Albert as the only black person in the stadium, never mind just on the pitch, in an age when there was open hostility against people purely because of the colour of their skin.
“I know he received some terrible stick from opposing fans, but he persevered and became a hero both to the Leeds supporters and the black community in the city and beyond.”
Johanneson did indeed become a “hero” to Leeds supporters and was loved just as much as the other players of the time. Leeds’ supporters defended Albert against the racial taunts of opposing fans and appreciated the skills he brought to the game – he wasn’t given a “free pass” by Leeds supporters because of his skin or because opposing fans taunted him, he earned the love through football skills that were recognised by the fans and especially his teammates.
My personal recollections of Johanneson are few since he was nearing the end of his Leeds career when I was old enough to take notice, however I do have vivid memories of both seeing him play and hearing the abuse and support he received from the crowd. I have one vivid memory watching a match from the kop when Albert came on as substitute, a couple of voices somewhere behind me rang out with abuse for Albert and immediately a sea of heads in front of me turned to berate the source of abuse – the spirit of “All Leeds Are We” and “Support The Team” was true back then and Albert was one of our own to be supported not abused.
When radio and TV commentators do their research for FA Cup games featuring Leeds United they almost invariably include a reference to Albert Johanneson being the first black player to feature in an FA Cup Final and it makes me proud to hear this fact trotted out year after year. It is not only me who feels this pride and in 2015, for the 50th anniversary of the FA Cup match, the FA, the PFA and Football Unites, Racism Divides honoured Albert and his Cup Medal was given to the National Football Museum in Manchester.
Johanneson had an unhappy end to his life and I believe the club had reached out to him at times in an effort to improve matters for him but to no avail. It is reported that he was overcome by alcoholism but I suspect that this is merely short-hand for mental health issues that had gone untreated, as was common in times gone by.
Albert may not have lived up to his potential as a footballer, due in no small part to the racial abuse he received, but he had a significant role in Leeds United’s rise to the First Division and for him not to be recognised by the club in some way is an error that could be rectified with the Bremner redevelopment. The club has probably got a more racially and culturally diverse staff profile now than at any time in the past and Albert played a part in this happy outcome.
I’m not familiar enough with the overall redevelopment to suggest what would be a fitting inclusion to commemorate Albert so I’d rather leave that to you and the team – I’m sure you can do Albert proud.
12th December 2017