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stranger #218 | by stretch1000 London Faces
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stranger #218

Paul favourite all time records Shiver George Benson. A House Is Not A Home Luther Vandross. Get Up James Brown

Alleyway leading to Putney Bridge tube station. Fulham.


I knew the story of Paul Canoville but it wasn't widely known outside the people who went to football in the 1980's. I recently saw a documentary that featured him and decided I wanted to approach him and photograph him. I checked his Foundation page and found a mobile no. I spoke to him and did my approach as if I had seen him on the street. After sending him the link to my flickr page he agreed to meet.


Favourite all time records, Shiver, George Benson. A House Is Not A Home, Luther Vandross. Get Up, James Brown

Alleyway leading to Putney Bridge tube station. Fulham.


Paul became a professional footballer in 1981 but injury cut short his career and he had to retire in 1987. His life before this had been traumatic and it got worse. His home life was strict and unforgiving and Paul didn't adapt to this, firstly playing truant from school then serving time at a young offenders institution. When Paul and his mum moved into his mum's boyfriend's home, Paul got into an argument with him and was told to leave. This resulted in him becoming homeless, sleeping rough in the back of a car and sometimes in a hostel. At this time he was playing football for Hillingdon Borough and it was only after training on Tuesdays and Thursdays that he was able to shower. But in 1981 his dream to became a professional footballer came true when he signed for Chelsea.


Three years later, on April 14th, Paul was the Chelsea substitute at Selhurst Park when they played Crystal Palace and he came on to make his debut. He was Chelsea's first black player. As he was warming up relishing the opportunity to get on the pitch, he could hear the abuse from the stands, sickening racist abuse this wasn't uncommon in England during this time. What was unusual about this was- it from his own supporters, the very Chelsea fans who had travelled to South London to watch their team and support it, were actually abusing their own player because he was black. He was shocked and his debut- a moment he should have felt immense pride- left him sad and bewildered. Racism was something he had only experienced once in his non league career, had ruined his first game in professional football. The result of this abuse - nothing. The Chelsea chairmen of the time told a story that these morons would sit in the pub and if they heard Paul was playing they wouldn't go to the game. A group of Chelsea fans visited Auschwitz while travelling to an away game to watch England. While there they sent postcards to The Jewish Council of Great Britain telling them the had desecrated their families graves.


Paul stayed at Chelsea, ignored the abuse and eventually started to win the racists over with some fine displays in the old Second Division helping them gain promotion. But on a pre season tour, a disagreement with a senior player turned nasty and the senior player started to racially abuse Paul and Paul knocked him out. The next day Paul was driven back to London and he never played for the club again. The senior player had told the club hierarchy that either Paul should leave or he would. Firstly let down by the club with the racism by their own fans, then let down by them again after more abuse from a player.

Chelsea's first black player basically sacked because he was racially abused!


Paul's career was over within 2 years aged just 24 due to a serious knee injury. He left football with nothing as he had no insurance regarding injury.


Paul drifted in and out of depression for a few years and frequented the London rave scene of the early '90's even doing some DJ'ing. It was at this time he tried crack cocaine and fell into a heavy addiction. Paul, a self confessed womanizer, fathered 11 children with 10 woman. It was only when his 10th child died in his arms when just a few days old that he realised he needed help and went into rehab in 1996 and spent most of the year doing it. It was the same year he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the immune system. He fought the disease and after a painful battle regained his health. Unfortunately, after moving to Saint Martin, Paul got involved with crack again. He returned to London, went back into rehab and it was again while in rehab he discovered the cancer had returned. Paul again fought the cancer and by March 2005 was in remission and clean of drugs.


He got a job driving disabled children, he became a teaching assistant, he wrote an autobiography for which he received many accolades but it was his belief he could and would play football no matter what was thrown at him that changed some people's perception and influenced so many other young black footballers that they too could make it.

He now works at Chelsea on match days and I hope if any of his racist abusers from over 30 years ago see him, they have a dark feeling of guilt and disgust at the way they treated another human being and a member of the team they apparently supported. It is a stain on the clubs history which by going on recent events, is a stain that is still rearing its ugly head.</a


a link to Paul's book

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Taken on December 30, 2018