The arrival from Jamaica of the ship HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks 75 years ago went on to change the face of British society, including that of English football.
Wes Morgan understands first-hand the challenges and racism faced by those who came to help rebuild Britain in the decades after World War II, including his own grandparents.
Former Leicester City captain Morgan, who also played for Nottingham Forest, spoke about discrimination at a Premier League Kicks session hosted by Nottingham Forest Community Trust as part of the No Room For Racism campaign.
He also took time out to discuss his Jamaican heritage and the importance of celebrating the "Windrush Generation" as part of this October's Black History Month.
"My Jamaican experience is through my grandparents mostly – my dad and my mum were both born in England, but I spent a lot of time with my grandparents," says Morgan.
"I got a good feel of my Jamaican heritage. Everything that comes with being Jamaican I got to experience.
"Coming from a traditional household with parents born in England but grandparents, [it was] night and day – the Jamaican smell, the accents, the style, how the vibe is, completely different to a traditional English household.
"We spoke on occasions [about] how it was in Jamaica for them, and why they came over. It goes for a lot of people at that time when Windrush was happening - opportunity – that’s how they explained it. An opportunity to help Britain and rebuild society, at the same time have a different life from Jamaica and the capacity to give your family a better opportunity. They always remind me of how things were in Jamaica and how different it is in England."
Grandparents' journey an inspiration
The journey made by Morgan's grandparents from the Caribbean to the UK is one that has inspired him throughout his football career from the academy at Nottingham Forest through to becoming the first Jamaican to win a Premier League title with Leicester in 2015/16.
"Everyone’s journey is different," says Morgan. "My Jamaican background and the morals, beliefs and support definitely gave me the push to work in any direction I wanted to go in.
"I discovered I had a talent, which was playing football. Both my grandmothers were my biggest fans. They used to compare me to John Barnes, as obviously there wasn’t many black players when they first came to England. Things changed a lot – when I came through, there was much more of a multicultural team I was involved in. Their support was fantastic. They were so proud I represented Forest and the national team.
"My first footballing moments was playing for a local Saturday/Sunday team. The team was called Caribbean Cavaliers, so was a very, very black Caribbean team. It was funny to be a part of that, a lot of first-generation black Jamaicans playing for them, it felt like home. Being always at my grandmas’, experiencing that Jamaican culture and playing for a local Saturday team full of Jamaican banter, it was great.
"There was a negative side of that, though. Society wasn’t quite how it is today. So going through different areas of Nottinghamshire, playing against certain teams that were predominantly all-white and playing on their pitch with their fans, we did hear a lot of racism. It was sad, but back then you would just let your feet do the talking. 'Let’s just beat them on the pitch, and that would really get back at them.'
"Now, we don’t have to stand and take that. You can report it, you can do things about it - there’s consequences for actions. Things have changed and come a long, long way since those times, which is great."
See: How to report racism
Playing as a youngster with Caribbean Cavaliers gave Morgan a fantastic foundation from which he went on to build a successful career as a professional footballer. It also provided him with further opportunities to connect with his extended family.
"I could’ve played for England or Jamaica," he explains. "I was just waiting for the opportunity to come, and Jamaica came calling. Straight away, I wanted to explore that.
"To have the opportunity to represent your country is one of the best accolades you can get on your CV as a footballer, making your family proud. To be able to play for Jamaica, my grandma, my whole family were buzzing about it. It gave me more opportunity to see my Jamaican family as well.
"Every time I was over in Jamaica after a game, family would come over, we’d have some food, we’d do stuff together and I’d get to experience more of Jamaica, which I really loved and enjoyed. My family were so, so proud and I got to experience so many new things.
"The joys of representing Jamaica might have made domestic life a bit more difficult with less breaks, but at the same time it was super important to represent my country."
Importance of visibility
Morgan is equally passionate that young footballers see the baton being passed on from trailblazers such as Barnes, Des Walker and Robbie Earle to the next generation of black players within the Premier League.
"It’s super great to see, and even the Jamaican representation is fantastic!" adds Morgan. "The goal, back when I was playing, was to make a World Cup (1998), and they’re building a strong team with players such as Leon Bailey, Michail Antonio, Bobby De-Cordova Reid, Ethan Pinnock and more.
"Even the players like Marcus Rashford and Tyrone Mings, who don’t represent Jamaica... in terms of representation on the pitch and how they go about how they want to be portrayed by people, they are using their reputation to build a better game.
"But we owe it to the generations before us. How things look today in society now is because of them. They were the first to come to this country and build a life not only for themselves, but the next generations. We took it on and we’ve built our own lives while also contributing to society. Now this is our home, a home for everybody – and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today."
Breaking down barriers
Having hung up his playing boots in 2021, Morgan has remained heavily involved in football in his role on the Premier League Black Participants' Advisory Group and PEPS (Player to Executive Scheme) programme.
He remains fully committed to supporting the drive for greater diversity in leadership roles across all areas of the game.
"I think it's clear to see and well-documented how things look on the football pitch may not align with the boardroom and in senior management," Morgan adds.
"No one can answer or explain why that is and it may be a lack of opportunity, or lack of people wanting to drive to those positions.
"Being on the PEPS programme, creating pathways for players interested in getting into those positions, is something I’m passionate about because that’s what I’m striving to do. It’s important to have diversity in those kinds of positions because diversity helps business.
"The game will be better for it to have diversity in senior management. People will listen more and be more inclusive at the highest level of football. If I can break down those barriers and make changes at that level, I’ll be happy."