Black History Month

Marcus Gayle: I'm proud of my Jamaican heritage

By Sam Akpan 30 Oct 2023
Marcus Gayle

Brentford club ambassador and educator pays tribute to Windrush Generation and those who blazed a trail before

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Reflecting on 75 years since the "Windrush Generation", Marcus Gayle, a product of that very generation, speaks poignantly about the profound impact it has had on today’s landscape both on and off the pitch.

Having played over 600 matches in a well-travelled career, Gayle, who is now club ambassador and lead educator at Brentford, says his Jamaican heritage is something he values highly.

See: Benjamin Zephaniah on Premier League and legacy of Windrush

"While I was born here, my dad is Jamaican and my mum is from Barbados, so I have that unique sort of blend of two Caribbean islands, one great and one smaller," said Gayle, celebrating the Windrush Generation as part of this October's Black History Month.

"I once read that a tree cannot grow without its roots. When I look back at my grandparents, when they came in the late 1950s for an opportunity, to their kids who had me, and then today’s current crop of players, it's like the tree. It’s almost like a relay race passing the baton."

Gayle, who represented Jamaica at senior level despite winning a cap for England Under-18s, competed at the 1998 World Cup. But his journey did not come without opposition.

"The club [I was playing with] at the time had in my contract that they didn’t want [me] to play for anyone but England," Gayle said.

"Maybe they thought I was good enough to play for England, but I took quite an offence to not play for Jamaica - it almost felt as if I had forgotten my heritage and where my father and grandfather were born."

Stephen Malcolm, Christopher Dawes, Marcus Gayle, Onandi Lowe, Frank Sinclair,
Marcus Gayle, third from left, lines up at the Gerland stadium in Lyon, France, before Jamaica's 1998 World Cup match against Japan

For many, Black History Month and the 75th anniversary of the Windrush Generation presents an opportunity to shine a light on those who blazed a trail before.

See: Wes Morgan: Our debt to Windrush Generation

Gayle is quick to cite Chris Kamara and Francis Joseph as two key figures who inspired and helped him as an aspiring young footballer.

"I don’t want the players of today to forget the pioneers and those that played in tougher times that helped make it easier for those who came after them," he said.

Growing influence

While discussing those players who helped him on his career pathway, Gayle is delighted to see current Brentford defender Ethan Pinnock represent Jamaica, demonstrating the growing influence of the island and the Caribbean on a global scale.

"The impact of the Caribbean is vast," Gayle added. "Look at the island of Jamaica, with around three million people, but you see the contribution it has made to the world, including the world’s fastest man [Usain Bolt], reggae music and culture, and its influence in shaping some of our England national team players.

"For Ethan, people may think he’s good enough to play for England, and I would agree. But also, his parents are Jamaican, and it fills him with even more pride to represent the island in the sun that they come from, and he flies that flag proudly, not only for Jamaica but for Brentford."

Ethan Pinnock, Jamaica
Brentford's Ethan Pinnock - proud to represent Jamaica
Diversity in the boardroom

Brentford are a club who strive to put inclusivity at the forefront of everything they do, including building a strong diverse culture and workforce which people of all backgrounds are able to effectively contribute to.

In his role at the west London club both as a player and now as an ambassador and lead educator, Gayle has seen first-hand how much of an impact this has made.

See: Brentford equality initiatives recognised with PL award

"I remember asking the players whether they thought Brentford would be in the Premier League if it wasn’t for diversity, and they said 100 per cent, 'No', which just showed me they respect the diverse nature and the importance of it," he said.

Gayle’s role has extended to the boardroom, a place where many have cited the need for increased black representation and greater diversity.

"I think in my role, being in the boardroom is important," stressed Gayle. "It gives genuine visibility and shows the type of club we are, that despite there being room to improve, we want to showcase that we’re proud of who we have at our club, no matter what background they’re from."

See: No Room For Racism Action Plan progress: Embedding equality

Importance and passion for education

Having enjoyed a successful playing career, Gayle is delighted to still be working in football and says the game is a great way of bringing people from all backgrounds together.

Marcus Gayle, Wimbledon
Marcus Gayle celebrates after scoring in Wimbledon's 3-2 Premier League win at Watford in 1999

"Football’s unique because anywhere on the planet, you can kick a ball and you don’t need to speak a language," he said. "Different cultures, different backgrounds can interpret it in their own way, and we see each culture’s interpretations in their skills, their culture.

"Football brought my mum closer to me in a way, so if it can connect my mum, the lady from the Caribbean who now watches more football than me, there’s so much capacity to help."

Gayle now hopes to use his experience and be a positive role model for those young people he now works with.

"The sport offers an opportunity to connect people and through that you can drive initiatives, awareness," he added.

"Part of what I do with the club as an ambassador includes anti-discrimination workshops and supporting allyship to help support the next generation and drive positive change."

Also in this series

Part 1: How the Premier League is fighting racism
Part 2: How Sarr's family prepared him for success
Part 3: West Ham achieve Premier League equality standard
Part 4: How clubs and players supported No Room For Racism campaign
Part 5: Ogbene: It's important to teach younger generation about diversity
Part 6: Danjuma: My greatness comes from going through hardship
Part 7: How Wolves are educating young people about inclusion
Part 8: 'It's everyone's responsibility to do something about discrimination'
Part 9: Caicedo: Learning through diversity helped me reach the top
Part 10: Darren Bent on the men and women who've inspired him
Part 11: Benjamin Zephaniah on the Premier League and the legacy of Windrush
Part 12: Desailly: I looked far for my black sporting heroes
Part 13: Jimenez: Family support helped me become great
Part 14: Pittman: Sharing my knowledge will help the next generation
Part 15: Szoboszlai: My father helped me achieve the impossible
Part 16: Amadou Onana on the people who've inspired him
Part 17: Why family support is so important for Mbeumo and Wissa
Part 18: Gomez: Positive black role models are so important

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