Extra Time: Oshor Williams on Black History Month

Oshor Williams

Oshor Williams is the Assistant Director of Education at the PFA and the incumbent President of the General Federation of Trade Unions.

Oshor played for several teams. including Manchester United, Southampton, and Preston North End. At Preston North End, he became their Community Development Officer under a pilot scheme pioneered by the PFA. Oshor also taught Black History at Manchester College of Arts and Technology (MANCAT) and played during an era where black players were rare, and hooliganism and prejudice were rife. Here Oshor shares his experiences of being a black footballer in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and why he thinks it’s important for everyone to know Black History.

Oshor, what was it like being one of the only black players on a team when you first started out?

I grew up in the North East where there wasn’t a black community, so being the only one or being one of few was normal for my family and me. Even at school, I was one of only two black students out of 600, so when I came to Manchester where there was an established black community, it was fascinating. I lived close to Moss Side and it was an exciting experience for me to live in a community that was more diverse than where I grew up. Early in my career, I didn’t see many other black faces in the ranks of professional football. As a result, I didn’t see it as something I could or should aspire to be.

How has the game changed in terms of race?

At grassroots level, the representation was always there, but I had this mentality that professional football was what other people did. Until role models like Cyrille Regis emerged, I guess I had imposter syndrome. You can almost trace a line from when we started seeing strong black representation in football from Cyrille, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson to more players emerging. Then you had people like John Barnes, Ian Wright and Viv Anderson coming through, followed by the likes of Emille Heskey, Des Walker and so on. These guys broke down the mythology and stereotyping about black players not liking the cold, or only being able to play on the wing. It’s been fantastic to see how much representation has expanded throughout the leagues.

What is it like to work for an organisation as diverse as the PFA?

When I thought of the PFA, I immediately thought of Gordon Taylor and Brendon Batson, who was the embodiment of the kind of person I admired. His career hadn’t been straightforward, but he showed how you could achieve success through steady progression. Brendon was a senior executive representing one of football’s major stakeholders, so I was proud to join an organisation where that was possible. Bobby Barnes, George Berry and Simone Pound were also working in senior positions at the PFA. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I had to be a pioneer.

What did you think of the #Enough campaign and how would you like it to progress?

Currently, someone can get online and virtually enter right into the midst of your home to racially abuse you, and that’s not ok. I was very proud of #Enough because it engaged our members directly, and showed that they are very conscious of social issues. The campaign had a significant impact and empowered our members to take a stand against online abuse. This was one aspect of anti-racism that we have taken direct action on, and I want us to keep the pressure on. We aim to keep members updated about the discussions we’re having with social media platforms and work with them. The networks need to take specific actions to improve the safeguards they have in place, to better protect our members.

What does black history month mean to you?

For me, it’s a celebration of the contributions black people have made to sport, music, culture, politics, art and history in the UK and worldwide. However, it’s not just about well-known people. I think we should also celebrate the unsung heroes who facilitate change in their own communities and do incredible work, which often goes unrecognised. It’s a chance for people of all races to comprehend how significant these contributions have been, which helps everyone to recognise that diversity enriches and adds to society.