Charlie Williams: Rovers remember pioneering black player

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Doncaster Rovers fans have created an exhibition to remember club cult hero Charlie Williams. We spoke to FSF deputy chair & Viking Supporters Co-operative's Martin O'Hara about why they wanted to celebrate his life...

One of the first black players to play professionally in English football after the Second World War has been remembered with a supporter-led exhibition.

Barnsley-born Charlie Williams signed for Doncaster Rovers as a 19-year-old in 1948 and would go on to make 171 appearances for the club through the 1950s - later rising to national fame as a comedian on Granada Television in the 1970s, having started his comedy career entertaining fans at supporters’ clubs in Yorkshire.

The idea for an exhibition celebrating his contribution to Doncaster’s history came from Martin O’Hara, FSF deputy chair and the Vikings Supporters Co-operative, with support from the club. The idea originally envisioned as a mural honouring Williams at the Keepmoat Stadium.

The idea for a mural then evolved into a potential exhibition stand. Funding for this artwork and biographical exhibition stand was partly provided by the Fans for Diversity fund and has proven to be popular amongst Rovers fans in South Yorkshire - having already been used by the Club Doncaster Foundation at sessions across the borough.

Martin said: "Due to his comedy career a lot of people seem to forget Charlie was actually a bloody good footballer.

"He played in probably what was one of Doncaster Rovers’ best ever teams and more than held his own.

"I think he’d be remembered quite differently here if he hadn’t of become nationally recognised."

Williams, who scored only once for Rovers, was a robust defender telling The Times: "I was never a fancy player" but became a cult hero nevertheless.

Charlie’s father moved to England from Barbados after serving the country in the Second World War, eventually settling in Barnsley. Charlie played for colliery teams while a young miner before being taken up by Doncaster Rovers.

"He came from nothing," Martin said. "And this exhibition shows young people in the area of what they can become if they really want to."

"So we thought it was important to celebrate his life."

Despite becoming a Doncaster Rovers legend, Williams faced barriers and prejudice when he played as did many of football’s earliest black players.

"As one of the first black players he received awful racist abuse,” Martin said. “He overcame that by just being funny. He hit back with his humour.

"He used to say things like 'If you don't shut up, I'll come and move in next door'. That type of humour hasn't aged well, but it was his way of dealing with it."

The Charlie Williams exhibit was part-funded by Doncaster Rovers and Fans For Diversity - and is now residing with Club Doncaster Foundation.

Charlie Williams: 1927-2006

  • 171 appearances for Doncaster Rovers from 1948-1959
  • Awarded MBE in 1999 for charity work
  • Receives lifetime achievement award at 2000 Black Comedy Awards
  • Voted Doncaster Rovers’ "All Time Cult Hero" in 2004 BBC Football Focus poll

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Fans for Diversity is a joint campaign run with Kick It Out, football's anti-discrimination group. Find out more about the campaign here.