Busby: I suffered terrible racist abuse, but we are making progress

I learned to handle it but it was tough, admits Albion’s first black player.

By Charlie Hanson • 30 October 2020

David Busby (back row, first from left) with the rest of Albion youth team of 1973/74.

Albion’s first black player Dave Busby says he might have had an even better career had he played in the current era, where there is zero tolerance of racist abuse.

October is Black History Month in the UK, an event that has been celebrated nationwide for more than 30 years and recognises the contributions that people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have made to the UK over many generations.

Busby made his debut for Albion as a 17-year-old in 1973 at a time when abuse of black players in English football was rife and went unpunished.

He felt he had a great relationship with the Albion fans, but encountered some difficult episodes during his career.

Looking back on that time, Busby says things were so bad that he could easily have walked off the pitch.

By Paul Hazlewood
David Busby made his Albion debut in 1973.

“You get frustrated and you have to hold yourself back because there were quite a few times where I could have quite happily just walked off the pitch.

“But you don’t. You were told ‘you’ve got to turn the other cheek’ but when you are 16 how do you not let it bother you when someone is using the n-word and calling you racist names?

“You had to give a bit back but there would be times a player would come up to me and whisper something racist in my ear during a game and I would want to fight them there and then.

“A few of my team-mates would back me up, but when you’re there by yourself it’s different.”

The 64-year-old saw bananas thrown on the pitch and heard racial slurs in the stands, but also admitted team-mates treated him differently because of the colour of the skin.

“It was madness. There were players in my own team at different clubs that refused to pass the ball to me.

“I was forever going out of position looking for the ball, because if I didn’t then I would never get it. I would have someone on the sides screaming at me that I am in the wrong place.

“They would shoot and it would go over the bar because they didn’t want to pass to me and I am screaming ‘I am here!’ at the far post waiting for a tap-in.

“There were times I overdid things on the pitch trying to do something with the ball but if they saw that I could play they would mellow a little bit.

“I had to channel that anger into the game. I feel I would have been given a proper chance to prove myself if I was playing now but that shows how far we have come.”

David Busby (front row, second from right) with the rest of the 1974/75 squad.

Busby has huge admiration for fellow black players during the era, notably West Ham’s Clyde Best and Nottingham Forest’s Viv Anderson, who he feels received even greater abuse.

“Clyde Best was playing in the 1960s and was the only black player in the top division. That was just after England won the World Cup and watching him play inspired me.

“I remember when Viv Anderson became the first black player for England. When I signed for Brighton, I said to [trainer] Glen Wilson I wanted to be the first black player to play up front for England. If I had been born a decade later I think I would have had a real career in the game.”

Busby also played for Worthing, Blackpool and Barrow and says that at the end of his career there was less racist abuse in the game.

“It was always there, but not to the same degree. When I was at Brighton, away supporters would give me stick but as more black players started playing it got less and less.”