Chris Ramsey: Proud To Be Albion

Albion's first black player to appear in a major final opens up about his experiences as a player.

By Charlie Hanson • 20 October 2021

By Linton Rogers
Chris Ramsey became the first black player to represent Albion in a major final in the 1983 FA Cup final.

Chris Ramsey reflects on Albion's 1983 FA Cup final. “The cup final in those days was the biggest thing on TV, it was on both channels – the whole world stopped for it.”

Now technical director at QPR, the former Albion defender’s time on the south coast was beset by injuries, but he looks back on his days at the club as some of his most enjoyable of his playing career.

“It was a formative and a very happy time for me, as you can see by the fact I was there nearly five years. I only played 40-odd games – I had five knee operations during my time at the club.

“But I had very good friends there in people like Steve Foster and Perry Digweed, as well as John Shepherd whose family I lived with. There was also Alan Mullery and Ken Craggs on the coaching side, there were some really good people at the club during my time.

By The Argus
Chris Ramsey and Steve Foster after Albion's FA Cup semi-final win over Liverpool.

“The club has seen some really good players and captains – Brian Horton was there, Mark Lawrenson as well. There weren’t many black players around in football when I joined Brighton. I went through a bit of adversity when Mike Bailey came in as manager and he didn’t fancy me really, he wanted more experienced players while I was still young and I had to wait a long time to get back into the team, which I did when Jimmy Melia took over.

“It was the days when teams only had one substitute, so if it was more like the modern game I’d like to think I would have got in the matchday squad and made a few more appearances.”

Mullery’s influence on a young Ramsey is what sticks out in the 59-year-old’s head.

“Alan helped me. One time I was playing the reserves and I received racist abuse from the away supporters and I reacted. I got a yellow card and Alan pulled me after the game and said ‘people want you to react so you don’t play well and they win’.

By The Argus
Alan Mullery managed Albion from 1976-81, before returning for the 1986/87 campaign.

“He made me see it a different way, I was quite a volatile player so it was difficult for me to keep my emotions in. People in football then were outwardly racist, you’d have teammates who would openly call you a black so-and-so.

“Alan was very straight with me. He put me in the team when we had to win the last four games to stay in the First Division and that included a game against Crystal Palace – I am not sure many people would be brave enough to put an 18-year-old in their team in that position in the Premier League today.

“Every time I see him we reflect and have the fondest memories.”

Ramsey encountered vile racist abuse at an early age.

“I played for Charlton as a schoolboy. I had to catch the train to and from training and I would wait on the bridge above the station so I could see the platform and make sure there were no skinheads.

“Then I would run onto the train if there wasn’t any of them and then sit and hoped that none of them were already on the train or would get on at the next platform so that they could give you a kicking. Sometimes you might be chased and have to catch a bus or another train to get home. By then you would have ran out of money, so you’d have to bunk the fair and hope you didn’t get caught.

“Your teachers at school were racist, they’d call you names. What chance did we have then? There was a book called Little Black Sambo. We were shown that at five-years-old so for white kids who were reading that it would become engrained behaviour.”

Attitudes towards black players had hardly changed by the time Albion found themselves in the FA Cup final in 1983.

By The Argus
Jimmy Melia leads Albion out at Wembley.

“I received hate mail before the final. I kept it quiet for a long time because my mum didn’t want it out there. The letters were about the colour of my skin, but I didn’t want to go against my mum.

“It was a bit terrifying, but you’re 21 and you’ve been through a lot worse than that. I remember being on the way to a game when there were opposition fans on the train and I hid in the toilet.

“I’ve done all that, I’ve been in physical danger, I’ve had people come up to me and spit in my face.”

Despite the hate mail, the abuse and the broken leg Chris would go onto suffer in the final itself, being Albion’s first black player to represent the club in a major final is a real source of pride.

“Manchester United have always been the biggest club in the world, but at the time they hadn’t won anything for a while. The pressure was all on them, we went out with a lot of confidence. We had Jimmy Case, Tony Grealish, Gordon Smith - really good players.

By The Argus
Chris Ramsey waves to Albion supporters ahead of the FA Cup final in 1983.

“We didn’t have much to lose based on the fact that we were a small club. It’s similar to the situation now where Brighton are in the Premier League but they haven’t enjoyed the success that United have. What you want to do when you’ve got everyone watching is perform to to a level that everyone remembers you for on that day.

“I was only the second black player to play for Brighton after David Busby. It’s a source of pride to be a part of Brighton’s history, and when you look at how normal racism was then you realise how much of a milestone it was, as I believe I was actually the only black player on the pitch at Wembley that day - Remi Moses was with Manchester United but didn’t play.

“Imagine that now, to have only one player in a final like that? It won’t happen again. To be the only black player to play for Brighton in a major cup final and to be a part of the history of diversity in football makes me very proud.”

Chris Ramsey joined Albion in 1980, spending four years with the club. He would go onto play for Swindon Town and Southend United, before becoming a coach in Malta and the United States.

He became the first black (male) manager of an England team taking charge of the Under-20s. He went on to be assistant manager at Luton Town, assistant academy manager and first team coach at Tottenham. He is now technical director at Queens Park Rangers, after a year as first team manager.