Terry Connor: Proud to be Albion

Former striker’s personal story of the hardship he experienced as a black footballer in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

By Terry Connor • 14 October 2021

By Linton Rogers
Terry Connor became Albion's first black player to win the Player of the Season award.

My dad was in his early 20s when he arrived in England in 1955 from Saint Kitts and Nevis.

He was a part of the Windrush generation and came to England with hopes and dreams, but when he got here and was trying to find somewhere to stay, he would be met by signs that said ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. He was an educated man and was a qualified teacher but was told on arrival that his teaching qualification would be of no use to him.

He worked in the foundry and couldn’t stand it, before working in haulage. My mum came over a few months after my dad and she was told she was only needed in a nursing capacity, a job there’s nothing wrong with, but she wasn’t allowed to aspire to be anything beyond that. I have such admiration for my parents who raised my sister, two brothers and I in such tough conditions in Chapeltown in Leeds.

The National Front party had a big presence in Leeds when I was growing up, so even when I was training and playing for Leeds United it was difficult to get in and out of the city centre without being on the end of racial abuse. I had to make sure I wasn’t left isolated on the bus or some of the streets.

By The Argus
Terry Connor joined from boyhood club Leeds United in 1983.

I was racially abused throughout my playing career as well – all the names you can imagine. There were coaches who didn’t understand, through a lack of education or ignorance, who would make comments and thought that as a black player I only had certain attributes and could only play in certain positions. One stereotype was that black players couldn’t play when it was cold – I’ll admit that I didn’t like the cold! But if I am playing football, I will play whatever the conditions, I couldn’t give one iota about the weather. 

But those things were levelled at you. My father always told me to work twice as hard to get anywhere in life and that’s always stood me in good stead.

I moved from a built-up, inner-city area of Leeds to Brighton at the age of 20 and for a start I couldn’t believe how far away it was – if it was any further south we would have been in the sea! My first impressions was how nice it was. At Elland Road there was a crowd there who backed their team to the hilt and would not give the away team any recognition, while Brighton would sometimes applaud good play from the other team! That’s how nice and polite things were down there and it was a complete change for me.

I quickly realised from talking to Brighton supporters that they were just as passionate about their team, but there was a fairness about them that I didn’t appreciate until I joined.

By The Argus
Terry Connor scored 51 goals in 156 appearances for Albion.

In that first year I got married to my wife Jan and it took us a while to settle, but there were people like Steve Foster, Gordon Smith, Steve Gatting and Jimmy Case who were all instrumental for me in getting to grips with life down there. It was a good atmosphere – there were some really good senior pros mixed in with younger players like myself, Chris Ramsey and Eric Young. We had good camaraderie and gelled really well. That made it easy for me to settle in and play some good football and score a few goals.

Out and out goalscorers go into every game thinking ‘I am going to score in this game’, but my thoughts were always about helping the team – I could run the channels, get in behind the opposition or hold it up, I wanted to do a good job for my teammates. The goals weren’t secondary as such, but they were more the icing on the cake in my mind. When I am working with forwards now I ask them ‘What do you offer the team when you’re not scoring? Because that will keep you in the team.’ If all you do is score goals and they dry up, what else are you going to do? You’ve got to be useful to the team.

Everyone talks about Ian Rush’s career and goals, but the first thing he did for every team he played for was run and press defenders and goals came because of that, he was the first line of defence – he played for the team. So while I went out feeling confident about myself, it was firstly about working hard for the team and I knew the goals would come off the back of that.

While there is an element of pride at being Albion’s first black player to win the Player of the Year award, the real sense of honour comes from the fact that my teammates and supporters of the club decided that I was the best player that season. I won that award in the knowledge that I’d played well and the colour of my skin never came into it – it’s only now that I know I am the first black player to win it that makes me feel proud. It was great to be recognised, I tried to do the right things and good things for the club and to have that recognised even though we were relegated is an honour.

By The Argus
Terry Connor spent four years with Albion, before departing for Portsmouth in 1987.

I don’t believe the colour of my skin was an issue with Brighton supporters. If there was any racism while I was living in Brighton it wasn’t on the level that I had experienced growing up in Leeds. I obviously experienced racism from supporters who were playing against us, but Brighton supporters were always very fair, they seemed to have a good understanding of football and appreciation of good footballers regardless of their skin colour.

As I have got older – finishing my playing career and working in coaching – I have seen that things have changed for the better in football and society, but it has been very slow progress. The perception of black footballers has changed considerably since my playing days though. You’re hopeful that your children and grandchildren won’t be subjected to the same thoughts and attitudes that we were and it might be a generational thing, but it will certainly take some time to reach the level of equality that we’re working towards.

I think about my parents’ experiences and their parents’ experiences, all we can keep doing is breaking down the barriers and allowing the next generation to step on our shoulders so we can build towards a better and more equal society.

By The Argus
The striker became the first black player to win Albion's Player of the Season in 1987.

The black players I see today, I hope whatever club they play for, they have an understanding of what their families went through and they have taken up the baton and continue to champion anti-racism and equality.

Current players like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings and many more have a really strong understanding of that and express themselves so eloquently, it makes me so proud and pleased that black footballers now have that voice and standing in society.

While Black History Month does a lot to mark the success and struggles that generations of black people have experienced, for me we should be talking about it and highlighting the issues all the time, not just in October – the same way I am black every single day, not just for one month of the year. The issues we face happen 365 days a year.

Terry or ‘TC’ as he is popularly known, spoke to Albion as we celebrate Black History Month, Proud To Be. Throughout October we will be speaking to and looking back on the club’s trailblazers. Terry had a hugely successful time with Albion, scoring 51 goals in 156 appearances, winning the Player of the Season award for the 1986/87 campaign – in turn becoming the first black player to win it.

Once he called time on his playing career, Terry has spent a majority of his coaching career as assistant manager to Mick McCarthy with the likes of Wolves, the Republic of Ireland and now Cardiff City.