ces podd culture — made in leedsBack
Ces Podd played 565 times for Bradford City, but his influence in Leeds can’t be quantified.
Some footballers achieve legend status for doing just one thing. A winning goal in a big game, or a physics-defying save, or a man-of-the-match performance that wins a trophy. Ces Podd became a legend simply by being, all his life, Ces Podd, whether breaking ground for black players at Bradford City in the seventies, or building bridges in Leeds in the late eighties and nineties, or, as he is now, nurturing a football culture on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. Everybody who knows football, especially football in Yorkshire, knows about Ces Podd. But the racist culture of the early 1970s, and a dodgy left foot, nearly kept Ces out of football.
“I’d been on trial at Man United, they saw me and told me that they’d write to me, and then they wrote to me and actually sent me my forms. And I sent it back with the fact that I was from the Caribbean and I never heard from them again. So I went to Wolverhampton Wanderers, they saw me and they asked me to come down for a trial. I went there, only black kid there, two teams were picked – I’d travelled all the way from Leeds – and they told me I’d have to come back. There were only two of us starting behind and I was one of them. So I said to my dad, ‘That’s it, I’m not going, I’m going to college.’”
Ces enrolled at Bradford College of Art to study commercial design, but couldn’t resist when he was offered another trial, this time nearer to home at Bradford City. “My dad had said to me, ‘You can sign for any club you want to as long as you have an education,’ and Bradford City saw me play when I had just started college so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I went with the expectation of the same thing happening, and it nearly did, you know they picked two teams and said to me, at the time I was a right winger, they said to me ‘we haven’t got space for anybody else.’
“And then the first team manager was there, and he said, ‘We’re short of a left back, anybody play left back?’ And I put my hand up, and I got on the pitch, and at half time he said, ‘Right, we want to see you again.’ And that’s how my career started. I went home that night and practised kicking the ball – I’d never used my left foot! I played the whole season without them knowing I was right footed, I was that scared they’d find out.”
It was a few seasons before Ces was able to make the switch to his proper side, but once established in the City side he became a fixture: he made 565 appearances in the next fourteen seasons, a club record. Bradford in those days were confined to the league’s bottom two divisions, but Ces’s stature in the game was reflected by the star names in the Ces Podd XI for his testimonial match in 1981: Garth Crooks, Luther Blissett, Alex Williams,Vince Hilaire, Terry Connor, Justin Fashanu, Cyrille Regis. As the first black player to be granted a testimonial, Ces used the opportunity to bring together the new generation of players for whom Ces had blazed a trail. He also, despite more than a decade in the game, was far from finished as a player himself: seven more seasons followed with Bradford, Halifax, Scarborough and Ossett.
I played the whole season without them knowing I was right footed, I was that scared they’d find out
Ces’s All-Star match had taken place in 1981, but despite the growing visibility of black players in the game, the fight against racism was far from over at the end of Ces’s playing career in 1988. The decrepit state of English football in the eighties had created a chaotic atmosphere on the terraces, exhilarating at times, but also insular, violent, and on too many occasions, deadly. On pitch battles at Luton, Chelsea and grounds around the country were leading to government and police crackdowns, proposed I.D. card schemes, and at Leeds United, worse: the club was threatened with enforced closure if the behaviour of its fans didn’t improve.
“I think one of the main problems that we had was that the National Front, that movement was quite rife in those days, and a lot of it happened around that area, do you remember?” says Ces. “Beeston, and sometimes Holbeck, wasn’t too far from there and there were a lot of gangs and a lot of abuse, verbal stuff being thrown about, people were in gangs and crowds and people didn’t think twice about calling people ‘pakis’ and ‘niggers’ and things like that. They were words which really I think were scaring black supporters away, and it was a problem.”
It was a problem which by 1988 was being actively fought against. The fanzine Marching Altogether, produced by Leeds Fans United Against Racism & Fascism, was put for sale on Lowfields Road, taking back the space around the ground from pedlars of National Front papers and magazines and providing a unifying voice for fans who thought they were alone in deploring racism at Elland Road.
The impetus from the fans was bolstered by changes at the club, whose new manager Howard Wilkinson arrived at Leeds in October 1988 with a brief to breathe new life into a club that had been on life support for much of the eighties. Wilkinson told Dave Simpson, in his book The Last Champions, about the need for a new culture at Elland Road, “By which people are moulded … [so] you’re instantly aware that the people in that place reflect that culture in the way they think, behave, the things they believe in.” Wilko could do that with the players, but it was the job of Ces Podd, appointed Football in the Community Officer at the same time Wilkinson was appointed to manage the team, to establish a new culture on the terraces and in the city.
Brian Deane & Terry Connor, they came from those areas, & they were the things that we wanted to share with the supporters
“One of the things that we felt, was that if we went into the black communities, in particular Chapeltown, and took the players there and showed them – and at the time Howard had brought in some black players as well – we were just trying to let the Leeds community know that we don’t see colour, that it was just about the game, and we wanted the whole Leeds United fanbase to be aware of that, so that when black supporters came to the club they felt safe and they felt welcome.
“Remember, Brian Deane and people like that, and Terry Connor, they came from those areas, and they were the things that we wanted to share with the supporters. We had programs where we’d go into the communities, and while they were doing their coaching sessions we would also do classroom sessions about racism and how important it was to be able to unite against it. For us that was the start of the Kick Racism Out of Football campaign, that came after we based our attack on what was happening around our area. I thought it was really important, as was the fact that I was a black person as well, who came from Leeds and became a footballer, and was able, throughout the racist stuff, to make a career out of it.”
By 1990 it seemed like everyone in Leeds wanted to be part of the new era at United, and Wilkinson’s players worked with Ces to create a community spirit in the city.
“Howard was brilliant, because he just gave me a free reign, I could do what I wanted, because he’d always gave me support. I was given any of the players I wanted to take. Gordon Strachan was captain at the time and he was responsible for making sure the players did community work, so I’d just go to Gordon and he’d say, “Yeah, who do you want?” We’d take the players in to meet the kids, and it just worked really well. I didn’t have any player who said ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’
“And you know who the biggest supporter was in terms of the players? Vinnie Jones. Vinnie thought he was black, you know. Vinnie used to have his music on, blasting out of his car when he was driving up, but he was brilliant and the kids loved him because he was just crazy.”
I thought it was really important that I was a black person who came from Leeds & became a footballer
Ces continued working with Leeds throughout the Wilko era, and nowadays has a job of the kind that was always associated with Wilkinson: Technical Director for the Football Association in St Lucia. “My job is to oversee the development of football on the island,” says Ces, who is supported in his role by the Jason Roberts Foundation, the Keith Alexander Foundation, and others.
“We’re trying to expose our players to a higher level of football. Greg Abbott was with me when I was working in the community scheme in Leeds, and now he’s the manager of Carlisle United and he took two of the players, free of charge, looked after them, worked with them for two weeks before the World Cup qualifiers, and they came back different players. They’re the type of schemes that help you to forge links and they’re really important. It was backed by the PFA who take a lot of stick but do so much work that people don’t know about, I personally would like to commend them, they really do look after the players who are out of the game. Gordon Taylor knows every single one of the footballers, I’ve never met a man like him and he really needs commending for the work that he’s done.
“It’s a real interesting job. It means international games; we’ve just gone up forty places in the FIFA World rankings, so it’s going alright, it’s going really well. We’ve just completed a strategic plan for the development of football, starting with grass roots, all backed by FIFA, so we’re taking football into the schools, making sure that the kids want to play the game, making sure that the health and safety policies are there. We’re preparing an under 15s national tournament, we’re in the World Cup qualifiers, we’re in all the tournaments.”
It would have been enough for most players to be an icon at one club, but the legend that is Ces Podd was too great to be confined to Valley Parade. Bradford and Leeds are undoubtedly better places thanks to Ces’s influence, and now it’s the turn of St Lucia to learn the value of persistence, unity, and a decent left foot.
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 4
The Ces Podd artwork by Joe Gamble is available as a limited edition tee from Made in Leeds – click here for more details.