When Cyrille Regis assembled a team of black players to appear in Len Cantello’s testimonial match in 1979 this attracted considerable publicity. However, this was not the first occasion when an all-black team had turned out for in the late 1930s there was a team of black players from Cardiff, named, rather unimaginatively as Cardiff All Blacks. They were probably not the first team comprised solely of black players, for there may well have been teams playing recreationally elsewhere in this era, however they were the first black team to play against semi-professional opposition on a regular basis.
The scant information that exists suggests that the club was based in the Butetown area of Cardiff and probably did not play competitively, only in charity games usually against clubs from South Wales. In 1938 they ventured into England to play two games against Cheltenham Town, from the Southern League, and Luton Town ‘A’ (third) team.
The following is a brief description of the team prior to the match with Cheltenham:
So far as the All Blacks are concerned from a footballing point of view, they are a formidable side, playing the game well, and the Town, from all I can gather, will have no easy task to register a victory.
The team is composed of Africans, West Indians, Indians, Somalis, Arabs and Egyptians, and they have played in all parts of the world.
Members of the All Blacks Club have been entertained in the majority of large Welsh towns, and I am able to state that they heartily welcome the opportunity of being the premier All Black Soccer team to play in England for the first time.
(Gloucestershire Echo, 5 April 1938)
The match at Whaddon Road was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Cheltenham and local MP Daniel Lipson. The Gloucestershire Echo for 9 April 1938 lists the line-up as follows:
T. Jarvis (West Indian); Hassan George (Anglo Egyptian), Taabu Johnson (African); Musa Ali (Somali), Marouf Rodrignez (Arab), Mohamed Ali (Indian); Hassan Ali (Egyptian), Sam Akra (African), Salah Ali (Egyptian), T Soones (Indian), G Akra (African).
Cheltenham won the match 12-4, the visitors’ goals being scored by G Akra, Salah Ali (2), and Hassan Ali.
In October 1938 the All Blacks returned to England to play against Luton Town ‘A’ on the Bedford Town ground. The Bedfordshire Times (21 October 1938) introduced them as follows:
Cardiff is the headquarters of this club for coloured men, and the members are principally drawn from seaports like Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Shields and Bristol. Apparently they are winning a reputation for their skill at the round ball game, and the players have gained experience in all parts of the world.
They have a motto – “Sport is the ambassador of peace.” More coloured players are being enlisted each year, and the officials have ambition, for they hope that their club will grow to such strength that they will be allowed to take part in international matches.
The selected team for this match was: J Rodericki (South African); Tabbu Johnson (South African), Aja Jarvis (West Indian); Sam Akra (South African), Moor Ali (Somali), Otto Akra (South African); Musa Ali (Somali), Aja Roderique (Egyptian), Jimbo Kelly (West Indian), Rosario Mendo (West Indian), Hammed Ali (Arab)
The All Blacks were again outclassed, losing 10-2. They were described as being young, lightweight and playing a Continental style of football.
The two team listings provide us with a limited amount of evidence of who played for the club – men whose origins lay either in the Commonwealth countries, or in areas of the world where Britain held significant commercial interests. It appears there was quite a high turnover of personnel and the press clearly felt, whatever reason, that it was important to emphasise the origins of individual members of the team.
We would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any further information on this club. There must be surviving family members who have heard tales of the exploits of this club passed down from a grandfather or father, there may even be a photograph somewhere or a match programme. Please use the contact facility on our website to do this.