Liverpool Football’s Journey: Progress in Racial Acceptance and Representation
Toxteth’s Pride: Trent’s Return
When Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, after an exhausting Australian tour, chose to visit Toxteth and distribute awards at Kingsley United, it was more than a kind gesture. Earl Jenkins, who has overseen Kingsley United for two decades, remarked on the integrity of the Alexander-Arnold family: “It says a lot about the family,” Jenkins recalls. “They didn’t want to make a promise they couldn’t keep and let people down.”
The Alexander-Arnolds’ Legacy in L8
Growing up in West Derby, near Liverpool’s old Melwood training ground, Trent’s familial connection with L8 goes deep. Michael, his father, hailed from there. Tyler, his brother, once played for one of Jenkins’ teams at Kingsley. Despite this legacy, breaking into Liverpool’s first team was revolutionary. “Trent is now deputy to a Liverpool captain who has almost the same surname. His trajectory and importance to the team was just a dream when he knocked about on the same stretches of tarmac all those years ago,” wrote Simon Hughes in this incredible interview in The Athletic.
Racial Milestones at Liverpool FC
Liverpool’s history reflects a slow acceptance of Black and mixed-race players. It took 88 years before the club saw its first Black player, Howard Gayle. His career spanned only five games. Though legends like John Barnes left a mark, the Liverpool Black community lacked representation until Trent’s rise in 2017. Hughes aptly points out the shifting paradigms: “Perhaps it is a reflection of progressive attitudes that it has barely been mentioned that the two local stars currently in Liverpool’s first team are of mixed heritage and are associated with L8 in some way.”
Understanding L8’s Rich Tapestry
L8, Toxteth, holds a unique socio-cultural position in Liverpool. The district’s duality is evident. Grand Georgian townhouses stand on one side, while terraced houses, slowly being restored, populate the other. Liverpool’s legacy with the slave trade has unquestionably influenced racial perceptions and dynamics. Jimi Jagne, an activist and a resident, describes the city as multi-ethnic rather than multicultural, signalling a nuanced difference. “Multicultural suggests that we’re all living together, and that’s still not true,” Jagne opined.
L8’s Football Potential: Overlooked or Ignored?
Historically, Black players from L8 often ventured outside their communities to play junior football. Jenkins believes that the absence of local platforms and underlying racial biases prevented many Black players from showcasing their talents. Iffy Onuora and Emy Onuora’s experiences further highlight the racial challenges faced by young Black footballers in and around Liverpool.
Facing Racism: Howard Gayle’s Experience at Liverpool FC
For Howard Gayle, becoming a Liverpool player meant confronting institutional racism. “For Gayle to succeed in this environment, he had to abandon everything he’d ever known which, to him, felt like a betrayal of his history. The abuse from Liverpool’s captain Tommy Smith, for example, only stopped when Gayle approached him with a baseball bat,” explains Hughes. While teammates like Graeme Souness extended support, Gayle felt sidelined and misunderstood by then-manager Bob Paisley.
Liverpool Football Club’s journey mirrors the broader social transformation in race relations. As the club and the city evolve, stories like that of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones herald a promising future where talent takes precedence over colour.