Conversations with Stan Horne (Manchester City, Aston Villa and Fulham)
With the fallout from recent incidents involving Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, and John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, dominating the back pages, racism in English football is once again a hot topic. An opportune time, then, to ask Stan Horne about (among other things) his experiences as the first ever black player for a trio of current Premier League clubs: Villa, Fulham and his beloved Man City.
BW: Did you feel like a pioneer?
SH: When I started out as an apprentice at Aston Villa in 1962 I didn’t even think about the pioneer angle. I was just a young boy fulfilling his dreams of getting a chance to become a professional footballer. I would say that probably the pioneer in this situation would have been Joe Mercer, the manager at Villa who was willing to give me a chance.
BW: How were you treated by managers, team-mates and supporters? Did you experience much abuse or prejudice personally? If so, how did you cope? Did it affect your game, or impede your career progress?
SH: I realised from when I was a boy at school that because my skin colour was different from all the other children I would have to learn to defend myself both physically and verbally, and I had a pretty good idea that this would be something I’d learn to live with. Because of my passion for the game I didn’t let the odd remark deter me from getting a lot of pleasure out of it, and I like to think that I had quite a successful career.
BW: How widespread and ingrained was racism in the game at the time you were playing?
SH: Because there were only a couple of other black players around at that time, racism was not something that was on the front or back pages of newspapers.
BW: Do you think Suarez v Evra and Terry v Ferdinand are just isolated incidents? How effective has the Kick It Out campaign been, and do you think it could/should do more?
SH: I’d like to think that we have come a long way from the ’70s and ’80s, when racist chants were an acceptable part of football games. The Kick It Out campaign has been a success but in football, as in life, you will always come across the bigot who thinks nothing of blaming the colour of someone’s skin for his or her own failings.
BW: What do you feel can be done to address the problem of the lack of black managers in the English game?
SH: The emergence of more black managers will, I feel, not happen overnight. It’s going to take time and strong clubs willing to appoint personnel purely on their ability to do the job.
BW: Man City won the league in 1968, followed by the FA Cup in 1969 and the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1970 after you’d left. What did it feel like being part of developing team poised for great things?
SH: I spent four and a half years at Man City, winning a Division 2 medal and playing a part in the title-winning side of ’68. I suffered a bad Achilles tendon injury that year which curtailed my appearances and I knew when I left in ’69 that they would go on to win more trophies, with the likes of Neil Young, Colin Bell, Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee and Tony Book as captain.
BW: Who was the best player you ever played with? And the toughest opponent?
SH: I would have to say the best player I played with would have to be Colin Bell — he was phenomenal. And the best player I played against would be George Best — pure genius.
BW: Given that Man Utd were also enjoying success at the time, what was the rivalry like?
SH: The rivalry between City and United was no less fierce back in the ‘60s than it is today. When I joined City back in ’65, United were a much more established team, but I’d like to think that the balance of power is gradually shifting.
BW: With the two Manchester clubs currently neck and neck at the top of the table, it’s like a throwback to that golden period. Who do you think will win the league this year, and can you see the Manchester clubs dominating for seasons to come?
SH: I am particularly excited about the future of Man City and, as a fan and member of the Former Players Association, I can only see us going from strength to strength, particularly with the resources available. The league title this year will be very close and I’m sure that Sir Alex will be doing his best to quieten the noisy neighbours.
BW: Do you think the transformation of Man City and the influx of cash is good for the club in the long term, and for English football in general?
SH: As I mentioned earlier, the new wealth which is available will enable City to compete for the best players available. It’s never been any different, just the scale.
BW: After Fulham, you played for Chester and Rochdale. Do you think that the gap between top-flight sides and those further down the leagues has widened since you were a player?
SH: I would imagine that the gap between the top sides and the lower leagues has widened simply because of resources, but I hope that whatever level a player plays he gets as much enjoyment out of the game as I did.
BW: What did you do after retirement? How did you adjust to life beyond your football-playing career?
SH: When I retired in 1975, at 31, I went into the building trade with a football pal of mine, and when he went back into coaching I continued on my own until my retirement a couple of years ago. The adjustment from football was difficult at first but when my family came along, that gave me enough to think about. I have three terrific children and five lovely grandchildren to enjoy.
BW: Post-retirement, how well were you looked after by your former clubs?
SH: Post-retirement, the only club I’ve been involved with is City and they have been fabulous. We are always welcomed at games and throughout the year there are various functions and golf days which are great fun.
BW: What was your career highlight?
SH: Probably winning the old Second Division title with City, which enabled them to play in the top flight again.
BW: Thanks very much for your time, Stan.