Albert Johanneson

Football's Pioneers: Albert Johanneson

For several seasons, Leicester City Football Club has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture. Today, Professor Martin Polley focuses on Albert Johanneson’s pioneering role as the first black player to play in an FA Cup Final.
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Johanneson was born in Germiston, a township near Johannesburg in South Africa in 1940.

He grew up under the apartheid policies of the country's post-war governments, facing racial segregation in everything from schooling and housing through to sport.

A talented athlete and footballer, he made his mark as a winger with Germiston Coloured Schools and Germiston Colliers.

Leeds United had already signed Johanneson’s friend Gerry Francis as their first black South African player, and, early in 1961, they invited Johanneson himself over to Elland Road for a trial.

Johanneson impressed at his trial and became manager Don Revie’s first signing on the journey that took the club from Second Division strugglers to their first league title in 1969.

The Yorkshire club also reached their first FA Cup Final in 1965 and victory in 1972, as well as winning maiden European silverware with Inter-City Fairs Cup victories in 1968 and 1971.

Their characteristics were grit, stamina, discipline, and strength, and they won few fans among neutrals. Johanneson, however, was described as ‘the entertainer in an essentially dour team’.

He was the joint top-scorer in the promotion side of 1963/64, and played a major role in the club’s amazing 1964/65 campaign that saw them as double runners-up.

Overall, he played 172 league games for Leeds, scoring 48 goals. Although he stayed at Elland Road until 1970, injuries and competition from other players limited his appearances later that decade.

He moved down three divisions to York City for a swansong season, but then dropped out of the game. After a tragic spiral of injury and illness, Johanneson faded from public view and died in 1995.

The sad decline cannot mask Johanneson’s pioneering role as the first black player to regularly appear in the English First Division.

He experienced racist abuse from opposing fans and players. As George Best one said: "He was a brave man to actually go on the pitch."

Johanneson’s memory has now been honoured by Leeds, the city’s Civic Trust, the Out of Africa project and Football United/Racism Divides.

He remains a role model and a true pioneer in the game’s history.

For more information about sports history at DMU please click HERE.

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