Socialist Worker

The Evergreen in Red and White is a winning tale that revives a football hero buried by bigotry

by Phil Turner
Issue No. 2395

The Evergreen in Red and White by Steven Kay, £8.99 in paperback

The Evergreen in Red and White

The Evergreen in Red and White

Rabbi Howell was the first Romani to play football for England in the 1890s. This meticulously researched novel tells the story of a true footballing pioneer. 

It is winningly told, fashioned in the harsh reality of industrial Sheffield.

A former miner, Rabbi was a key player in the Sheffield United championship winning side of 1897-98. But two weeks before the end of the season he was mysteriously sacked, effectively ending his career at the age of 30.

Like Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, who played for Rotherham and Sheffield United, Rabbi too was to be buried in an unmarked grave. 

The book challenges the folklore suggesting Rabbi—a rebel who clashed several times with the club committee in the servant-master days of Victorian football—had been fired for match fixing. 

According to Kay the real reason was the scandal of Rabbi having an affair and abandoning his family. Kay argues that Sheffield United, built along strict Methodist Christian lines, hushed it up, allowing the rumours to cloud the truth.

Rabbi’s obscurity can only be due to his ethnic background, with prejudice against gypsies remaining virulent today. He was the first Romani professional footballer and Eric Cantona and others have followed in his footsteps.

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