Paul Canoville could be an inconsistent and frustrating winger but what ensures his important place in Chelsea history is the fact he was the club’s first black player to appear in the first team, and in particular that he had to overcome the considerable challenge of prejudice from a sizeable section of the team’s own support.
Canoville played 103 games in a five-year period between 1981 and 1986. He was signed from non-league Hillingdon Borough in December 1981 and did not make made his debut until the following April as a substitute in a win at Crystal Palace, enduring racist abuse while he was warming up and when he came onto the pitch.
It is to his credit that the following season, the worst in the club’s history, he made a significant contribution to the ultimately successful fight against relegation. He was also a vital member of the squad that won promotion in 1984, while his greatest moment as a Chelsea player came in a League Cup quarter-final in 1985. We trailed Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 at half-time when Canoville came on as substitute and scored within 11 seconds. He later added another in a 4-4 draw.
His form remained inconsistent and he joined Reading in 1986 but a serious knee injury ended his professional career at the age of 24. Since then he has beaten cancer and drug addiction and is now a popular visitor to Stamford Bridge. He has been involved with the work of the Chelsea FC Foundation.