To mark the 75th anniversary of Windrush, Chelsea FC and Chelsea Foundation are releasing ‘Chelsea’s Caribbean Voices’, a photography and interview series with fans of Caribbean heritage from across London.
For the first part of this series, we spoke to father-daughter duo, Gil and Felicia Pennant. Both are ardent Chelsea fans who are proud of their Jamaican roots and in this interview reflect on the impact the Caribbean community has had on Chelsea and English football more widely…
As lifelong Chelsea fans, what would you say your favourite Chelsea memory is?
We’ll go back in time, 2012, the Champions League final – Chelsea versus Bayern Munich. It’s the 88th minute, and my man Didier Drogba just gets up and equalises, and we went on to win. What's significant about that is that it was somebody of colour contributing to such a major moment, and I think the fans didn’t see his colour: they just saw a footballer scoring a great goal. Although he's not of Caribbean heritage, he's a legend for Chelsea, all the fans consider Drogba as a legend. For me, that’s an amazing moment.
2012 was the main one, we watched that together in the Slug and Lettuce in Clapham Junction, and I had blue in my hair because I was very confident we were going to win. I just remember when we beat Barcelona and I was screaming round the room. My cousin asked ‘what's happened?’, and I couldn't speak, we beat Barcelona! She didn't get it.
The final I think is just the key moment, and just the release of emotion after winning. That's my main moment because that's when it was like, London is Blue. Properly blue.
What has your experience been like: being a Chelsea fan of Caribbean heritage?
For me, I would say it hasn't really made a difference - it's worth saying, I'm half Jamaican, half Nigerian. I don't really go there as a Caribbean person, because most of the Black players that have been through Chelsea kind of tended to be more African, and I'm Nigerian, so it's fine – it works for me!
But when I go to Chelsea, I think you generally just, as a person of colour, you relate to the other people of colour.
So going back into the 70s and 80s, there was a lot more racism, not only for fans, but also the players. I have a vivid memory of, in the 70s, being chased down the streets around Chelsea by people shouting racist slurs. I remember running as fast as I could; luckily, in my younger days, I used to be a winger and was very fast so nobody could catch me. But it was just a frightening experience for a young person.
Hearing the players being abused wasn't very pleasant. I can't imagine what it was like for them, having 20,000 people screaming abuse at you.
So in the early days, my relationship was much more at a distance. I wasn't keen to go back with the experiences I had.
And what do you think has changed, like the difference going to a game today?
I think what's changed now is racism isn't tolerated. Chelsea has the No to Hate campaign - you're very clear you don’t tolerate that abuse.
It's also because a lot more Caribbean people, and other ethnic groups, are coming to Stamford Bridge. So when I look around, I see a range of different types of people from different backgrounds, because Chelsea is global. Also when I first went to the stadium there was a lot of standing – seating seems to have some kind of way of reducing people's anger.
But I think the main thing that has made a major difference, coming from a Caribbean point of view, is the introduction of the Liquidator, which is a Chelsea song. But it's a Caribbean song, a Jamaican song. With the introduction of that song in the 70s and 80s, it embedded Caribbean culture into the very vein of Chelsea. I can remember as a young person, listening to it out in the clubs. So when it was brought into Chelsea, it really felt like Chelsea was welcoming people of the Caribbean.
Obviously that's a very Chelsea-centric lens, but more widely, what do you think Caribbean culture has done to influence English football and English football culture as well?
I would say in my generation, it's definitely players of Caribbean descent choosing to play for England. So Raheem is an example of that, and Saka isn't Caribbean but he chose England over Nigeria, because to be honest, it's difficult how you identify and with post-colonialism some people are conflicted about that. But if you're doing it from the perspective of 'where will I have the best chance of winning something', or integrating more and getting the kind of adoration that you maybe wouldn't always get on a societal level, playing for England is huge.
On the flip side, in the Euro final, we saw how it changes very quickly. All of those players missed those penalties, and they were subjected to racist abuse. So it's a very fine line. It's very fragile. But if you were born and raised here, you would say yes, my heritage is Caribbean, but I'm English and I will play for England.
I think there's been a lot of players from Caribbean heritage that have done so much for England. Look at Ian Wright, what he's done and also how he's essentially the face of football for a lot of people of colour.
I always think, if Drogba was English, it would be over for everyone else. But he's not. He would be our Ian Wright equivalent, wouldn't he?
Footballers are important role models for the youth. So having people of Caribbean heritage as footballers has an impact on the very fabric of society.
So it's very important for all kids, obviously people of Caribbean heritage, but all young kids, looking up to footballers, who are, for the most part, good role models: disciplined and working hard.
It's worth mentioning the women's game as well. We're seeing some Black footballers coming through the women's game. Lauren James is a really good role model for young Black women.
And for the wider community, it shows that people of Caribbean heritage are successful, highly successful. It's important young people see that.
I think the women's game is interesting, because there's a newer generation of young women of colour coming through. So again, always proud to see Caribbean women, Jamaican women, people, excelling.
Whenever I interview people about the Lionesses, people always say 'ah, Lauren James is a baller!' and in my Chelsea chats, it’s constantly 'Lauren James, Lauren James, Lauren James!'. It's really nice for someone to be recognised and it's not about their colour. No one's colourblind, but this is about their pure, raw ability. It's because she's very good at what she does, and she does things that make you gasp.
The reason we’re here today is to talk about the 75th anniversary of Windrush. What do you think is the most important takeaway from that generation?
I did not learn about Windrush at school, so I think the first thing is making people aware of it and being honest about what actually happened by offering alternative histories that might be uncomfortable to a white majority.
The problem sometimes with these things is that they should be normal, they should happen every day, or every month, it shouldn't just be one dedicated month. It's the same problem I have with Black History Month, every day is Black History, if you're Black. And it should be for everyone in the same way that like, you know, there shouldn't be a celebration of like the LGBTQI+ community just in Pride Month.
Windrush is about celebrating contributions Caribbean people have contributed to this country. Seventy-five years ago, people from the Commonwealth including the Caribbean were invited over here to contribute to rebuilding the country after the war. And the Caribbean people came and they did lots of amazing things, nursing, transport, everything. And the offspring of the Windrush are now everywhere, even in football. We are the offspring and we've contributed to this country.
England is a multicultural country, everybody can contribute to building the country and what people of colour want is for it to be acknowledged that we've contributed to this country – we are British and we’re proud.
You're not 'other', you shouldn't be made to feel other, when actually you're embedded into the fabric of the country.
Here you can be very proud of where you've come from, and when you talk to Americans who are Black they often can’t trace their history, and I think that you can do that here. My grandparents came in the Windrush period and I'm from Nigeria – you can be very clear about where your roots start, where you come from, but also how your family contributed to the country, even if it's as basic as paying your taxes.
It’s important to understand that the Caribbean experience is not a monolith – we feel how we feel, but not every person feels the same way, we're speaking from our experience. You can never have one person speaking for all Caribbeans, because it's not the same.
And combined with that, why do you think it's important that a club like Chelsea, and institutions, mark this day?
I think going forward, Chelsea, like everywhere else is now a melting pot. I think the next generation are much more integrated. Everybody's valuable. Everybody's got something positive to bring. And I think what the Windrush generation has done has made this country what it is. By celebrating Windrush you're celebrating a contribution that this community has made to this club and to the country.
It's just good to dismantle some myths because people are surprised if, as a Black or a Caribbean person, you support Chelsea. People are so surprised and it's like you know what - my dad's mentioned what he went through and, he's still a Chelsea fan. Chelsea have Black players too, Chelsea have been more recently successful and that happened with Black players. Something like this is really great because I feel like I haven't seen works that just acknowledges, yeah, we are part of the fan base, we're proud to be part of the fan base and we actually put up with a lot of banter for being part of the fan base.
When you take the time to talk to the community and share different voices, not every club does that in this way. I think that's really powerful; it will reach different people.