In 1972 West Ham became the first club to field three black players together: Clive Charles, Clyde Best and Ade Coker. When the three first played professionally for West Ham they broke down a barrier in the game which has not been repeated for years. However, there was more pioneering to come, the three crossed over to America helping kick start the American Soccer League.
The collective impact of the three across America was explosive. Brian Belton, a sports writer and expert in West Ham’s history, claims it was the influence of these three which inspired him to leave behind the gang and street life of the East End ‘in favour of a more meaningful and productive path.’ The most influential of the three was Clive Charles, born 1951 in Canning town to a white British mother and a merchant seaman father from Grenada, he is the younger brother to John Charles (the first black footballer to represent England).
Clive practiced football on the streets until he joined the West Ham youth team at the age of twelve, and was signed with the club as an apprentice at 15. Charles signed with West Ham as a professional when he turned 17 and joined the team as a defender in 1970. Charles played on loan with Montreal Olympique 1971-1972 and later moved to Cardiff City where he played from 1974-1977.
While with Cardiff City, Charles was team captain and played with future Portland Timbers Willie Anderson and Bill Irwin. In 1978 Charles’ contract was bought by NASL Portland Timber (National American Soccer League). The induction of Charles kick-started the Timbers into the playoffs all the way to the semi-finals, the impact Charles had on the team is undeniable. Even after retiring as a player in 1982, Charles continued to have a positive impact, becoming one of the top soccer coaches in America. He led his women's and men's soccer teams to 439 victories, 20 national playoff berths, 13 league titles, and a glorious and emotional national championship. His players went on to play on the national teams of Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and play in the professional ranks of America, Europe and Asia, even going on to win Olympic gold medals and World Cups.
He also coached the Women's National Team (1993-1996) and the United States Olympic Team (1996-2000). Charles also worked as a TV announcer for the 1994 FIFA World cup showing how he Charles had successfully become a respected of the global football community.
Clive Charles was an Icon, giving many black footballers a role model at the highest level, and inspiring many, such as Brian Belton, to turn away from the gang and street life ‘in favour of a more meaningful and productive path’.