The first black footballer to play for Wales

In this blog – a version of which first appeared on Parallel Cymru – Matthew Jones remembers the first ever black footballer to wear the red shirt of Wales.

Like so many, I had a great couple of days last August at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay. While there I invested in a funky new T-shirt: a fab gold number with a picture of George Berry on the front. This took me back to some research I did a decade earlier when compiling the Welsh Sports Quiz Book.

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George Berry was a tough tackling central defender best known for his stints at Wolverhampton Wanderers (1976-82) and Stoke City (1982-90). He was part of the Wolverhampton Wanderers side captained by Emlyn Hughes that won the 1979-80 English League Cup in a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest.

Born in West Germany to a Jamaican father and Welsh mother, George Berry made his Wales debut in May 1979 against the country of his birth in a 2-0 defeat. He was the only black player in the team. He would later go on to earn an additional four caps.

Six months previously, Nottingham Forest defender Viv Anderson made his England international debut against Czechoslovakia becoming the first black player to wear the Three Lions. This is a well-known trivia question but what isn’t so well known is who was the first black player to play for Wales? Many believe it was Berry.

The truth however is even more remarkable. The first black player to wear the red of Wales came 47 years before Viv Anderson made his international bow.

John Edward Parris was born in Pwllmeyric near Chepstow in January 1911 to a white English mother and a black Barbadian father (also called John Edward). He was a quick left-winger with an eye for goal, starting his career with Chepstow Town before turning professional with Bradford Park Avenue and then onto Bournemouth and Luton Town, where he was the club’s first ever black player. After his early years in Chepstow, Parris grew up in Dock Street in Newport.

In December 1931 he made his sole appearance in a Welsh shirt against Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast as one of four debutants. In doing so, he became the first black player to play for Wales. The home side won 4-0 with a brace of goals from Jimmy Kelly plus one from both Willie Millar and Joe Bambrick. The game itself is not significant in the history of Welsh football but Eddie Parris’s appearance is. It is an important part of the social and cultural change seen in the country which has unfortunately been ignored.

It’s hard to know what sort of welcome Parris would have received in Belfast, or indeed from his Welsh teammates and the selectors, but he never played for Wales again. Although many players in the interwar era had short-lived international careers, it is difficult to be confident that racism did not play a part.

Parris’s football career continued and he later slipped into non-league and settled in Gloucestershire, where he later worked in an aeroplane factory. He died in 1971 just over the border in Sedbury.

Eddie Parris will never be selected for someone’s greatest ever Wales XI; he wouldn’t even make a list of top 500 Wales internationals. He is however a man who deserves to be remembered for his mark on Wales’ cultural and social history.

Additional research by Russell Todd

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