“When he first came over, my father lived in a house with other men over the back of the football ground and on match day they could see the game free of charge from their window.”
My first memories of watching Bradford City are that it was cold. But, although I used to live in the area, I didn’t watch many games. Our family lived just round the corner on Lumb Lane and I went to school at Manningham Middle.
Work brought my family over. In 1948 the British government passed the British Nationalities Act to try to rebuild this economy after World War II. There was a shortage of labour and the Act appealed to the colonies to come to what they called ‘the Motherland’. The first ship was the Empire Windrush that came from Jamaica. It landed at Tilbury in 1948. There was a voucher system to incentivise people to come here to work. We forget these things so easily.
A lot of the labour that came left a vacuum in the countries they left and had a devastating effect on their industries. My father and family were primarily farmers in Jamaica. We still own quite a lot of land there, as do many other families.
Jamaica was a place where the British and Spanish brought slaves for the cultivation of agricultural crops, mainly sugar. Many of us are from rural areas of agricultural farming. We are not indigenous to Jamaica. Our heritage is from Africa.
My father came to Britain in the late 1950s. Many others, mainly men, came too. They were not intending to stay to establish themselves. They were here to do the work, earn the money and go back home. It was similar to many new migrants today. This country needs skilled labour now because of increasing numbers of elderly people and low birth rates in our communities. A lot of migrants today don’t come to stay. They do the work to the benefit of themselves and this country and then go home. Politicians manipulate it so that we believe that they don’t go back but many do.
Immigration between countries to find work has always gone on. My father used to do a lot of farming of sugar cane in Cuba. Even today a lot of Jamaicans go to work in Cuba, the Cayman Islands or the USA. The movement of people is diverse and appropriate for fertilising and supporting each others’ industries to cover labour shortages.
My family came here for five years originally. I don’t think they realised the amount they would be taxed. Once the wives came over and they had children, the families began to take root in the area and they ended up staying even though the culture and climate were so alien to them. My cousins came over from the Caribbean and couldn’t understand how the sun could shine so brightly yet it was so cold.
For us we saw the meeting of the Caribbean culture that my parents’ generation brought here and the English culture as beneficial. We could get the best from both cultures. My parents came with a sincere heart to contribute and in most places they were accepted, primarily in the church. There were also times when they were made to feel unwelcome through racism. They were strong enough to overcome and survive those things.
Back in the 60s and early 70s Bradford was very mixed. We loved our upbringing. A lot of the community cohesion we’re trying to get today, we had then. There was a rich diversity – Eastern European, mainly Polish families, Caribbean families, primarily from Jamaica and Dominica, some from Barbados, some Asian families from India and Pakistan, as well as white indigenous people. It was not as mono-ethnic then as it is today in certain areas of Bradford but we all felt a great affinity based on being working class as opposed to any divisions on ethnic lines.
So as kids we grew up in a broth of cultural dynamics. Things like carnivals are an expression of the less conservative nature of our cultural expression. That happened in different forms in the church and family events. Some people talk about these things as attempts to socially exclude ourselves. That is not the case. People tend to gravitate around their families and loved ones. We can’t condemn people for wanting to live near each other and around the amenities that support their cultural needs and wants.
If we try to manufacture social cohesion it doesn’t work. In 1977 we left this area because of a slum clearance programme. The government forced our communities to split up. They compulsorily purchased our houses because they considered the areas to be slums. They weren’t slums. They were as clean as anywhere else. The city fathers considered places such as where we lived to be ghettos. It happened in other multi-cultural areas too – Birmingham, Leicester, south east London. Our communities were decimated by the wisdom of so-called policy members. We were told to move to make way for a major ring road through our area to link to the motorway. That was in 1977 and that road still hasn’t been built today. What has happened is the communities have been destroyed.
We moved to a suburb of Bradford bordering Leeds and that’s when I realised I was black. I was ten years old and was walking around and for the first time heard the name ‘black so and so’. I wondered who they were talking to. Where I grew up around here it wasn’t an issue. I knew we had different food but round here differences were accepted.
Where we moved to we were the only black family. It affected my school life because I spent a lot of time physically proving to kids that: ‘I am black and proud of it as you should be proud to be white but if you want to treat my colour negatively then we’ll have a to-do about that’. I got into a lot of trouble, but it helped me to be more independent.
I had a very good deputy headmaster who got sick of caning me and applied a different tack of trying to appeal to my intellect. It made me stronger as an individual and less sheep-like. If I’d been at a school with kids of a similar cultural background I could have become a follower. As a loner I became independent and able to express my own views.
The church was a help in providing recreation but not spiritual development. We had the Boys’ Brigade which we were in because we were forced to go to church. The Boys’ Brigade was very sport oriented. We had a football team, a cricket team and various annual competitions. We were very competitive and had an affinity with other black boys and white boys through sport.
Then I reached an age – 15, 16 – when you stand up to your parents and rebel and tell them you’re not going any more. I came out of the Boys’ Brigade but the churches continue to be pillars of our community as they are in our country of origin. In Jamaica some of the statute is Christian-based, which sometimes causes problems in this country.
When he first came over, my father lived in a house with other men over the back of the football ground and on match day they could see the game free of charge from their window. They lived together communally until they saved enough for their own houses, then they sent for our mothers. Then, when they had earned more money they sent for the other children to come over, so that’s when we met our siblings for the first time because some of us were born here. That was a cultural challenge because their background in Jamaica was much stricter than ours over here. So when I gave my brother from Jamaica a bit of cheek I had to run hard and fast!
We cherished our upbringing. Discipline was much stronger than it is today and there was less pessimism and cynicism. The 24/7 news wasn’t there to sustain itself on fear, blame and anxiety. We had black and white television, coal fires and when our parents went to get chicken for Sunday dinner it came in a bag and was still alive. It would be seen as quite primitive and basic now but it was lovely then – natural living. We had very family oriented weekends. It was a valued time for us as children, but they were also chore days.
Our parents worked hard, left home early to earn a living. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child and that’s how it was in those days. When my parents went to work my auntie used to look after us and my mum would look after their children. Everybody raised each others’ children as if they were their own. The breakup of families spoilt a lot of that.
We couldn’t afford to go on holidays at the time because our parents didn’t earn that much. The street wasn’t that affluent. My father used to organise annual coach trips to Blackpool and Scarborough. All the other families would pay for themselves and their children to go and that was our summer holiday. We still have photos of those trips. It wasn’t until we moved to the suburbs where there were more middle class white families that we realised other families went abroad to places like Majorca.
Watching football is a religion in itself. The club is the flagship of the city. It’s an opportunity the city is missing to get unity among the communities. At the football match you’ve got thousands of people all unified and there’s that feeling of unity and then when we leave we go back to our closed doors and insular lives. Technology has bred individual, separate activity. That’s why people from other countries can feel isolated. The climate doesn’t encourage you to sit outside in the winter and talk to your neighbours – and the open door policy is gone. Where my parents are from they have verandas and there are communes where they have that trust and open door policy. We need to find a way to bring back the idea of ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
Some people accept that’s the way of the world, but I think people can have a view on that and take a stand. More people out there still hold those values and shouldn’t feel or be made to feel they are the minority because they are still the majority. Bad news sells but that’s lazy journalism – journalism that wants to flourish at the cost of our communities and our families. A good result for the football club is one of the few pieces of good news that will sell more newspapers. This project has such potential. The club can be a key element in Bradford’s continuing development.
I used to play football on Lumb Lane for a team called Green Lane FC. We played a match on the afternoon of the fire and were listening for the scores when we heard news of the fire. It was very surreal. It seemed like something from a movie. I remember that we could smell the smoke but not see it.
It was a ‘Princess Diana’ or ‘Ethiopia/Band Aid’ type of experience. It was kind of re-assuring the way the whole nation turned to support Bradford at that time and internationally there were messages coming from all over the world to say we’re standing with you in Bradford at this sad time. That was encouraging because that was the human factor that we like to think still exists instead of the selfishness that we see a lot of today.
This area has changed quite a lot, but the club is still here and is a constant – a link to the time of my childhood as it must be for so many people, and a link to the time when the community spirit that you still see in the support for the club was also more evident in wider society.