TBB Hero Richie Campbell will play the lead in a forthcoming mini-series, working title Kicking Black And Blue, about the life of Chelsea’s first black player, winger Paul Canoville, from a script by black British author, playwright, filmmaker, and Chelsea fan DD Armstrong!
Campbell was destined for a starring role sooner rather than later, whilst we championed him through his growth into a bona fide TV actor of range and significance. We named him a Hero of 2017 for returning as Peeler Nightingale in series 2 of ITV2’s The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015-17); his solid turn as wronged husband Liam in ITV’s Liar – one of the few characters who felt totally authentic; and for being the face of Old Jamaica’s new Ginger Beer campaign. His TV stock has been rising steadily for the last 4 years, gaining larger speaking roles in the last 2 as central supporting cast member junkie Nathan Bodle in BBC’s NW, Josh in Gangsters, Gamblers, Geezers, Gunz’s dad in the opening sequences of The Intent in 2016; as Viv in CBBC’s Eve (2015-16), and as 1920s London Pharmacist Albert Ogoro in ITV’s post-Christmas drama Harry Price: Ghosthunter in 2015. We also praised his outstanding turn as militant leader of Les Combattants, Luis, in 2016’s They Drink It In The Congo at The Almeida Theatre. So, to hear of his first TV lead as 2018 begins seems like a no-brainer to us!
Campbell will play West Londoner Canoville, now only 55 years old, who debuted for Chelsea in 1982, of course facing racial abuse from the fans as the team’s first black player. He was instrumental in the team winning the Second Division in 1984, which got them promoted into the old First Division. They finished sixth in that top flight debut season. Yes, Chelsea was one of the slower teams to embrace diversity amongst its ranks, trailing even West Ham. Canoville had emerged from a troubled youth which involved homelessness and a stint in Borstal (Juvenile detention), before winning a trial with Chelsea and being called up to the first team weeks later. He played more than 100 games for them, but once he began to sustain serious injuries and suffer the stress of relentless racist abuse, he was sold to Reading in 1986 and retired within two years.
Armstrong and producer Craig Abbott are childhood friends who grew up in Fulham watching The Blues, and are thrilled to be committing Canoville’s story to TV history, having signed a deal with a major broadcaster to start filming soon. Spanning the history of post-war London, football makes up only “the backdrop” to the story, which will encompass the arrival of Caribbean immigrants in London and the rise of the far Right. Music will feature heavily, as he attempted a career as a DJ, but succumbed to drug addiction and petty crime, selling off his medals for cash. He eventually beat his addiction and the aggressive non-Hodgkins lymphoma, diagnosed in 1996, and found work driving for disabled children and as a classroom assistant. By 2008, he had written and published the award-winning autobiography Black And Blue: How Racism, Drugs, and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me. Then, in 2015, Sky Sports broadcast the documentary Black and Blue: The Paul Canoville Story. He then founded the Paul Canoville Foundation – a charity which works with young people facing economic, physical or mental adversity to build life-skills, resilience and support networks, building a better future for themselves and their community. He also now acts as a Chelsea club ambassador.
Arsenal fan Campbell admitted he had previously never heard of Canoville: “I was shocked I didn’t know who he was and I feel like I should have. As a young black Brit, I should know his story. I find that fascinating, but also kind of heartbreaking that there is a generation of people that don’t know who he is and what he has achieved.”
Armstrong said, “This is where you really see the struggles just to put on a Chelsea shirt. You could never have a Didier Drogba or Ruud Gullit managing Chelsea without Paul Canoville.”
It would be really, really something if a black British director won this gig to do this story justice, to make it truly about the black British experience, and not White Britain’s idea of the black British experience. That would truly make 2018 a landmark year!
Good luck to all involved, particularly you, Mr. Campbell.