Few football fans would wear a t-shirt with the name of another club on it. But it was on such an occasion that Paul Canoville first came to my attention. Walking down a south London street, Anwar Uddin, manager of Fans For Diversity, burst out laughing and thrust a tweet in front of me from this massive Chelsea fan wearing a Love Port Vale Hate Racism t-shirt, that included an adapted image from The Specials' music label. Anwar was amazed that this former Blues player was proudly showing himself on social media and identifying himself with the Vale. Over the following months I came to recognise that the t-shirt actually encompassed three of Paul’s passions: football, music and challenging racism.
It was an easy decision to invite Paul to speak at the first Love Football Hate Racism event at Dulwich Hamlet in March 2019. It was an evening that included all three of those passions. What struck me on the night was the courage he had shown when he’d faced significant racism from his own fans at Chelsea during the 1980’s. Equally striking was the grace with which he looked back on the awful behaviour he had to endure and the determination to #RiseUpResilient from past experiences and to educate and change football and society going forward.
When I heard that Paul was ill, I wanted to do something that would encourage him and to raise some money for the foundation he had set up. I hadn’t realised the severity of the operations that Paul faced and was shocked and saddened to hear he was critically ill in intensive care. Recovery wasn’t certain. Thankfully he pulled through, but the road to full recovery is going to be a long and tough one. At this point it was clear that Paul was going to need significant help during his recuperation. Thus, the t-shirt fundraising idea was born. Hopefully, football fans will respond in buying the t-shirt and help Paul’s recovery so he can get back to full health and continue his work in challenging racism through his love of football and music.