Leicester: A Shared Goal, Sport and Activism

A colour photograph of a football team with 11 Black players standing at the back and six crouching in the front row. They are wearing a bright yellow strip. A typed caption identifying each player is stuck to the bottom of the photograph.
  Highfield Rangers Mutual League Team 1990-91. Credit: Highfield Rangers


1970s onwards



When manufacturing declined in Leicester in the 1970s it left a legacy of high unemployment and compressed wages. This disproportionately affected young Black and Asian men, many of whom were developing a growing political consciousness and resistance in the face of increased activity by the National Front.

The front cover of the book featuring, against a striped yellow and black design, the book’s title and a black and white photograph of the squad in the past.
The cover of Highfield Rangers, An Oral History.
Credit: Highfield Rangers.

Highfield Rangers FC was established in 1970 by a group of young men who came to England from the Caribbean in the 1960s. Those founders understood that the involvement of displaced young African-Caribbean men in local football was not only about sport, but a symbolic and political gesture. Highfield Rangers challenged the racial abuse they faced to become one of the most successful Black sporting organisations in Britain. In 1993, with support from the University of Leicester, the club produced a book about its early history. Rangers is a home for male, Black identity, community politics, and resistance to racism and in September 2019, they celebrated 50 years of sporting success, often in the face of intolerable discrimination and injustice.

A photograph of seven Asian men standing outside the red brick exterior of a building on which is a sign that says ‘Red Star Club’.
Team members at the Red Star Club, c. 1985.
Credit: Nirvana F.C.

Based in a vacant school building, the Red Star football team and youth project helped forge the political identities of young men of Asian and Afro-Caribbean descent, encouraging them to take an active role in shaping their community and politics. When the school was requisitioned by the County Council and funding withdrawn, Red Star fought to protect the services they provided with advocacy and community activism. Playing football both for fun and at a high level was particularly important in providing opportunities for young Black and Asian men, though the team never turned anyone away, regardless of race. The club evolved into Nirvana F.C. and are based in Hamilton. They promote football for all, continuing to campaign against racism and intolerance. 

 A photograph of the team lined up, seven Asian men in the back row and seven in the front. They are on a football pitch with the goalpost behind them. They wear a blue and white football strip.
Red Star Football Team, c. 1985.
Credit: Nirvana F.C.

Content by John Williams and Laura Parsons.

Sport can play a strong positive role in helping a sense of identity and belonging and shoring up resilience in a hostile world. Just organising a local football competition can be an action that brings people together and from which other cooperation can spring.

Sport can also divide, so a positive act can be to actively support organisations like Kick It Out! That challenging racism in football. 

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