To celebrate Black History Month we are sharing the remarkable story of one of our teachers. Ben Odeje, a name you might not be familiar with, but a story everyone should know about.
In 1971 Ben fought against the odds to overcome racism and achieve his dream of being the first black footballer to play for England. A little-known fact that was not celebrated until over 50 years later.
It wasn’t until September 2022 that the FA formally recognised and celebrated his achievements, after it first came to light in 2013 after a BBC London report uncovered Ben had played at Wembley to over 70,000 fans – six years prior to the player recognised in history books.
Now, Ben works as one of Athona Education’s PE supply teachers across Essex and runs his own football school at the weekend, passing on his skills to the younger generation.
Growing up in South East London, Ben’s parents had moved to England from Nigeria in the 60s and had aspirations for Ben to study Law. However with a natural talent for the game, and with supportive teachers at school, he was able to pursue his football career. His mum also encouraged him to study and it is due to this that he now works as a teacher and graduated with a degree.
Joining the England schoolboys team in 1971 at Wembley, Ben helped the team achieve a 1-0 win (and was even named as man of the match!). Ben went on to play four more times in international games, but achieving his dream didn’t come easily. In the 1970’s racism was rife, discrimination, blatant name calling – even down to the programmes on television.
Unfortunately, he was surrounded by abuse, from fans and the public often making racial slurs towards Ben.
His lack of recognition led to his children being accused of lying when they proudly told their classmates of Ben’s achievements, he had to reassure them that it was in fact the truth.
Recognising and celebrating Black History Month has become even more important to Ben since he left school, a place where he was only taught about English and European history. Since then, he’s realised how many black history makers there are across the world, and now he is one of them.
Since leaving behind his career in football, Ben has fought hard to make a difference in education. Now he shares his experience during assemblies across schools he works in – sharing his legacy with children of all ages.
Want to learn more about Ben’s incredible story? Check out this interview with BBC 1. Or looking for other inspirational people to share with your class this Black History Month? Then take a look at these resources here.
Looking to work with a teaching agency that really understands teachers? Who takes care, attention and compassion with every recruitment assignment? Then get in touch with our primary or secondary team today.