FansCorner: How different is Chelsea compared from your time at the club to now?
Paul Canoville: I think football here has always been quick. But at Chelsea now today’s standard of football is a lot more physical and skillful.
FansCorner: Do you think you, or any of your teammates from your time, could have got into this Chelsea team today?
Paul Canoville: I think there’s still a couple of players [from Paul’s time at Chelsea] that could get into the team now. It’s changed so much, it’s so much more fast paced, and this is what they’re trained up to do now. Standard skills, standard set pieces etc., it’s totally different now to what it was.
We look at the health of the players, they are looking after themselves, following strict diets and training routines all day. I was training 10-12 and that was it for the day! I believe they train in the morning, afternoon and the evening. But yeah, it’s totally different and for the better.
FansCorner: You were Chelsea’s first black player, and much has been said about your experiences at the start. Could you describe the atmosphere in the club that time? What is you most vivid memory?
Paul Canoville: I didn’t know the history of the club [at the start], to be honest. All I knew at the time was the position they wanted. I came straight into the reserves, and after four months, I was brought into the first team. I have total respect for John Neal [Chelsea’s manager at that time]. You know what, a young boy’s dream – to come here and let’s do the best I can do. Other than that, everything was new to me. I hand’t found out until I made that debut.
I was shocked, I definitely wasn’t aware of it. It was difficult because I didn’t know how long I expected it to continue. Not only was it during home games but away games too. My friends, my family were concerned about how I was feeling.
FansCorner: Did it die down after the debut?
Paul Canoville: NO, it continued for two years. When I was a sub, that was alright… Then it started. When I was on the pitch, every time I got the ball… Imagine. When you’ve got your own fans, not even the away fans who obviously try and make it difficult for the opponent, when you get that aggravated abuse from your own fans… It was uncomfortable, and it wasn’t a confidence booster neither. It did put me off, sometimes I tried and block it out from my ears which was hard… But I had to because I had to put my mind into my game. It was a case of me not being able to do that for most of the times. I do want to come outside and warm up, but I just warmed up and went straight back down to the dugout, somewhere nobody can be seen.
FansCorner: What about your teammates. Did any of the players make you uncomfortable at all?
Paul Canoville: Nah, nah. None of the teammates. They were more or less shocked as me that this was happening. Most of the boys lived in London, went to school in London and there was a mix of black, white, English, Chinese… They were even more shocked to see that this was happening to their own player and from their own fans as well. I could see that they were upset too.
FansCorner: Football is less racist today but we still have a long way to go. What do you think FIFA and other football organizations should do to fight racism in football?
Paul Canoville: FIFA are the most powerful people in football, UEFA, FIFA and FA. They’re unbelievable powerful, and they can’t sort this out? Nah. They’re taking it too light.
You have to punish the club, close the club, make them lose money. Money means the most to any club. If you don’t seen them to do anything strict, well… You have to punish them. Banning fans makes the club lose money. No club wants to lose money, that’s where their industry comes from.
Let’s be honest, racism will always be there. It’s not going to go, what we have to do is try and calm it and punch it as hard as it comes. And when it comes about in front of us, deal with it right there and then. Don’t wait, deal with it straight away. We need to send a strong message. We haven’t been doing that for a while.
FansCorner: Some go as far as saying that your career was wrecked by racists. Do you agree with this? Did it affect your performance?
Paul Canoville: Nah, at times it did affect. I got upset with myself. Yeah, it did, I can’t say it didn’t. There was always that extra concentration I couldn’t put in my game. So, yeah, it did put a lot of pressure on me.
FansCorner: What are your thoughts on the lack of BME managers in the Football League? Do you think the Rooney rule is a good idea?
Paul Canoville: You know what? It kinda hurts. I’ve seen a lot of black footballers come through the game and taking their coaching badges and it hurts to see them get nothing out of it. They’ve done so much to the club, to the football league and they don’t even get that position, they don’t even get looked at. “Oh, we’ve not got positions for you”, or “come back later”, then somebody else you know (you’re higher than them) has been given that position. It does hurt you as a player. Don’t get me wrong, I never ever wanted to get into that. But I’ve seen some players and thought: “Yea, that deserves to get a look at” and hasn’t.
I don’t know the reason why this happens. It’s something that I hope will change, I really do. Lots of black players that have come out the game deserve a chance to be there [managing a club], I hope they do soon.
FansCorner: Have you ever considered being a manager?
Paul Canoville: Nah, I gotta be honest. I saw it as a manager, I didn’t have the patience. I love what I do now. It took me a little while to find what I was good at, and that was motivating young people. I advise kids who struggle, I try and direct them to the right path. Coaching is a big step professionally, and if you don’t do it too well, you’re out. That’s where the pressure comes from, if you don’t do it too well, you’re worth nothing. It’s difficult, it’s something I wouldn’t wanna do.
FansCorner: How important do you feel Grass Roots football is?
Paul Canoville: It’s so important, that’s how I started off. Where I brought up in my estate, you saw these kids come out every Saturday, the smile on their faces. The best thing that could ever happen when getting up in the morning. For me, during school in the week I was struggling to get up. But when it was for football, I was up like there was no problem. The kids learn from that and it’s important. I talk to these kids, and it’s not just about football, education is important. That’s where my strength comes in because I know exactly what that was. I didn’t take my education seriously as I thought I did not have a need for it! As I just wanted to be a footballer – but I was so wrong! It is a must for all youngsters coming through school. An injury in football can take you out of the game. What do you have to sit back on? That’s my story, that’s what I was really made to be.
FansCorner: You set up a foundation to motivate young people to change. Your motivational speeches are very successful. If you had a chance to talk to yourself as a child what would you say and advise?
Paul Canoville: First thing I’d say – take your education seriously, continue to believe in yourself, follow your goals, listen out to your coaches because they have been there. I didn’t know that, I didn’t listen. And they were the same people who were telling me what was going to happen, and they were right. This is what I tell kids today and I would be telling myself the same thing.
Follow Paul Canoville on Twitter – @Kingcanners
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