The legacy of Lindy Delapenha: Boro’s first black player whose sporting prowess extended beyond football

As October marks Black History Month, what better way to celebrate than with the legacy of Lindy Delapenha, Boro’s first black footballer.

Lloyd Lindbergh Delapenha, nicknamed Lindy, was born in Kingston, Jamaica on May 20, 1927. He went on to play professional football in the English top flight and became Middlesbrough FC’s first black footballer.

He was one of the club’s greatest players and his athletic prowess was evident from an early age, where he excelled in school sports, from football and hockey to cricket and tennis, as well as in many competitions. .

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Through the research of Dr Tosh Warwich, historian and founder of Heritage Unlocked, and the research and fantastic community collections of Harry Greenmon, Lindy’s story can be shared.

Teenager Lindy wanted to pursue a career in football, so he took the advice of his sports master at Munro College and joined the military as a route to play football in England.

He left his family and friends behind to board the Lady Nelson, on a trip to England alongside prisoners of war returning from Japan.

Lindy Delapenha, MFC’s first black footballer

The teenager, who had excelled in track and field events, arrived in Southampton and was assigned to the Royal Fusiliers.

His days in the military included stays in the UK, Egypt and Greece, but his miserable experience began with early departures and cold weather.

But he took part in several sports, including football, and while playing for his battalion he was spotted by a Portsmouth scout and then signed for the Fratton Park team.

Tosh said: “Despite limited appearances for Pompey in the 1948/1949 and 1949/1950 seasons, he nonetheless played a role in the club’s two victorious teams and thus became the first black player to win the Premier League.

MFC players Lindy Delapena (second from right) and Harry Bell (right) sign autograph books
MFC players Lindy Delapena (second from right) and Harry Bell (right) sign autograph books

One of his most notable performances for Portsmouth in a 5-1 win over Boro at Ayresome Park and the performance clearly impressed Middlesbrough manager David Jack enough to sign the Jamaican for 6,000 £ in April 1950.

“When Delapenha made his debut in a final victory at Fulham on May 6, 1950, he made history as the first black player to represent Middlesbrough in professional football.

“The following season he scored what turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Arsenal in September 1950 – the team that had turned him down after a try in from his early days in England. “

Lindy Delapenha, MFC's first black footballer
Lindy Delapenha, MFC’s first black footballer

Lindy’s athleticism and strength from a young age turned out to be great assets as he shone for Boro.

But although Teessiders took him to heart, the appreciation was not universal and he was racially abused at times during his career.

However, in an interview on the eve of his 89th birthday, he recalls laughing at his attackers and dismissing any impact on his performance.

Tosh said: “The away right has dominated Boro’s scoring charts in the 1951-52, 1953-54 and 1955-56 seasons and sits 11th on the club’s all-time top scorers list with 93 goals in 270 appearances.

“Beyond playing for Middlesbrough, during his time at Ayresome he made a number of appearances for Jamaica and coached and led the team which faced an English FA touring team in the West Indies in 1955. .

“During his visit he was offered a coaching role, but he opted to return to Teesside rather than stay in Jamaica. “

And Lindy’s athletic prowess extended beyond soccer.

In 1953, the Hartlepool-based Northern Daily Mail reported that Horden Cricket Club had signed a “powerful batsman” as a professional, and that it was none other than Boro’s Delapenha who impressed Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire and the South Durham League.

Lindy Delapenha, MFC's first black footballer
Lindy Delapenha, MFC’s first black footballer

Years later, the popular star also appeared on stage at Middlesbrough’s Empire in a head-tennis show with his friend and teammate, Brain Clough.

After a number of injuries, he eventually left Boro for Mansfield Town where he played over 100 games before later playing in non-league football.

He returned to Jamaica in the 1960s and served as the head of physical training at the Sugar Manufacturers Association, before becoming a key figure in the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation.

Lindy Delapenha returned from Jamaica to see Boro's new land, July 2000
Lindy Delapenha returned from Jamaica to see Boro’s new land, July 2000

During his time as a breakfast presenter, he met some of the world’s greatest sports personalities.

He was inducted into the Black Athletics Hall of Fame in 1974 at a ceremony held in New York City.

Tosh said: “Delapenha passed away at the age of 89 on January 26, 2017, leaving behind a pioneering legacy, not only to Teesside but for black footballers in England.”

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