Blog post -
Black History Month: London Sport staff celebrate their Black heroes
Each weekday in Black History Month a different member of the London Sport team will be sharing the story of their black hero from sport, from the elite all the way to the grassroots.
Gil Heron, by Barry Kelly- Specialist Advisor Physical Activity for Health
Gil Heron was the first black footballer to play for Celtic. Though born in Kingston, Jamaica, the 29-year-old centre forward was playing in The North American Soccer Football League when he was spotted by a Celtic Football Club scout
Though Heron didn’t play many times for Celtic he became a cult hero – at a club where heroes are worshipped to levels of deity. Heron undoubtedly paved the way for many other black players at Celtic, but for Celtic fans and Scottish Football, Heron was ahead of the times and that’s what still makes him stand out now.
Up until his death in 2008, Gil Heron seemingly took an interest in Celtic football Club. Gil’s son, the musician Gil Scott-Heron regularly had fans turn up to his concerts dressed in Celtic shirts in homage to his father. At one gig, Gil Scott-Heron was heard to say, “There you go – overshadowed by a parent once again". Well, there’s no shame in that, Gil (Jnr) - Gil (Snr) was an icon and a trailblazer.
Dame Kelly Holmes, by Ruth Martin- House of Sport Operations and Communications Officer
Dame Kelly Holmes is an individual who, rightly deserves the accolade of hero in the world of athletics. You’ve just got to look at her amazing achievements in middle distance running including winning Gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens in the 800m and 1500m distances. Or how she has set British records in numerous events and still holds records in the 600, 800 and 1000 metre distances. These things alone would be enough to make Dame Kelly Holmes a hero.
For me, it is the way Kelly Holmes has opened up about mental health that in many ways surpasses her undeniably incredible efforts on the track. Sharing what it is like to be at the top of your game, to succumb to injury and not know who you are anymore. She talks candidly and honestly about self-harm, depression and bereavement in a way that makes you realise that even world class athletes are not immune from the depths of despair.
Most of us will not win an Olympic Gold Medal. But every one of us has mental health and by opening up conversations and making her own experiences relatable and out there in the public sphere, Dame Kelly Holmes is heroically demonstrating the importance of talking and supporting one another.
Sir Mo Farah, by Emily Neilan- Relationship Officer
The first time I really remember watching Mo run and realising he was something incredibly special was during his UK indoor 3km record breaking race in the Glasgow in 2009.
A couple of years later, I was taking part in the UK 10km road race champions for my club, I was at the building where we were dropping our bags when I bumped into Mo on the stairs.
I was stunned to see him laughing around with his teammates, super relaxed and saying hello to everyone he passed with the biggest smile, of course he went on to absolutely smash the race in 27.44mins.
His sporting prowess alone is enough to inspire anyone, first man in history to defend both distance titles in both major global competitions, but add to that also that he is was born in Somalia and came to the UK speaking no English at all.
Through a passion and love for sport with a positive drive to succeed he become a national treasure and a symbol of hope for what it means to be British.
Watching him race during the Olympics and then in person during the anniversary games was the most moving sport experience I’ve had. On top of all of this he's doing incredible work through his foundation and inspiring young people to be active through his work with London Marathon, Sir Mo Farah, a true sporting hero.
Ledley King, by Jonathan Butt- Insight Intern
I shook Ledley King’s hand once, I must have been about 10 or 11. He might have said something to me but I wouldn’t have remembered, his mere presence was enough to leave me awe-struck and feeling like I, too, could be the next Spurs captain.
Now, as one of the few BAME coaches in the Premier League, King continues to inspire. His hard work and undeniable leadership qualities have landed him a key role as Assistant Coach as Spurs. Meanwhile, his off the field presence as an ambassador for the Spurs Foundation, an advocate for increased mental health awareness in sport and an active supporter of Spurs’ LGBTQ+ Supporter’s Groups continues to reinforce his instrumental role-model status.
King transcended club rivalries and he’ll always be someone I admire and look up to. Over a decade later, if I were to meet him and shake his hand again, I doubt my reaction would be any different.
Dina Asher-Smith, by Megan Walsh - Marketing and Communications Intern
"In 2016 I joined Blackheath and Bromley Harriers athletics club; little did I know I would be training with the 2019 World 200m Champion.
Dina is a sporting hero that has always mesmerised me, she is a role model to the whole world but, in my opinion, particularly to young girls. Her dedication and passion for her sport is certainly a cut above the rest.
With the pandemic resulting in the cancellation of many athletics competitions this summer, Dina created her own 'DASH Series' this August that allowed Blackheath and Bromley Harrier athletes to compete in a three-series open meet.
It gave athletes an opportunity to showcase their hard work over the winter and summer. Without this competition many athletes of many disciplines and ages would not have had the chance to compete. Dina kept the sport and atmosphere alive.
At just 23, Dina brought home her first world title in Doha, Qatar. She is the fastest British woman in recorded history and has been listed in the Powerlist as one of the UK's most influential people from African/African Caribbean descent."
Daniel Bell-Drummond, by Susan Hutton- Director of Finance and Governance
Daniel plays first class cricket for Kent, not bad for a boy from Catford. However that is not why he is my hero!
In 2018, Daniel set up Platform LDN which is a grassroots community cricket project that brings cricket to South East London.Platform LDN works with a network of local schools and focuses on developing young people, in and through, cricket.
Daniel is involved in both training and competitions, regularly giving out prizes and advice to the young stars. He also brings colleagues from Kent and England to support the efforts.
Platform-LDN has a priority focus on children from disadvantaged and/or BAME backgrounds and has engaged over 7,000 young people from nearly 150 schools and isn't just about sport - the work also aims to tackle some of the key social challenges facing our young people.
Daniel played for both Catford Wanderers and Blackheath cricket and it's impressive to see him giving back to his home borough at such a young age. Fantastic role model for the young cricketers. And for me - what a star!
Lee Evans, by Rob McLean - Relationship Manager
When I first me Lee, I was struck by his positive energy and drive to make a difference, it's something I've noticed in so many of the local and community sports leaders I've been lucky enough to meet in my career.
Lee always wanted to be a footballer but ultimately, wasn't able to achieve his personal football dream, channelled his aspirations into supporting his son to enjoy football at Athenlay FC in Southwark.
Lee's fellow parents soon noticed his qualities and enthusiasm which resulted in him being asked to become an interim team manager around 2007. By 2010, Lee had become chairman and helped to pull the club through a difficult period.
With Lee at the helm, Athenlay FC has grown from seven to 21 teams with five girls teams. Lee has recently stood down as chair and is turning his attention to a new venture, '3 kicks', through which he hopes to use football as an engagement tool to support local young people to create positive change in their lives.
I've got no doubt he'll be successful and am sure that the local young people whose lives he's impacted are grateful he's ended up in community, rather than professional, football.
Usain Bolt, by Holly Smith - Project Support Intern
"I wouldn’t say I have one hero. I think you learn something from everyone and that some just stick more than others. Each and every sport I participated in gave me a different person to aspire to: rowing – Katherine Grainger, cheerleading – Gareth Green, pole vault – Usain Bolt…
I realise some might be thinking how can a world champion sprinter inspire a pole vaulter? Two completely different sports, but ultimately for me it came down to exposure and values.
I trained at Brunel University where Bolt also occasionally trained. He made time to say hi, take photos and watch me fall at new heights. He made us feel equal and never irrelevant.
I saw values in him which my mum had taught me - I was being held to the same standards as a winner (or he the same as me). Either way, I felt that I could do anything as I had developed the ‘if he can I can’ attitude driving me to push and challenge myself in all I do.
He came from little and never gave up, he will now never be forgotten."
Sir Viv Richards, by David Gentles - Relationship Manager
"Having been born and brought up in Jamaica, West Indies cricket was my first love and none more so than the master blaster himself; Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. Viv, as he was known to his friends played with a freedom and exuberance that was unrivalled.
This freedom and confidence inspired this young boy to have a lifelong love of cricket. Viv captained arguably the most feared test team of all time 50 times, during which he only lost eight matches.
Young Viv was a Somerset overseas players in 1974 where he shared a room with another sporting hero of mine, Sir Ian Botham. Often fierce rivals on the international stage, their lifelong friendship demonstrates the power that sport has in bringing people together."
Candice Bryan, by Lorna Leach - Strategic Relationship Manager
"I'm not really a person who goes in for having heroes. However, the people I admire are always those who have changed my thinking by being able to articulate the experiences I will never share in a way that allows empathy and creates confidence.
I'm lucky that my job frequently means working with people who represent their communities and their beliefs in a way that advances society and brings everyone along on that journey. One such person is Candice Bryan.
I first met Candice a little over 4 years ago when she became chair of Active Harrow, the community sport and physical activity network in the borough and I began supporting the group along with council colleagues.
She helped steer Active Harrow over a two-year window that, due to the disappointment of an unsuccessful application, redefined the focus of the group and developed an action plan for delivering place-based work despite being under-resourced.
I really admire the way that she wasn't deterred as volunteer chairs can sometimes be, instead she took the responsibility to represent the communities of Harrow seriously and her ability to articulate their needs left Active Harrow in a stronger place."
Maggie Alphonsi, by Abby West - Urban Sport Officer
"Possibly one of the most well-known names in women's rugby, Maggie Alphonsi has an impressive list of achievements to her name. Representing England 74 times, she scored 28 tries, formed part of the team that won the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup for the first time in 20 years, and helped win a record breaking seven consecutive Six Nations crowns.
The reason I have so much admiration for Maggie is not just her performance on the pitch. She is one of the biggest trailblazers for female rugby off the pitch as well.
In 2015 she became the first ever former female player to commentate on men's international rugby and is now a regular on Sky Sports, BBC Sport and has her own column in the Telegraph.
In 2016, she was elected to the RFU council and, as the only black person out of 61 members, is very vocal not just about the lack of diversity within the game, but importantly about the work the RFU are doing to address this.
She is also an ambassador for a number of charities and companies that share her values and has spoken openly about her somewhat tough upbringing on council estates in Lewisham and Edmonton."
Emerick Kaitell, by Gary Palmer - Specialist Advisor for Children and Young People
"Emerick went to school in the same London borough as me and was in the same school year albeit at a different school. Our paths crossed many times during our schools years, most frequently on the athletics track sprinting against each other at school, county and national competitions.
Emerick enjoyed an outstanding junior athletic career with Thames Valley Harriers, training with future Olympic Champion Linford Christie under the guidance of legendary coach Ron Rodden in Hammersmith & Fulham before injury cut short his track and field ambitions.
Rather then dwelling on disappointment, Emerick embarked on a career that would impact positively on many young peoples' lives, first as a teacher, then as a coach, a lecturer and a mentor.
He met the challenges these careers provided with unyielding enthusiasm, positivity and, not surprisingly, success. His impact on grassroots sport continues, still coaching at Hercules Wimbledon Athletics Club and training coaches from many different sports at the University of Roehampton. He is also a coach educator training the next generation of sports coaches."
Simone Biles, by Megan Bevis - Senior Project Officer
"Professional female gymnasts typically peak in their teens and yet Simone Biles is 23 and shows no sign of stopping.
With 25 medals (so far), Simone is the most decorated gymnast in World Championship history. She has revolutionised gymnastics with her near-perfect technique and sheer power, her ability to complete complex moves is unprecedented.
She currently has four moves named after her, one of which, the double-double on the beam (a double-twisting double backflip) was undervalued in difficulty by the International Gymnastics Federation to discourage others from attempting it and injuring themselves.
She's also chosen to use her platform to call for an independent inquiry into the sexual abuse scandal that surrounds USA Gymnastics. She openly criticises the organisation, culture, and system that runs her sport
She’s created history and pushed the boundaries of gymnastics. I cannot wait to watch, in awe, at her performing again."
Leon Mann, by Chris Scott - Head of Corporate Communications
"Heroes are a tricky concept, particularly when it comes to sport. On any given day, you're likely to hear me talk about Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp or Tony Adams as a sporting hero. And they are - but it's a slightly superficial heroism, that's rooted far more in an emotional connection to a particular football club than anything which thinks about things that are truly valuable.
A real sporting hero - for me - is someone who leaves a lasting impression. Or who finds and confronts an issue, and uses their skill and passion to make a difference. And, using those criteria, there's one man I truly admire for his impact on an industry I've seen change and develop around me: Leon Mann.
As the founder of the Black Collective of Media in Sport and the co-founder of the Football Black List, he's brokered change in some of the most challenging, stubborn environments out there. As a consultant, he's brought real expertise and broad experience to bear on some incredibly impactful sport projects.
He gives his time and expertise generously to support a whole range of causes: Leon's been one of the biggest champions of the London Sport Awards I've had the pleasure to work with. He's also someone who's far more likely to use his platform and his voice to elevate others around him. Which, thinking about it, is a pretty good definition of a hero. And a good reason for him to be acknowledged this Black History Month."
Valerian Spicer, by Bevis Allen - Boxing Development Officer
"The person I've chosen is not, as you might expect, from the world of professional boxing. Instead, it's someone I personally had the pleasure of working with and coaching (albeit for a short period of her career 2013-14), that is Valerian Spicer.
Valerian did not enter a boxing gym until the age of 30, initially just to keep fit. Despite the late start she dedicated the next eight years of her life to the sport, taking part in 64 bouts, beating three Olympians and becoming a world-ranked international boxer in the process.
During her career, Valerian took part in two Commonwealth Games, two World Championships and the Pan-American Games. She became Dominica's first-ever medallist at a Continental Championship and won the ABA National Championship. After hanging up her gloves, Valerian began her training career, helping others to get in shape through boxing fitness."
We'll be updating this page with more sporting heroes throughout Black History Month.