Clive Charles: A West Ham United trailblazer

Clive Charles in 1972


On what would have been his 67th birthday, we look back at the life of true West Ham pioneer Clive Charles...

Clive Charles was a trailblazer, not only at West Ham United but throughout the wider football world.

Born in Dagenham on 3 October 1951, he was one of the first black players to represent the Hammers and made history alongside

Clyde Best and Ade Coker, when West Ham became the first Football League side to field three black players in the same XI in a fixture against Tottenham Hotspur on 1 April 1972.

What made Clive’s story even more special was that he was able to join his elder brother John in leading the way for his fellow black players at the Hammers, with his sibling having earlier become the first to turn out in the first division for the club.

“Clive was a lovely little player who understood the game and went on to become a great coach at the University of Portland and with the US women’s team,” said Best. “He was a true Hammer and shared his knowledge with many others.”

His football journey started at a young age, and he started playing for the Hammers’ youth teams at the age of 12, signing as an apprentice when he turned 15.

Two years later he signed as a professional, and the left-back waited patiently for his first team debut, progressing with the reserves – and featuring alongside his brother – before making his league bow on 21 March 1972 in a 1-1 draw at Coventry City.

Clive was a true Hammer and shared his knowledge with many others

Clyde Best

His very next appearance would be that historic clash against Tottenham Hotspur, which helped pave the way for the many black players who have followed in his footsteps throughout English football.

Charles may only go on to play 15 times for the club, but his impact was a significant one.

Amazingly, though, he is remembered throughout the wider football world as a coach, rather than a player.

In his later career, he turned out for Cardiff City, before heading across the Atlantic where he successfully represented NASL club Portland Timbers and both Pittsburgh Spirit and Los Angeles Lazers in indoor football.

He would then embark on a long stint coaching the University of Portland’s men’s and women’s sides, having a hand in the beginning of the career of numerous future stars, including United States men’s internationals Kasey Keller and Steve Cherundolo.

After forming part of the US coaching staff at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, Clive would also enjoy spells with the US U20 women’s side and U23 men’s team, leading them to a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He sadly died of prostate cancer on 26 August 2003, but his legacy still lives on today.

*October is Black History Month in the UK, an annual commemoration of the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. Find out more at