The man who helped save Chelsea – and won his own survival battle

Paul Canoville provides a hugely significant link between the old Chelsea and the ultra-successful version which has won trophy after trophy in recent seasons.

And the link is both on the pitch and off it.

As a player, the athletic, pacy left winger played a crucial part in helping the then struggling club avoid relegation to the old Third Division in the disastrous 1982/83 season.

Bankruptcy and possible oblivion were rumoured to be lurking around the corner, but Chelsea just about survived.

Canoville, Chelsea’s first black player, was part of the side that beat Bolton in the famous game which ensured they avoided dropping out of the top two tiers of English football for the only time in their history.

“I thought about quitting but thought ‘What happens if I walk?’ I didn’t want to give in to ignorant fools.”

But his superbly-struck volley also earned a draw in a vital west London derby against Fulham and was just as crucial to their survival.

“I remember that really well,” Canoville, now 51, told West London Sport.

“Scoring that important goal against Fulham played a big part in keeping us up. We drew 1-1 and I volleyed it in. At the time I felt like I was helping to save the club.”

But not everyone saw it like that. And that’s where his off-field work comes in.

Canoville was subjected to some rancid racial abuse during his time at Stamford Bridge – often from Chelsea fans.

He decided the best way to respond was by ignoring the abuse. It was not easy and he readily admits to being at boiling point on numerous occasions.

“I had to see the bigger picture and show them I could play,” Canoville explained.

“I thought about quitting but thought ‘What happens if I walk?’ Chelsea were a big club no matter how they were doing, and I didn’t want to give in to ignorant fools.”

Nowadays his experiences – good and bad – provide the inspiration for his work, telling his story which has seen him battle racism, cancer, homelessness and a hugely complicated personal life. 

He’s still a huge fan of the club he represented for five years from 1981 and is very much back in the fold, working part-time for Chelsea by visiting schools through the Educate Through Football (ETF) programme.

Canoville also runs his own businesses – the Motivation To Change Foundation and the recently launched Motivation4Change.

Eddie Newton
Canoville inspired the likes of Eddie Newton.

He loves his new career but still fondly recalls his playing days.

His favourite memories include a Milk Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday in 1985.

Canoville, on as a half-time substitute, scored two goals in an incredible match that finished 4-4

“The Sheffield Wednesday game is the one that everyone wants to talk about,” he said.

“It was an amazing game. Loads of our fans left at half-time saying they couldn’t watch it because we looked out of it.

“I also remember scoring a hat-trick against Swansea and getting the match ball. I was so proud.”

And there was the first game back in the top flight, away against Arsenal, when Kerry Dixon scored as Chelsea fought back to draw 1-1

“What a great game that was,” Canoville recalled.

“Playing in the top flight was amazing. There were so many good memories.”

But there were a more than few bad ones too.

Canoville still does some coaching and will organise visits for children to take in a game. He finds it incredibly rewarding.

But his skills were honed in the playground and he would have loved to have had his talent properly nurtured.

“We had nothing like that back then. We are talking about 1970. It was just playing football because I loved it from the age of five,” he explained.

“We played on concrete at school – we were hard-knock kids. Nobody trained me. Playing at school and kicking about was how we learned. It was natural talent.”

Canoville paved the way the next generation of black players to come through at Stamford Bridge.

Frank Sinclair and Eddie Newton are just two who have expressed their gratitude.

“They are brilliant boys,” Canoville said.

“When I met them, they showed me such respect for what I had done at the club and that meant a lot.”



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