Titus Okere

Titus Okere,

Once captain of Lagos Railways FC,

Made history in 1953,

When he signed for the Railwaymen

Of Swindon Town FC,

Leaving what was still a colony,

Of the British Empire,

To plough a lonely furrow down the wing,

As the first Nigerian to sign up

For a football club in the continent of Europe.

Titus had already made a name for himself

In the dour days of austerity back in 1949

And, of course, in the wake of Windrush,

When he starred on the left wing,

For what was, in effect, the Nigerian team;

But in those colonial post-war days,

The team was named the ‘UK Tourists’;

Titus also scored against Sierra Leone,

In what was, in effect, an international fixture.

After leaving Swindon in 1953,

Titus lived in the county of Kent,

No doubt, wistfully recalling his early life:

His birth in March 1929 in Ngor Okpala,

His education at the Okrika Grammar School,

His teenage athletic and football skills,

His captaincy of Lagos Railways,

The cups and trophies won by him and them,

His captaincy of the Nigerian team against the Gold Coast,

In those far off days of King George the Sixth,

And a bomb-site Britain still with its Empire …

I was just one year old when Titus joined Swindon Town,

Signing as a professional early in the year of 1953,

Before moving elsewhere in Wiltshire,

To Chippenham United,

In the summer of that Coronation year.

And what do we know of Titus Okere in Swindon?

We’re told he, ‘Struggled with the British winter’,

And found those heavy studded football boots

More of a leathered hindrance than a help

The only recollection that appeared

When I appealed for recollections:

‘I watched him play for STFC in 1953,

A fast and tricky left winger …

as I vaguely remember it.

I was only twelve’.

But Titus was the first Black professional

At Swindon Town F.C., a trailblazer

Who should be remembered publicly,

Even if he didn’t make the first team,

Just appearing twice for the reserves,

And in Gloucestershire Northern Senior League,

Before playing elsewhere in Wiltshire football,

Making, again, a unique contribution

To the history of ‘the Beautiful Game’

Both nationally and in the county.

Journalists such as Edgar Kail once of Dulwich Hamlet FC,

(The last amateur footballer to play for England,

Memorialised with a blue plaque)

Thought so much of Titus that it was imagined that

Titus’ skill and speed could open doors

Into almost any European football team,

But barefoot in 1949 was different

To heavy boots in 1953 …

But how did Titus end up at Swindon Town?

Here the legacy of the GWR comes into play …

How right and proper and fitting it feels,

That Titus, a clerk on the Nigerian Railways,

And captain of the railway football team,

Should meet a coach who hailed from Swindon

(Who in a case of seemingly improbable

Nominative determinism,

Bore the so-apt name of Leo Robins) …

The coach sent a letter to Louis Page,

Swindon Town’s manager,

When time and circumstance permitted

(Leo was on railway work in Nigeria as well),

Discussions followed at board room level,

A letter followed from the manager …

And Titus left the sunshine of Nigeria

For the frost and rime of winter

And a keen Wiltshire wind blowing from the east.

The journalist, Dennis Hart, was keen, too,

To cover the tale of Titus’ odyssey,

How ‘I certainly miss the’ sun of Nigeria,

‘But I’ve already made lots of friends here.

The players and the staff … have done everything

to make me feel at home, and so too, my landlady, Mrs Wakeley.’

Alas, it didn’t work out the way we hoped it would,

As we gaze back through the looking glass,

But there’s more to life than football,

And Titus returned to railway work again,

A loyal servant at Parcel Force,

Until retirement in the autumn of his days.

And this year, in the summer of 2023,

Titus left this life but left us memories,

And Swindon Town remembered Titus too,

As Francis Okere (Titus’ grand-daughter) said from Kent,

After the service at the Bluebell Hill crematorium:

‘It was a lovely service.

Swindon Town paid tribute to him and sent him a tie.’

This is the textual tribute from STFC:

‘Although he only made a few first-team appearances for Swindon Town, he was held in the highest regard by supporters and colleagues of the club alike. He had come to the club’s attention when he toured England with the Nigerian international team. An outside left, he was nicknamed “the golden boy” – – because of his ability to create chances out of nothing. The credit for signing him for Swindon must go to Mr Louis Page, the manager. He was obviously keen to sign him as in January, two Board Meetings received reports on whether or not he would arrive by January 20th before he managed to get to this country and sign on in February …’

But a heavy pitch, cumbersome boots,

Loneliness – the directors would not think

Of paying for Mrs Okere to come over

Until Titus became a first team regular –

All conspired against Titus at Swindon;

But surely the time has come for Swindon Town

To acknowledge further the importance of Titus:

Their first Black professional player:

Perhaps with a plaque at the STFC Museum?

Post-Script

‘’I recall a game against Walsall that we lost 5-0, and so it went on. Boys, like everyone else, like to be associated with winners and I was drawn into a crowd that cycled up to Blunsdon each week for the new thrills and wins at Speedway.

Football wasn’t entirely forgotten for there was ‘The Adver’ and ‘Pink’ to keep us informed so we were aware that ‘Town’ had signed the Nigerian Titus Okere. I didn’t see him play for I was into Speedway at that time – did he ever get a first team outing?

We were all aware of his nickname, ‘Nutty Slack’, given to him by the crowd which included a great many railwaymen. In those days, war-time rationing was still in place and if you worked ‘Inside’, one of the perks was coal. Coal of very poor quality made up of small nuggets of dust and bits of slate amongst it, the infamous Nutty Slack. Of course, railwaymen’s humour picked up on this and Titus became “Nutty Slack”. There was no malice in it, that’s just how it was in those days.’

‘Golden Boy’ …

‘Sunny disposition’ …

‘Nutty Slack’ …

‘That’s just how it was in those days’ …

 

 

Lancaster and the Slave Trade

What’s in a Name?
The Naming of Parts
The Grave at Sunderland Point

There’s an embarrassment in walking to the grave,
Out there at causewayed Sunderland Point,
From where ships once sailed the seven seas,
Now a desolate mudflat skyscape,
A couple of miles beyond the last post village –
But once all seascape hustle and bustle,
Shipshape and Lancaster slavery fashion.

There are still two pubs there in Overton,
The Globe and The Ship –
Cottages bear dates coeval with the slave trade.

The signposts curtly say: ‘Sambo’s Grave’,
It’s out there at windswept Sunderland Point;
The steps he climbed at the brewhouse are still there –
He climbed to pine and die in lonely isolation,
Or so the story has it;
The building – now a house – was up for sale,
When I visited in late summer 2021;
It’s history, like a name, silent.

What’s in a Name?
The Naming of Parts
The Grave at Sunderland Point

There’s an embarrassment in walking to the grave,
Out there at causewayed Sunderland Point,
From where ships once sailed the seven seas,
Now a desolate mudflat skyscape,
A couple of miles beyond the last post village -
But once all seascape hustle and bustle,
Shipshape and Lancaster slavery fashion.

There are still two pubs there in Overton,
The Globe and The Ship -
Cottages bear dates coeval with the slave trade.

The signposts curtly say: ‘Sambo’s Grave’,
It’s out there at windswept Sunderland Point;
The steps he climbed at the brewhouse are still there –
He climbed to pine and die in lonely isolation,
Or so the story has it;
The building – now a house – was up for sale,
When I visited in late summer 2021;
It’s history, like a name, silent. read more

Stroud and a Hidden Colonial Landscape Number

Chalford and the East India Company

Updated: Jul 7

Chalford has such a labyrinth of weavers’ walks and footpaths –
And on a mid-winter’s day, with plumes of smoke rising from Chalford Bottom
Mistletoe in the trees, light folded in envelopes of cloud,
It’s hard to imagine that this picturesque Cotswold village
Was once hand in glove with the East India Company,
As at Sevill’s Upper Mill,
Now a select residential development,
With the stream, now private and sequestered,
Between houses and a car park.

This landscape was once a fretwork of
‘Scarlet, Crimson, Blue and a variety of other delightful colours’,
A fretwork of profits and prices and exports and wages
And strikes and patterns of trade slumps and booms,
Linking the Thames and Severn Canal and the River Frome –
With the Ganges Valley, Bengal, Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Canton,
And with Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, the Marquess Wellesley,
And with muskets, cannon, Stroud Scarlet, slavery, opium, cotton, coffee and tea:
‘Gloucestershire seems to have had
almost the sole custom of the East India Company’.

Chalford and the East India Company

Updated: Jul 7

Chalford has such a labyrinth of weavers’ walks and footpaths –
And on a mid-winter’s day, with plumes of smoke rising from Chalford Bottom
Mistletoe in the trees, light folded in envelopes of cloud,
It’s hard to imagine that this picturesque Cotswold village
Was once hand in glove with the East India Company,
As at Sevill’s Upper Mill,
Now a select residential development,
With the stream, now private and sequestered,
Between houses and a car park.

This landscape was once a fretwork of
‘Scarlet, Crimson, Blue and a variety of other delightful colours’,
A fretwork of profits and prices and exports and wages
And strikes and patterns of trade slumps and booms,
Linking the Thames and Severn Canal and the River Frome -
With the Ganges Valley, Bengal, Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Canton,
And with Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, the Marquess Wellesley,
And with muskets, cannon, Stroud Scarlet, slavery, opium, cotton, coffee and tea:
‘Gloucestershire seems to have had
almost the sole custom of the East India Company’.
read more

Stroud and a Hidden Colonial Landscape Number 5

Stroud and strouds and the Atlantic Archipelago

Updated: Jul 5

From Stroud to Strouds:
The Hidden History of a British Fur Trade Textile
Cory Wilmott
Textile History Journal November 2005
These rough notes are derived from this article and this section of the article is derived from Samuel Rudder, 1779.
Stroud scarlet’s ‘inland trade’ also included cloth sold to merchants who sold the cloth to ‘our colonies and other foreign markets’.
These merchants included those in London and Bristol.
Cloth also clad the British army and was also sold to the East India Company.
Questions derived from reading this article:
1. The article focusses upon the fur trade. But if we go beyond the confines of this article and think. Cloth went to ‘our colonies’. London and Bristol were the chief slaving ports involved in the triangular trade in southern England.
2. It would be counter-intuitive to think Stroud cloth wasn’t involved with the slave trade.
3. Turnpike to Bristol? Colin Maggs in The Nailsworth and Stroud Branch: ‘…cloth manufacturers found their trade hampered by the high cost of road transport to ships at Gloucester and Bristol. It is recorded that in 1763 Daniel Ballard ran stage waggons to both these ports’.
4. Stroudwater Navigation to the Severn and thence to Bristol? Thames & Severn Canal and then the Thames to London?
5. We need empirically minded historians with the time to research the unique archive of the Stroudwater Navigation. See the prose-poem below:

Stroud and strouds and the Atlantic Archipelago

Updated: Jul 5

From Stroud to Strouds:
The Hidden History of a British Fur Trade Textile
Cory Wilmott
Textile History Journal November 2005
These rough notes are derived from this article and this section of the article is derived from Samuel Rudder, 1779.
Stroud scarlet’s ‘inland trade’ also included cloth sold to merchants who sold the cloth to ‘our colonies and other foreign markets’.
These merchants included those in London and Bristol.
Cloth also clad the British army and was also sold to the East India Company.
Questions derived from reading this article:
1. The article focusses upon the fur trade. But if we go beyond the confines of this article and think. Cloth went to ‘our colonies’. London and Bristol were the chief slaving ports involved in the triangular trade in southern England.
2. It would be counter-intuitive to think Stroud cloth wasn’t involved with the slave trade.
3. Turnpike to Bristol? Colin Maggs in The Nailsworth and Stroud Branch: ‘…cloth manufacturers found their trade hampered by the high cost of road transport to ships at Gloucester and Bristol. It is recorded that in 1763 Daniel Ballard ran stage waggons to both these ports’.
4. Stroudwater Navigation to the Severn and thence to Bristol? Thames & Severn Canal and then the Thames to London?
5. We need empirically minded historians with the time to research the unique archive of the Stroudwater Navigation. See the prose-poem below: read more

Stroud and a Hidden Colonial Landscape Number Four

Decolonising Gloucestershire’s Landscape

Gloucester Docks:
Revealing a hidden Colonial Landscape and Waterscape

It was pouring February rain,
When I visited Gloucester Docks:
The Severn was swollen and turbid,
But the bell of the Atlas was silent
In the strengthening Severn wind;
The Atlas, a voyager to China and India –
For the East India Company,
The plaque told us on the warehouse wall –
But no mention of slavery, war or opium
(Standard East India Company practice),
Or the Stroudwater-East India Company nexus;

The Maritime Walk, as it is termed,
Takes you on past Phillpott’s Warehouse,
And the unmentioned Thomas Phillpotts:
Owner of some seven hundred enslaved people,
Nearly three hundred of whom were shared ‘investments’
With Samuel Baker of Bakers Quay fame;
Samuel Baker of Lypiatt Park, near Stroud,
Paid £7,990 compensation
For 410 slaves in Jamaica.

The compensation paid to slave owners in 1834,
Is close to £17 billion in today’s values,
Fully forty per cent of the national budget back then,
The interest on which we have only just ceased paying –
This gives a hint to the bounty paid to Baker and Phillpotts,
A bounty that led to the development
of Baker’s Quay, and High Orchard,
The locus of Gloucester’s industrial revolution;

Decolonising Gloucestershire's Landscape

Gloucester Docks:
Revealing a hidden Colonial Landscape and Waterscape

It was pouring February rain,
When I visited Gloucester Docks:
The Severn was swollen and turbid,
But the bell of the Atlas was silent
In the strengthening Severn wind;
The Atlas, a voyager to China and India -
For the East India Company,
The plaque told us on the warehouse wall -
But no mention of slavery, war or opium
(Standard East India Company practice),
Or the Stroudwater-East India Company nexus;

The Maritime Walk, as it is termed,
Takes you on past Phillpott’s Warehouse,
And the unmentioned Thomas Phillpotts:
Owner of some seven hundred enslaved people,
Nearly three hundred of whom were shared ‘investments’
With Samuel Baker of Bakers Quay fame;
Samuel Baker of Lypiatt Park, near Stroud,
Paid £7,990 compensation
For 410 slaves in Jamaica.

The compensation paid to slave owners in 1834,
Is close to £17 billion in today’s values,
Fully forty per cent of the national budget back then,
The interest on which we have only just ceased paying –
This gives a hint to the bounty paid to Baker and Phillpotts,
A bounty that led to the development
of Baker’s Quay, and High Orchard,
The locus of Gloucester’s industrial revolution; read more

Stroud and a Hidden Colonial Landscape Number 1

A comparison of Island Man and Limbo with a formal piece of writing as an assessment, if wanted. There then follows a piece about Rodborough. Obviously, this guide is written for a very mixed audience. Please adapt to suit. You are all very different!

Firstly, download a copy of Island Man by Grace Nicholls and Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite. (There are copies below, if required, after all the questions.)

Read Island Man three times. The first time without making any notes. Just get the gist. After the second reading, try to write a two or three sentence summary of the meaning of the poem. After the third reading, make some annotations on your poem or notes on another page, with responses to the prompts below. Or if you feel confident, then just think these questions through or discuss them.

  • What happens in lines 1-10?
  • What happens in lines 11-19?
  • How do the descriptions vary between London and the Caribbean?
  • How is the language a bit dreamlike?
  • How is the poem irregular in structure? Why do you think this is?
  • What emotions and outlooks on life do you find in the poem?
  • NOW WRITE DOWN TWO OR THREE WORDS OR PHRASES FROM THE POEM. Explain why you have chosen these.
  • What do you read into the title?
  • What is interesting about the first line?
  • Can you find a metaphor?
  • Which senses feature in the poem?
  • What do you read into the last line?
  • Find out about the poet, Grace Nichols, with a quick internet search. GCSE Bitesize might still have this poem up in the English (Literature) area.

A comparison of Island Man and Limbo with a formal piece of writing as an assessment, if wanted. There then follows a piece about Rodborough. Obviously, this guide is written for a very mixed audience. Please adapt to suit. You are all very different!

Firstly, download a copy of Island Man by Grace Nicholls and Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite. (There are copies below, if required, after all the questions.)

Read Island Man three times. The first time without making any notes. Just get the gist. After the second reading, try to write a two or three sentence summary of the meaning of the poem. After the third reading, make some annotations on your poem or notes on another page, with responses to the prompts below. Or if you feel confident, then just think these questions through or discuss them.

  • What happens in lines 1-10?
  • What happens in lines 11-19?
  • How do the descriptions vary between London and the Caribbean?
  • How is the language a bit dreamlike?
  • How is the poem irregular in structure? Why do you think this is?
  • What emotions and outlooks on life do you find in the poem?
  • NOW WRITE DOWN TWO OR THREE WORDS OR PHRASES FROM THE POEM. Explain why you have chosen these.
  • What do you read into the title?
  • What is interesting about the first line?
  • Can you find a metaphor?
  • Which senses feature in the poem?
  • What do you read into the last line?
  • Find out about the poet, Grace Nichols, with a quick internet search. GCSE Bitesize might still have this poem up in the English (Literature) area.

read more

Mocking Birds Don’t Do One Thing Except

We were walking the New York High Line,
The old freight line of lower Manhattan,
On the hottest October day since 1928 –
So Trish took a breather on a bench
Beneath some tangled autumn branches;
A mocking bird immediately began to sing
‘Melodious at the noontide of the day’,
A couple of feet right above her head:
“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”…
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing
except make music for us to enjoy.”

We were walking the New York High Line,
The old freight line of lower Manhattan,
On the hottest October day since 1928 -
So Trish took a breather on a bench
Beneath some tangled autumn branches;
A mocking bird immediately began to sing
'Melodious at the noontide of the day',
A couple of feet right above her head:
"It's a sin to kill a mockingbird"...
"Mockingbirds don't do one thing
except make music for us to enjoy."

read more