Black History Month: Footballers' idols... Paul Ince, Wilfried Zaha, Japhet Tanganga and more

Paul Ince, Wilfried Zaha, Japhet Tanganga, Andy Cole, John Barnes and Michail Antonio discuss their black idols

Black History Month Footballing idols

As part of Black History Month, six current and former Premier League footballers open up about their black idols.

From trailblazers Cyrille Regis, Viv Anderson and John Barnes himself, to the coaches behind the scenes and family members, we hear how these characters fought adversity to help shape some of the best talent the English game has seen, and the future stars...

Read more Black History Month content on Sky Sports, including exclusive interviews and features, here

As part of Black History Month, Japhet Tanganga, Wilfried Zaha and Michail Antonio give a fascinating insight into life as a young black footballer in London, with the help of footballing pioneers from the area

Paul Ince

Speaking to Sky Sports' Pat Davison, Paul Ince's footballing idols included John Barnes, Cyrille Regis, Viv Anderson and Ian Wright, all of whom he believes were leaders.

In June 1993, Ince was the first black player appointed to captain England's men's team, but he believes Barnes should have been made captain before his time.

"John Barnes, a great, great footballer, and Cyrille Regis... these were the men of men. Cyrille was a colossus and such a gentle giant. Viv Anderson was a leader, he wasn't captain but he was a leader. John Barnes was a leader. These black people are leaders, and people look up to them.

"Ian Wright, I used to love him. I loved his goals, and he had the best celebrations, always a different one! We were great friends, and he was a fantastic striker.

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"Bobby Barnes was the first one, as a black player, who took me under his wing. He was a winger, and he looked after me at West Ham.

"And then John Barnes. He was just unbelievable. Everything you wanted in a player, he had, he could beat a player, right footed, left footed, strong. He was a wonderful, wonderful player.

John Barnes
Image: Ince on John Barnes: "Why wasn't he captain of England?"

"Sometimes he gets criticism from people saying he didn't do it for England. He played 70 times for England, so he couldn't have been that bad.

"He's definitely one of the greats. You think: 'Why wasn't John Barnes captain of England?' He was a great player who played 70 odd times. He speaks well, he's articulate, he knows the game inside and out. Maybe there were too many other captains around that time, but then in my time there were Alan Shearer, Tony Adams."

Japhet Tanganga

Tottenham have secured the services of Japhet Tanganga until 2025

Tottenham defender Japhet Tanganga cites the late Ugo Ehiogu as one of his key footballing idols, having been coached by the former England, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough defender at Spurs.

Ehiogu died suddenly in 2017 at the age of 44, but Tanganga said he left a lasting influence on all youth players at Spurs at that time.

"He was so important. What he achieved in his career, playing for Boro, Aston Villa, England, and someone who was local, it was amazing to have a figure like that at the club.

"I think he helped not only me, but if you ask any of the boys around the club, he helped a lot of people in many ways that you could not even imagine, just his presence of being there.

Image: Tanganga on Ugo Ehiogu: "It was amazing to have a figure like that at the club."

"He was almost like a father figure for us players, someone you could always go and speak to. Even if it's something that is going on outside of the club, you could speak to Ugo. If it was about football, you could speak to Ugo.

"Because he was a local boy, it felt like he understood us. So it was great to have someone like that in the club, and I'm 100 per cent sure he's been missed by a lot of people.

I think he helped not only me, but if you ask any of the boys around the club, he helped a lot of people in many ways that you could not even imagine, just his presence of being there.
Japhet Tanganga on Ugo Ehiogu

"To do what he's done, to stand out, go against the odds, is amazing, and it does inspire young boys and people that look up to him, because it can be done. If he's done it, there's no reason you can't do it. When we had him at the club, it was amazing, he was just the best.

"They [Viv Anderson, Cyrille Regis, Ugo] tackled the stuff before we had to, and made a clearer path for us to get through. I think a lot of the boys are thankful for what they've done and achieved.

"Right now I'm here because of a lot of role models that have helped me, so I've got to be the same to other people, to show it can be done."

Andy Cole

Andy Cole celebrates his goal for Manchester United at Liverpool in April 1997

Speaking to Sky Sports' Pat Davison, former Man Utd, Newcastle and England striker Andy Cole notes how inspirational Regis was for him as a footballer, and insists the generation of black players before him paved the way. Cole is also adamant that he wouldn't have been able to accept the abuse Regis and others suffered through in the 1970s and 80s.

"My hero was Cyrille. I just loved the way he conducted himself. When I first met him - I'm not the type of guy who will trip over himself when meeting people - but I was falling over myself. There was something about him, his character, everything about him.

"He was an elegant man. He's Jason Roberts' uncle, and the funny thing is Jason was looking at me as his favourite player, and I was looking at his uncle as a pioneer for me growing up.

Image: Cole on Cyrille Regis: "I'm not the type of guy who will trip over himself when meeting people - but I was falling over myself when I met him."

"I look at a lot of that generation and say to myself: 'What they went through, I know, hand on heart, I couldn't have done it.' To play football at the highest level, if it wasn't for those guys, I wouldn't be sitting here having a conversation now. I will always take my hat off to the generation who went before me.

Watching and hearing the stories of the generation before and what they went through, to be brutally honest I know I couldn't have done it. I know what I'm like, I couldn't accept things like that.
Andy Cole

"For me personally, to watch the generation before me go through it, it was disheartening, but I got to the stage when it wasn't as bad. Going out and playing football, I didn't feel uncomfortable, but watching and hearing the stories of the generation before and what they went through, to be brutally honest I know I couldn't have done it. I know what I'm like, I couldn't accept things like that."

Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha celebrates his second goal of the game

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha reveals how his former coach at Selhurst Park Colin Omogbehin, now joint-Under 23s coach at Fulham, helped prepare him for the psychological strain that comes with fame and being a professional footballer.

Though in a football sense Zaha idolised Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry, the 27-year-old credits Omogbehin with giving him the tools to be himself on the pitch.

He told Sky Sports' Laura Woods: "I loved the way they Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry played; Ronaldinho was such an entertainer with the skills, and Henry had this arrogance about him where he knew he was good. It 100 per cent influenced how I wanted to play football, they played so free, and I wanted that freedom as well.

"But my coach Colin was definitely a mentor to me throughout the years, because I feel like he really taught me not to care, and to express myself.

"He said when I get older I'm going to go through, and see certain things, that I'll find difficult to make sense of, and there will be certain boundaries I just need to push through.

"When he was here he was one of the only black coaches here; he said I was going to go through adversities and that I just need to push through it. Him telling us that through the years… the world is the way it is but that's not going to stop me from being who I am. I'm Wilfried Zaha and that's what I represent.

"He always used to fight to get his way. And it just showed me that you don't have to cave in if something doesn't go your way. It was massive that he was there. He could relate to a lot of things that I was going through at the time, and he would just tell me to not let if faze me.

"He always taught me to fight for what I believe in. I'm a passionate person, for sure, everyone can see on the pitch, in the way I put myself about. It's definitely stayed with me."

John Barnes

John Barnes was speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme

Liverpool legend John Barnes grew up in Jamaica, and cites his Trinidadian-born father, Ken Barnes, as being pivotal in his building of character.

Ken Barnes, a member of the West India Regiment, Jamaica Defence Force, was promoted to a colonel and remained in the army until the late 1980s.

Here, John Barnes tells Sky Sports' Pat Davison how his father passed down the characteristics he took into his footballing career.

"My father, when he came to Sandhurst as a young army officer, he boxed heavily, he was a boxing champion at Sandhurst, he played rugby for Sandhurst.

"He felt, and this probably heavily impacted me, he felt that as a black man coming from the Caribbean, regardless of how intelligent he was, and he was a very bright man, he knew what the perception would be of him, so he volunteered for everything.

"He hated the cold, hated snow, but he'd just go out and do it, because he knew what the perception of him would be.

"So growing up my father instilled those disciplines, and that will to succeed at all costs, without feeling sorry for yourself, which is a real British attitude to have.

"Of course it was the British army at the time, when it was a colony, so he loved Winston Churchill and everything British, even growing up in Jamaica on Christmas Day when the Queen did her speech, he would stand up to attention and salute. That's who he was."

Michail Antonio

Michail Antonio of West Ham United is challenged by Isaac Hayden and Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle

West Ham forward Antonio made his way up through the divisions from non-league Tooting and Mitcham, and sees parallels between his rise and that of Ian Wright, or Sir Ian Wright in his eyes.

Antonio also cites the likes of Ince, Barnes and Regis as legends of the game, and like Cole, is unsure whether he could have coped with the abuse they suffered within the game.

He told Sky Sports' Laura Woods: "First off was Ian Wright. In my eyes he should get a knighthood! An absolute legend, how he went from non-league to the Premier League. Everything he did was just quality.

"When I was younger I loved skills so I would look up to R9 [Brazilian Ronaldo], Ronaldinho, and those sorts of players. They were unbelievable.

10 JAN 1996:  Ian Wright of Arsenal listens to the cheers of the supporters after he scored in the Coca Cola Cup quarter final
Image: Antonio on Ian Wright: "In my eyes he should get a knighthood!"

"Once you've seen that someone has done it, once you've seen what someone can achieve from your own area, you think: 'Why can't I?'

"I have the utmost respect for players like Paul Ince, John Barnes, Cyrille Regis.

"They're actual legends. Not just legends because they're black, but legends in football. The stuff they had to deal with back then, I don't actually think I could possibly deal with it myself. Because having to be out there, having to perform, knowing that every time you step out on that field you're going to get abuse.

"Not because of your performance, but just because of your skin colour. Having to go out and then perform, is just quality."

Black History Month

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