"Chiunque può essere Luther Blissett, semplicemente adottando il nome Luther Blissett."
Luther Loide Blissett was born in Jamaica in 1958 and moved to the UK when he was five, growing up in Harlesden. He made his debut for Watford in the 1975/76 season.
As well as being a generally amazing man and a hero to anyone with a connection to Watford, Luther achieved a number of notable achievements for a black sportsperson.
He was the first black player to score for England, grabbing a hat-trick on his first start in December 1982. During his peak he was the leading scorer in the top division as Watford finished second in the league, also winning the European Golden Boot. This led to a million-pound move to AC Milan, making him the first black British player to play in Italy.
By the time he retired he was Watford's all-time highest appearance-maker and goal-scorer.
Luther was by no means the first black player to play for (or have a successful career in) England, but he played at a time when racial abuse was widespread. He has touched in various interviews on the environment he regularly played in, confronted by monkey chants, Nazi salutes, and bananas being thrown.
Sometimes the racism was more insidious. Luther’s tabloid nickname in the UK was 'Black Flash', and in Italy he was nicknamed Il Bombadiere Nero. A widely reported urban myth even took hold that AC Milan meant to sign John Barnes, but signed Luther by mistake. The only basis for this seems to be that both were black.
Luther has long campaigned against racism in football, and recently he has been keen to highlight that, while strides have been made on the playing side, there remains a lack of diversity off the pitch.
“I was a guest at the FA a number of years ago... I said to them: ‘What do you see in this room? Apart from myself, there is not another black face anywhere in this room apart from those being put to work, serving'.”
Luther benefited from a supportive culture at Watford, embodied mainly by his manager Graham Taylor. He had seen at first hand the effect that anti-racist authority can have when it comes straight from the top. This made the lack of such authority at the FA and elsewhere all the more frustrating.
Most recently, Luther was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Watford earlier this year in recognition of his charitable endeavours and his work supporting the local community during the pandemic.
And the quote at the start?
'Luther Blissett' has been used for some time as the name for a collection of Italian activists and artists. It is not entirely clear why, but one plausible reason often given is that, as one of the first black football players to play in Italy, his name was adopted to indicate a stance against far-right extremism.
The quote itself is from Luther Blissett's Italian book Totò, Peppino e la guerra psichica ('Toto, Peppino and the Psychic War'), and literally translated it means “Anyone can be Luther Blissett, simply by adopting the name Luther Blissett."
For me, nothing could be further from the truth.