Sheffield & South Yorkshire

England team's first Romany footballer gets headstone

Sheffield United team photo Image copyright Steven Kay
Image caption Rabbi Howell (middle row, third from right) played for Sheffield United, Liverpool, Preston, and England

A headstone has been unveiled in honour of the first Romany footballer to play for England.

Rabbi Howell, who was born in a gypsy camp in Dore, Sheffield, played for Rotherham and Sheffield United before making his debut for England in 1895.

He died in Preston in 1937 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

A campaign was launched last May to raise money for a headstone, which was unveiled during a ceremony at Preston Old Cemetery.

Howell - who throughout his career was was known in the newspapers as "The Gypsy" - signed his first professional contract with Sheffield United in 1889 before joining Liverpool in 1898.

He left Merseyside in 1901 to join Preston North End, where he played until a broken leg ended his career in 1903.

Image copyright Steven Kay
Image caption Generations of Rabbi Howell's family attended the unveiling including his granddaughter, a great grandson, a great granddaughter, great great nieces and nephews

At that point he was 36 years old and had been at the top level of English football for 13 years.

Together with Howell's granddaughter and great grandson, Steven Kay - author of a book about the footballer - started the campaign to get a headstone.

A £250 donation from Football Unites Racism Divides was supported by money from Preston City Council and other others.

Mr Kay said modern-day players of a Romany background such as Gheorghe Hagi, Andrea Pirlo, Freddy Eastwood and Eric Cantona "walk in Rab's footsteps".

He added: "No one who played for England should be buried in an unmarked grave.

"Rab had largely been forgotten and I am thrilled to see his pioneering role now recognised."

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