By Arun Crowe, Omer Olcer and Alex Watson
With an illustrious career of 469 matches for top Rugby Union side Saracens, and many years spent working at some of England’s top schools, Floyd Steadman is a role model for both aspiring rugby players and hard-working pupils alike. Now a governor at Hampton School, Mr Steadman had it far from easy during his career, facing many difficulties and challenges along the way. We had the privilege of asking him a few questions about his career and the prejudice which he experienced during his playing days.
We began by asking Mr Steadman how he first entered into the world of rugby – when did his love for the game first ignite? Who introduced him to it?
His response was a fascinating one, as he highlighted how he had just started attending a comprehensive school after passing the 11+. At the time, comprehensive schools had just been introduced, and were part of a new system, with Mr Steadman’s place of learning being a mixture of two educational institutions: a grammar school and a secondary modern school.
There he was, lined up along with 350 other pupils, including 170 boys, ready for his first games lesson. He may have pondered what sport he was going to participate in (it was impossible to do both football and rugby since all fixtures were on Saturdays). However, there was no need for him to choose, as it turned out that he had no choice in the sport he would take part in – the PE teachers decided. Fortunately for him, and the rugby fanbase in general, he was directed towards rugby. In Mr Steadman’s words, the coach “obviously saw something that he liked in me” and decided that it would be the 15-man sport that he would be playing throughout his time at his new school.
The question has to be considered, though: what if the PE coach did not point Mr Steadman towards rugby? What if he decided instead that football would be his chosen sport? Would he still be the sporting legend that he is today?
To put it bluntly, Mr Steadman’s response to this question was… well, yes! He likes to think that he was “a talented sportsman, and that perhaps if [he] was pointed towards the other group [he] would be a famous footballer, earning millions of pounds!”
We then asked him if he could tell us more about his career as a rugby player; what are the moments he still remembers today and what are the ups and downs of playing rugby professionally?
He began by explaining how different rugby was then to the popular, widely televised sport which we know today, despite the fact that he was playing at the top level of the game. Even if you were playing internationally, you still needed a “day job.” Mr Steadman’s day job didn’t differ too much from his rugby career, as he taught PE at some of the top colleges in the country, which provided him with the unique opportunity to work with aspiring young players and teach them to be the best they could possibly be, using his own experiences to relate to his pupils.
When reflecting on the highlights of his distinguished career, he remembers the number of times he played at Twickenham stadium – the biggest rugby ground in England – and explained how “if you run out onto the grass at Twickenham, even just once, it is wonderful.” He also enjoyed visiting many other countries on tours such as Australia, Canada and Tunisia.
During his career, and unfortunately even sometimes today, the common position of black rugby players was to deploy them on the wing to utilise their supposed pace. A black rugby player playing in the middle of the pitch – in the key decision-making positions such as scrum-half – was unheard of due to the assumption that players of a certain race were not as intellectually able as others. However, Mr Steadman was determined to defy that stereotype.
And he did this brilliantly, as he first captained his school, before playing for his county, Middlesex, and eventually progressing to a top sports college. After rising up the ranks through his youth, despite encountering many setbacks and facing many difficulties due to prejudice towards him, he was approached by three different clubs: Wasps, Harlequins and Saracens. After pondering which club to choose, he finally joined the latter because it was his “easiest route to the top.” He had known from a young age that he wanted to play scrum-half, and when he noticed that Saracens’ scrum half was “by far the weakest out of the three teams,” he instantly knew that they were the obvious choice.
Little did he know that this decision would shape the remainder of his time playing rugby, as he ended up playing a massive 469 times for Saracens throughout his time at the top, captaining them many times. His brilliant performances for them even meant that he challenged for a spot in the England team.
Although he wasn’t ever picked to represent his country on an international level, he was certainly considered many times and may have faced setbacks that other players did not. In his opinion, one of the main reasons he was not chosen “was because,” to put it simply “he was black.”
This is unfortunately one of the countless examples of racism and prejudice Mr Steadman faced in his career. Even as a renowned rugby player, this was a common occurrence. One moment he remembers was in the early 1980s, when he went to “the big rugby clubs” and numerous times he would run out to start the match and would have people booing at him, and spitting at him, and throwing things at him, along with the infamous monkey chant. While these moments would have perhaps slightly tainted his memories of an otherwise fabulous career, Mr Steadman was able to overcome the adversities and obstacles he encountered, going on numerous tours, playing in huge matches and overall enjoying a remarkable and inspirational time at the top.
He was very thankful that he was given the opportunity to play at such a high standard of rugby, not because he didn’t deserve to, but because so many players like him, with so much talent, were denied a chance to play professionally just because of their race.
After reminiscing about the ups and downs of his decorated yet challenging career, we asked him whether he believed that the attitude towards racism in sport had changed since he played for Saracens – for the worse or for the better?
Mr Steadman explained that he believed that the amount of racism in major sports was decreasing, albeit too slowly and only when severe harm caused by racism shocked the world. He commented on George Floyd’s brutal and unjust murder and how that was what it took to wake millions of people up to the horribly true and cruel reality of racism. Despite this, he ended his reply by expressing how relieved he was that sport was becoming less prejudiced.
Being a true role model to all aspiring athletes, no matter their race or gender, Floyd Steadman will go down as one of the most influential sportsmen in this country. He revolutionised the game of rugby so that black players weren’t just stuck out on the wing, and, because of his talent and bravery, millions of young people can follow in his footsteps and won’t be categorised or stereotyped by their race.