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Headstone to be unveiled for pioneering footballer

18 November 2015

The campaign to get a headstone for Rabbi Howell, the first Romani professional footballer and the first Romani international has succeeded and will be unveiled later this week.


The new headstone will be in place at a ceremony in Preston Old Cemetery from 2pm on Friday 20th November.


Rab was a mainstay of Sheffield United during the development of what was to be the Club's best ever run and was a vital part of their English First Division winning side in 1898.


He then transferred to Liverpool where his experience was undoubtedly crucial to Tom Watson's building of their first championship winning side. Moving to Preston North End at the end of that winning 1901 campaign, he played for two and a bit seasons before badly breaking his leg during a match.


He was by this time 36 years old, but he had been at the top level of English football for 13 years, a remarkable achievement for a player back then.


Rab's pioneering role was recently highlighted by Steven Kay, the author of a novel about Rab called The Evergreen in red and white following Rab through his final turbulent year in Sheffield.


It was whilst Steve was researching the book that he got in touch with Rab's granddaughter and his great grandson, Nicholas Pomfret, in Preston. Together they discovered where Rab was buried and that he didn't have a headstone.


"That was something we needed to put right," said Steve. "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.


"He was a great little player and should be remembered. Ricardo Andrade Quaresma, Christo Stoičkov, Gheorghe Hagi, Andrea Pirlo, Dani Güiza, Freddy Eastwood and Eric Cantona walk in Rab's footsteps."


"Raising his profile may help underline that Romani people have a long history in Britain and have been contributing to our culture since the Middle Ages.


Anti-Romani prejudice remains strong throughout Europe - around English grounds it still seems to be a prejudice that carries little taboo. Instead we should be proud of our diverse heritage."


"The campaign was kick-started in May 2014 by a pledge of £250 from Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD). There have been a few small donations from individuals but it was the intervention of Councillor Peter Kelly of Preston City Council taking up the cause and getting a discussion started in Preston, that got us over the line," said Steve.


He added: "I am grateful to everyone who has shown interest. I would also like to thank Rawcliffes of Chorley who have made the headstone, it is fitting, as they have a history as old as football itself - they have been superb. Also, Preston City Council, and Conlon Construction for their contributions."


Sheffield United, Preston North End and others will be represented at the ceremony alongside a number of Rab's descendants.


Rab was born in a gypsy encampment in Dore, now part of Sheffield, in 1867 and died in Preston in 1937. He started out as a miner, and played for Ecclesfield and Rotherham Swifts before signing as a professional for Sheffield United in 1890.


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