Headstone for pioneering footballer unveiled in Preston Old Cemetery

Posted on - 23rd November, 2015 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Campaigns, History, Nostalgia, Preston News, Ribbleton, What's On in Preston
Rab Howell, Romani International football player 1867 - 1937

Rabbi Howell, Romani International football player 1867 – 1937

The campaign to obtain a headstone for Rabbi Howell, the first Romani professional footballer and the first Romani international has succeeded. The new headstone was unveiled at a ceremony in Preston Old Cemetery on 20 November 2015.


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. Subsequently 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: he had been at the top level of English football for 13 years, a remarkable achievement for a player back in those times.

f5f9a1_edafa8baf39142f8852b114a1525520eRab’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.”

Steve continued: “Ricardo Andrade Quaresma, Christo Stoickov, Gheorghe Hagi, Andrea Pirlo, Dani Guiza, Freddy Eastwood and Eric Cantona, all 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 a little taboo. Instead, we should be proud of our diverse heritage.”

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.

Were you aware of the one time existence of Rab Howell? Will you go to view the headstone? Let us know in the comments below.

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