On July 11, 2021, England’s national football team faced off against Italy during the Euro Cup 2020 final in their first appearance at a major international tournament final since the 1966 World Cup. The match ended in a draw and went to penalties, with England eventually losing 3–2. And though I hadn’t watched a second of the match live, everyone had a front row seat for what came next as the three Black English players who missed their penalty shots, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, were flooded on social media with racist slurs and threats of violence.
Sports teams, athletes, celebrities, politicians and fans were quick to condemn the remarks. Police began investigating the people behind the profiles, with some people arrested and others banned from football stadiums. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter deleted thousands of accounts. Nottingham Trent University withdrew their offer to a student who had posted racist comments. And there was a global outpouring of support for the young men. Special badges and frames were added to profile pictures saying, “We Stand with Our Three Lions.” There were tons of posts with the #ukagainstracism hashtag. A Manchester community gathered around a mural of Rashford that had been defaced following the match and put up handwritten letters, glittery hearts, and signed jerseys which he says brought him to “the verge of tears.” Saka expressed how grateful he was for all the love he received. Sancho tweeted: “Hate will never win.” But they also said they had “known instantly the kind of hate” they were about to experience because the racism was “nothing new.”
Rashford, Saka and Sancho will share this and other stories about their professional football careers in a documentary set to release in 2024 about the life and legacy of Bermudian footballer and trailblazer Clyde “Bunny” Best. Transforming the Beautiful Game: The Clyde Best Story is described as “a firsthand look at overcoming racial adversity through the lens of an iconic Bermudian soccer player: Clyde Best.”
Left: Best climbs above Derby County goalkeeper Colin Boulton as Derby’s Roy McFarland looks on in a game which took place on January 21, 1972. Right: The legendary footballer takes control of the ball in the FA Cup between West Ham and Hereford United at Upton Park on February 13, 1972.
Best was one of the first Black players in the top division of English football, booting up for West Ham United Football Club from 1968 until 1974. It was a time of heightened racial tension throughout the UK, and the racism he endured has been highlighted in numerous articles, speeches and news features, and his own memoir, but this will be the first feature-length documentary. It will “explore how Best’s journey shaped the future of soccer worldwide” and also discuss the “lingering inequalities in professional sports today.”
On a warm September afternoon, I arrived at a Dockyard restaurant to meet Clyde Best and talk about his life and the documentary project. The host hesitated when I asked to be seated far away from the groups that were there, in a quieter spot, because they only had a small waitstaff team on that day. But Best’s arrival soon meant that no corner of the restaurant would be quiet—not only is Best a local legend, he is quite specifically “a Somerset man,” who grew up right in Dockyard and has lived in the west end his whole life. The staff gathered to welcome him, patrons came forward to meet him, and throughout the interview many popped over to give “Uncle Clyde” a hug. The love the community feels for him and their adoration were on full display, and it all began when, at nine years old, he decided what he’d be when he grew up.
Best recalls, “In the movie hall in the old Freemason’s lodge—that’s how you got the news in those days. They would give a recap of the games. I saw it and made up my mind. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t going to be a professional footballer. If you did, I’d tell you you were crazy.” His family agreed. “There was never a question. My daddy would tell you, Clyde’s gonna be a sportsman.”
Clyde’s father Joseph migrated to Bermuda from Barbados as part of the merchant navy, married Clyde’s mama Dorothy, a Bermudian from Somerset, and then got involved in prison services, eventually becoming the warden at Casemates Prison in Dockyard. “My family lived right over there,” Best said, pointing towards the Westgate prison grounds. “That used to be the housing for people who worked at the prison.” His parents’ bedroom window looked down onto Moresby Plain field. From there, young Clyde could see who was playing football and cricket, and with the presence of the British Navy, there were always officers around looking to have a game. Playing against grown men honed the neighbourhood kids’ talents, taught them how to play tough, and soon they decided to create their own football team.
“We formed our team from Dockyard—Ireland Rangers—just the guys in the neighbourhood plus one or two people from Somerset who couldn’t get into Somerset’s team. Our first year it was all new to us, we were like 12 and 13 years old playing in the under-16 league. I remember going to St George’s to play—they gave us a good tonking! I told ‘em, just wait til next year. And so said, so done. We improved tremendously and had a very good team in our second year, where we had players that could play in any team in Bermuda.” Best credits his coach, Ed “Icewater” Smith, with the team’s turnaround and much of his own personal and career success, adding that he was thankful that Smith, now in his nineties, is still around for him to talk to. “He was a no-nonsense man. All he wanted from us was to do the best we could and treat people decently. And most of us today are like that. We’re all indebted to him because he led us along the way. He was our guide. He knew the talent that he had, so he equipped us, made sure we did the right thing. He made us understand that, hey, you’ve got a job to do. Go to work as hard as you can.”
It was a disagreement with Coach Smith that led to him leaving to go to Somerset Trojans football club. “He played another person in my spot. I left Ireland Rangers and told him, ‘One day you’re going to have to pay to watch me play.’ A few of us went to Somerset and helped to make ‘Silver City’.
During this time, legendary local sports broadcaster Joe Brown was announcing a game and called him ‘Bunny Best’, which is actually Best’s sister’s nickname, but it stuck and became his nickname as well.
Best had been playing sports his whole life at that stage, excelling in both football and cricket. He is still the youngest player to ever play in Cup Match, making his debut for Somerset in 1966 at 15 years old. That same year, he travelled to Barbados with his father to witness the inaugural Independence celebrations where, he casually mentions, they met up with a famous family friend. “My father’s best friend was cricketer Everton Weekes. After going around with him to clubs, he wanted to keep me in Barbados for cricket, so I had a choice to make.” By then, in addition to playing for the successful Somerset Trojans and Robert Crawford School teams, Best was playing for Bermuda’s National Football Team and felt this sport could offer him more opportunities. So he decided to come back home to Bermuda. The following year, he was on the iconic national team that won silver at the Pan Am Games, defeating the US along the way with a score of 7–3. In the semi-final game against Trinidad, Bermuda won 3–1 with Best scoring in the 87th minute. “We’re a small country but we punch with big weight. We are resilient people; we are fighting people. Most of us, if you give us an opportunity, we make the most of it.”
Left: Best pictured in a match against Everton on August 27, 1971. Right: October 9, 1971: Best evades the challenges of Leicester City’s John Sjoberg (left) and Graham Cross.
Bermuda’s national team coach, Graham Adams, spoke to West Ham United’s coach, Ron Greenwood, about his talented centre-forward, Clyde Best, and in 1968, at 17 years old, Best received a plane ticket and an invitation to come try out for the football club. He had travelled to the US and various Central American countries with the national team, but this would be his first trip to England. “When I landed nobody was there to meet me. I made my way across London alone, but got off at the wrong station, two stops away from where I was meant to be.” Thankfully, a friendly older gentleman approached him to ask if he needed assistance. After Best explained he was there for a trial with West Ham, the man introduced him to a family where two of the sons played for the club as well. They were John and Clive Charles, footballers who would go on to make names for themselves in the UK and the US. John was the first Black player to represent England at the under-18 level and any level within the national team. And Clive would go to on to coach the US Men’s National Team. They would become like brothers to Clyde.
“Mrs Charles put me up that night. I was supposed to stay for a few nights, but I stayed for five years.” Best points out that, as a white woman who married a Black man in the 1940s and was raising biracial children, Jess also endured lots of negativity, and so ensured their home was a refuge for them all. “She took care of me, treated me like I was one of her own. Made sure I had what I needed. She played a very important part of my development, my mom away from home.” His trial began, and after two weeks there, Best was confident he’d be selected for the youth team because “none of those kids playing were any better than me.” A couple weeks later, he was asked to stay on and then was called up for the first team the following year, playing his debut match for West Ham United on August 25,1969. He found the back of the net for the first time a week later and would go on to score 46 more goals for the club over the next seven years, taking the field a total of 221 times.
He was beloved in Upton Park and while he generally felt safe at home games, away games were fraught with tension. The documentary will delve deeper into these traumatic experiences. “There’d be monkey chants and booing every time I touched the ball. But I always found the best way to silence everyone was to put the ball in the net.” The title of Best’s autobiography, The Acid Test, comes from a letter he received that threatened to throw acid in his face as he came onto the field. He says his own mental toughness and team support helped him to deal with the racism and violent threats. “I wasn’t only playing for myself, but for every person of colour in England. I knew that if I could put in a good performance, I was doing my job. When I look now and see all the players of colour that are playing in England, hey, that makes me happy.” Although the racism was surely incredibly difficult to deal with, Best prefers to focus on how proud he was to be a man from this small island who went on to play alongside and against the greatest footballers of his time, including the great Pelé. “Pelé was the best player in the world as far as I’m concerned. He was one of my idols… to play against him, it was an unbelievable feeling. I will carry it for the rest of my life.”
Left: Best takes on Luton Town’s Chris Nicholl on January 14, 1972. Right: November 27, 1977: Best duels with Heini Otto of FC Amsterdam while playing in the Dutch Eredivisie for Feyenoord.
During his time with West Ham, Best was kept busy with football, and plus, he had many visits from Bermudians who were studying in the UK which meant he was never lonely. He quickly lists off the names of several people who were part of this tight-knit community, like chef Fred Ming and former PTB director Herman Basden. “We would get together Sundays, go to the Chinese restaurant and get curry chicken and rice. Even Christmastime, we all got together. Having all these people there made my life easier.” He was soon joined by his girlfriend Alfreida Swan. They had originally met at West End Primary, and when one of their mutual friends was visiting the UK, he made sure to try and get her a message. His face lights up at the memory. “I told him when you go back home tell Freida I’m coming to see her. When I came home one summer, I saw her walking down the street and yelled out, ‘Hey you!’ She turned around and said, ‘Who are you calling hey you?!’ We hit it off from there and soon decided she’d come over to England with me, to see if she liked it. She did, and so we called our mothers and said, ‘Hey we are getting married, so you better come on over.’ They came over, my brother was there too, and we had a nice little reception. I was 21 years old. And she’s been my soulmate ever since.” Best smiles—hearing her laughing. She’s a few tables away, having lunch with her sister. “Next year will be 50 years, so we must have done something right.”
To his glee, the couple had a child, Kimberley, a few years after they were married. “I always wanted a little daughter.” In 1976, Clyde left West Ham, and joined the North American Soccer League. The family moved around as Clyde would play for Tampa Bay Rowdies, Portland Timbers, Toronto Blizzard and Los Angeles Lazers. He retired in 1984.“I was almost 35, had played professionally for almost two decades. It was time to call it quits. It wasn’t a hard transition for me because I knew when I wanted to retire. I think that’s where a lot of players go wrong. They don’t set goals and just think it’s gonna continue, continue continue.”
Thankfully, his body was still fit, never having experienced any serious injuries. He smirks, “Being the size I am, that helped, because you aren’t gonna try and run into me! I didn’t feel tired, I could have still played. But I was ready and said ‘Okay, let’s go on and do something else.’” The family settled in California. With a couple of his friends, also former professional footballers, they bought a cleaning business. “I learnt from England, where there’s muck there is money. So that’s how we made a living.”
Best moved back to Bermuda 25 years ago to coach the national team. His goal has always been to have more Bermudians playing internationally and speaks with great pride about those who’ve made it to the English Premier League including Shawn Goater, Kyle Lightbourne, Nahki Wells and Nathan Trott, who is playing for his team West Ham. Reflecting on his incredible life and legacy, he repeatedly says how he’d “do it all over again.” “It had to be the Lord’s blessing and choosing, and I’m glad he picked me. From a little place like Bermuda, going all that way, playing with and against the best people of my time—it was like something in the movies.”
The producer and director of Transforming the Beautiful Game agrees. Dan Egan first heard of Best from his nephew Gerry Best, Egan’s football teammate at Bridgton Academy, an all-boys boarding school in Maine. “Gerry and I played together in 1983 and he told me all about his Uncle Clyde, and it was understandable…because Gerry was clearly the best soccer player I’d ever seen. Gerry said to me when we first met, ‘Your job is to pass me the ball, and my job is to score,’ and that’s what we did, all season long.”
Football wasn’t Egan’s only sporting passion—he was a skier and a sailor too, and ultimately his professional ski career took him on wild and unbelievable adventures all over the world. He and his brother John Egan are considered pioneers of “extreme skiing,” and as their US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame induction video says, “Decades before GoPro, YouTube, and cell phone video, and a dozen years before the first Winter X Games, these crazy brothers from New England were jumping cliffs.”
In 1978 John Egan met Warren A. Miller, a pioneering snow-sports filmmaker who revolutionised the art of sports films, creating hundreds in his lifetime. After that fateful meeting, John and Dan were in a number of Miller’s films, with cameras capturing them skiing in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous locations. “From Warren Miller I learned the art of storytelling. He loved a good story. When I would call Warren about an idea, like let’s go ski with the Kurds on the border of Turkey, he’d say, ‘Yep.’ We ventured into remote and war-torn areas with the idea of finding out what the similarities are amongst mountain cultures. What we found is that people want peace, they want to get along.”
The Egans made first descents on the Berlin Wall, skied beside the Persian Gulf War, and in 1993, they snuck into Lebanon to host the Middle East Peace Ski in Beirut. “I was welcomed into homes. And I’ve always found stories in places where I feel like I’m coming home, that’s shaped my life.”
After Egan’s athletic career ended, he turned his passion for sport and talent for storytelling into the development of his own media company, working with numerous sports channels, including ESPN and Fox News, and creating content and coverage for international sporting events. This brought him to Bermuda several times for sailing races, where he would always be sure to meet up with his former teammate Gerry and the whole Best clan. “Sometimes when I landed on-island I wouldn’t even have his phone number,” he says laughing, “but I’d just ask my taxi driver, ‘Do you know Gerry Best?’ and sure enough I’d get the information.”
In 2016, Clyde Best’s autobiography, The Acid Test, was published by DeCoubertin Books, the book jacket saying that it “tells of the extraordinary ups and downs of one of English football’s groundbreaking figures and is the last word from a player that defied many of the game’s boundaries.” During that time, Dan was back and forth to the island quite a bit for the America’s Cup and Marion-Bermuda sailing races. In conversations with Gerry and Clyde, the idea came up to adapt the book into a film. “After America’s Cup, I worked on a film called Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story. It won at Slamdance Film Festival, and then we did a streaming deal with Amazon. And I’ve done deals with the film in Australia, New Zealand… one of the producers on the film was asking about other ideas and I told them about Clyde.”
In 2020, they started creating a framework on how to pitch the movie and building the team. Egan said he lives by the motto that “you do the heavy lifting with the ones you trust.” So he reached out to Academy Award nominated documentary film producer and director Julie Anderson, whom he met during their time skiing together. “There weren’t many African-American skiers, and her sister was the only Black ski patroller I knew. I’ve known her since she was fourteen.” Anderson’s bio on Brown Girls Doc Mafia lists her as the director of documentary development for HBO Documentary Films, a senior producer for ESPN, and a senior producer on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. She recently produced ESPNs series 30 for 30, about former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, and Louis Armstrong Black and Blues, a documentary about the jazz musician, for Apple TV.
It was also important to Egan that there were local creatives involved with the project, and he recruited several including filmmaker Milton Raposo, whom he met during America’s Cup, and artist Gherdai Hassell. “Gherdai, she sees the culture (and) her lineage. I’m blown away by her vision, and we are working with her to create an NFT for the film.” In getting local support, Bermudian Bridgton alumni once again came into play. Speaker of the House, MP Dennis Lister was in the class of 1976. Former Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports Ernest Peets was Class of ‘88. “I work on a lot of projects. To watch something come out of the gates so fast it’s been unbelievable. Everyone involved is amazed. The serendipitous nature of the Bridgton connections. The interest and energy from the partners on the island, the teams he played for, the fan base, and the current players. When I contacted West Ham there was no doubt about the admiration the club has for Clyde. We are in the process now of tracking down all his teammates, and every teammate calls us right back. They all say amazing things about Clyde. I go with the flow on things, and this feels right. Not 100 percent easy, we’re fighting for it, but it’s going.”
The film project was publicly announced in March 2022 at a press conference held at the Clyde Best Centre of Excellence, the Devonshire training and match ground that was built in 2013. At the event, Premier David Burt, government ministers and sports club presidents paid tribute to Best and celebrated that a movie about Bermuda’s famous son was finally being made. Best choked up with emotion as he thanked those in attendance for the support, and from there, Dan felt a shift. “I think then Clyde realised it’s actually real. This film is actually being made.”
So far, interviews have taken place locally with athlete, educator and politican Randy Horton; Best’s coach, Ed “Icewater” Smith; and artist Barbara Dillas, who spearheaded the development of the Clyde Best mural at Somerset Cricket Club. West Ham historian Tim Crane came to Bermuda to be interviewed. Best’s teammate Ade Coker and footballer Patrick Horne, author of Black Pioneers of the North American Soccer League, have already been interviewed. But there’s much more to do, including raising more funds and getting access to archival footage and media clippings. With that, Egan was assisted by local archivist Conrad Lister, who lent him two giant scrapbooks with over 250 pieces of Clyde Best memorabilia.
Egan says, “At this time in my life, this is the story I want to tell. It’s a challenging topic for me. I know that my childhood paradigm doesn’t match Clyde’s so I’m learning and it’s stretching me. I like that. I think [this film] is an opportunity to tell a story that can help shape tomorrow. That’s what draws me to it. To understand that something today can impact tomorrow, and will it turn out? I don’t know… But that’s the goal. And that’s really been what’s driving me.”
Best is clear about what he hopes the documentary will achieve. “One thing about making a movie, they can never take it away from you. It will always be there to show what I went through in my life to achieve what I did on the football field. It will also show that racism is still around, and we have to find a way to prevent [these abuses] from happening to future players.” And of course, for him, it always comes back to one of his greatest loves, Bermuda.
“The film will give us a way to highlight our beautiful country. I tell people all the time, we are so privileged to be born in this little country. It’s a jewel. We have genuinely nice people here. We are always smiling. We carry that wherever we go. I’m so proud of my country. I could have lived anywhere in the world, but I chose to come back home.”