Paul Canoville is an ex-professional footballer who has faced extreme hardships throughout his life, and in 2015 began a Foundation dedicated to supporting young people facing adversity.  

“Canners” is regarded by Chelsea fans as a cult hero and by the wider football community as a pioneer. Paul is proud to have been Chelsea Football Club’s first black first team player, but his journey has been fraught with challenges including homelessness, racist abuse, addiction, serious illness and the loss of a child. 

Today, The Paul Canoville Foundation works alongside many organisations globally, supporting thousands of young people through the lens of Paul’s inspirational story, with the vision of creating a society where every young person CAN achieve their full potential.  

Paul Canoville made his debut as Chealsea’s first black first-team player in 1982 and was shocked and terrified to receive vile racist abuse from crowds, both supporters of his own and opposing teams. This continued throughout his time at Chelsea until he left to play for Reading in 1986, where his career was cut short a year later due to injury. 

Paul’s successful 2008 autobiography “Black and Blue” was turned into a documentary by the same name in 2015, and captures this experience and the downward spiral that ensued, including drug addiction, family tragedy, two bouts of cancer and homelessness. Paul was able to overcome these extreme obstacles, and become a positive source of inspiration for future generations of young people facing difficult times themselves. By creating the Paul Canoville Foundation, Paul has raised enough funds to establish programmes and resources for thousands of young people: 

  • eligible for “free school meals” who may lack access to sport or development opportunities that other children have.
  • impacted by crime, gang affiliation, poor school attendance or challenges with behaviour.
  • facing discrimination or harassment due to a Protected Characteristic or because they are part of an under-represented group or marginalised community.
  • needing support with a change in their life path; such as sportspeople released from academies, unsigned musicians, those leaving higher education before completing studies or changing career paths.

As part of the Foundation offer, he personally visits school pupils to deliver motivational talks and workshops based on his lived experiences including; anti-racism, fulfilling ambition, overcoming adversity, social mobility, making it in football, homelessness and so much more. The impact of the Foundation has assisted young people with the next steps in life, by driving up school attendance, having an increased awareness of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, reducing bad behaviour and seeing an increased uptake of other aspirational programmes.



Paul will be the 2023 Presenter Network Conference keynote speaker.  If you would like to find out more about this event take a look at our Presenter Network Conference 2023 page.