Unifying Art and Sport: Fundraiser Honours Len Johnson’s Legacy with Community Football Event

In a bid to pay homage to local hero Len Johnson, acclaimed artist Andrew Alan Matthews has unveiled a remarkable artwork aimed at commemorating the legacy of the renowned local figure.

James Benson
3 min readApr 28, 2024
Credit: James Benson

Matthews, a proud Mancunian, was inspired to create the artwork following discussions with Julian Brown, Johnson’s grandson, who was partnered with Lamin Touray, who is actively spearheading a campaign in his honour.

This campaign’s aim is to raise money for a statue to be erected within Manchester to honour Johnson’s indelible mark on the city and his unwavering commitment to equality and fairness.

Within Matthews’ painting of Johnson, he wrote a poem explaining some of the accolades Johnson achieved in his lifetime, spanning between 1902 to 1974.

Credit: James Benson

Matthews describes Johnson as being “a resistance fighter in and out of the ring,” as well as being a “proper Mancunian who brings everyone together,” outlining the importance of representing him in Manchester city centre.

Matthews also likened Johnson to Muhammed Ali in terms of him “fighting for his rights and the way he fought.”

Johnson is celebrated for holding an impressive record of 96–32–7 in the middleweight division between 1920–1933. During this time, he won the British Empire Middleweight title, becoming the first black boxer to hold a title during the ‘colour bar’, which prohibited non-white boxers from competing for British titles.

This ‘colour bar’ began in 1911 and ended in 1947, with Johnson playing a key role with him being a Labour activist campaigning against the unjust legislation.

In addition to this, Johnson began a campaign in Manchester to which he recruited the then Mayor of Manchester along with 200 Mancunians to protest and campaign against racial discrimination because of being refused service from ‘The Old Abbey Taphouse’, this was successful and later resulted in this discriminatory bar being overturned.

Created on My Maps: James Benson

In a petition online where it advocates for a statue in Johnson’s honour, in the description it reads, ‘Manchester has monuments to Presidents, Prime Ministers, slave profiteers, Royalty, and even soft drinks but as of 2020 nothing to acknowledge the contribution of Black Mancunians.’

In response to this, Brown said, “For a lot of people around the world, it’s only now people are getting acknowledged. I think it should be out there for everybody to be able to see.”

He further stated, “It will be fitting for what he should have got in the first place.”

Credit: James Benson

The campaign, being led by Lamin Touray, has set up a fundraiser, aiming to gather support from across the community to raise funds to erect this statue to honor the local hero.

Julian Brown, grandson of Johnson, said, “The Charity Football match is on the 18th of May, it’s at FC United football ground, and it’s against their legends.”

Brown further went on to explain, “People from the world of Sport, Theatre, and TV will be there” and urged the public to “feel free to come down.”

Credit: FCUnited 2015 (File:Broadhurst Park opening.JPG — Wikimedia Commons)

Tickets for the match can be purchased on the Skiddle website and FC United’s official platform.

Signed prints of Matthews’ work of Len Johnson can be found on his website, to which a proportion of the proceeds go towards the campaign.