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Headstone for Rabbi 

November 20th:


We unveiled Rabbi's headstone in a ceremony in Preston. Sheffield United were represented by Club Historian and Supporter Liason Officer, John Garrett and by legend, Tony Currie. Preston North End were represented by their Financial Director, Kevin Abbott. Various generations of Rab's family were there too: from grand-daugther to great great grand-daughters and great great nieces and nephews.


The one dampener on a great day was the no show of Liverpool FC. It is really sad that they showed no interest in this right from day one. I wrote to LFC's co-owners several times in 2014, and told LFC every time a new press release went out. I invited them along to this but had no response. It really puzzles me. What does it say about their community involvement and their anti-discrimination stance? Somewhat after the event they posted something on their website: link


There has also been no interest shown by the Liverpool media. Proabably due in part to the poor attitude of the club.


This is no reflection on the Liverpool fans. We have had messages of support from them.


Lancashire Evening Post front page article: link

Descendants of Rabbi Howell
Steve next to headstone
FURD logo
Rabbi Howell, Headstone

"I’d like to welcome everyone today, especially family members who have travelled  to be here, Kevin Abbott from Preston End, and John Garrett and Tony Currie, my boyhood hero, from Sheffield United.

Rabbi Howell was born on 26th October 1867 in a gypsy encampment in Dore, now a suburb of Sheffield. His father’s occupation is recorded as ‘besom maker’ –those witches’ brooms.  He was the fifth of eight children born to Thomas Howell and Elizabeth Brown.

Rab started playing local league football for the amateur side Ecclesfield, whilst earning a living as a coal miner. His first recorded match is, I believe, an 11-0 drubbing at the hands of The Wednesday. Ouch. By this time it appears that the Howells had became house-dwellers.

He had a brief spell in another local league team: Rotherham Swifts before signing a professional contract with Sheffield United in their first season, 1889/90. He was one of Sheffield United’s first professionals and the first Romani professional. He continued to play for United and was a mainstay of the team right through to a couple of weeks before they won the English First Division in 1898.

He married Selina Smith, a fellow Romani in 1888 and they had 4 children.

At 5'5½", he was one of the “legendary midget half-backs” alongside the great Ernest Needham, and Tommy Morren. They were regarded as the best half-back line of their day and their goals conceded record was unmatched.

He was a tough, hard-working, little player, and refused to wear shin-pads. He was described variously as “the terrier” and “the evergreen.” There was no rolling on the floor when tackled—he carried on playing in one crucial blood and thunder game against Villa with a huge cut over his eye. A newspaper report at the time said: “I don’t know exactly what Howell is made of, but he is an acrobat and I believe if he were standing on his head he would somehow get his kick in, and the ball would be picked up by one of his side.”

When he was transferred to Liverpool, he made a new home with Ada McGrail and they went on to have 5 children.

At Liverpool, his experience was crucial to Tom Watson’s building of their first championship winning side. At Liverpool he won his second cap for England, in the top fixture at the time— against Scotland. As an aside, it is especially sad that Liverpool FC have not sent a representative to honour a former player. It reflects poorly on their community involvement and their anti-discrimination stance. Rab would have undoubtedly played more for his country  had the FA been less biased towards professionals and working class men.

He moved to Preston North End at the end of Liverpool’s 1901 campaign, and 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 then.

Hope you like the stone Rab."


It was Football Unites Racism Divides' (FURD) pledge of £250 towards the headstone that got us started. Councillor Peter Kelly of Preston City Council started the ball rolling again in the summer of 2015. Conlon Construction stepped in to help, and what with pledges made through this website, a donation from Rab's great grandson and a few bob from me and we were over the line.  Added to that was the brilliant job done by Rawcliffes of Chorley in providing the headstone.

Article on headstone campaign in Sheffield Star 15/5: 

Coverage in the Sheffield Star

Clip of radio interview on Headstone Campaign: 14th May  

You can read more about Rab in my article on the In Bed With Maradona website: 

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