Viv Anderson would play 30 times for England following his 1978 debut
England manager Fabio Capello has named 12 black players in his provisional World Cup squad for South Africa.
Just over 30 years ago such a figure would have been unheard of.
It was not until 1978 that the national team named a black footballer in its starting 11. He was the Nottingham Forest defender Viv Anderson.
The player, who went with England to the 1982 and 86 World Cup finals, said: "Hopefully I paved the way and helped them get to the level they are now."
At the time Anderson was more worried about making a bad pass than being a history maker. Today he looks back on his debut with pride.
"The Queen sent me a telegram, as did Elton John, so clearly it was a big thing at the time but not for me," he told BBC Radio Nottingham.
No black player had been chosen to play for England until Anderson, then aged 22, made his first senior appearance for the national side against Czechoslovakia in November 1978.
England won 1-0 but Anderson's milestone almost overshadowed the result. The player himself had other things on his mind.
"It was about trying to make sure I did the things that had got me there in the first place," he said. "That was pass it to a team-mate and hopefully run forward and create something. [I was thinking] don't make any mistakes so I'm not in the next squad.
"It was all about football thoughts."
Over the following seasons he would play 30 times for England as well as pick up two European Cup winners medals (1979 and 1980) and win the European Supercup (1979) with Nottingham Forest.
Anderson went on to represent Arsenal, Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Middlesbrough before becoming assistant manager to Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough.
In hindsight Anderson realises how much of an achievement playing for England was.
In the 1970s racism was still common in football. In his recently published autobiography, First Among Unequals, Anderson recalls playing a match for Nottingham Forest at Carlisle United in the mid-70s.
He was told to warm up by manager Brain Clough. As he did so he said the home fans threw bananas and pears at him.
By 1978 there were more black players in the game but the likes of Brendan Batson, Lawrie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis were still subjected to abuse.
For Anderson the breaking down of racial barriers ranks as one of his greatest achievements although he said he never set out to be a role model.
"There weren't many black faces then but you go to most of the 72 league clubs now and there's a black face," Anderson said. "You look at the England team and there's several black faces."
In 2000 he was awarded an MBE for services to football, in 2004 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame and he is currently an ambassador for England's bid to stage the 2018 World Cup finals.
Viv Anderson lines up (back row) between Peter Withe and Trevor Brooking