Canoville has been welcomed as a guest at Stamford Bridge in recent years although the club acknowledged he faced “considerable prejudice” in his time as a player
Former Chelsea winger Paul Canoville is critically ill in hospital after emergency surgery.
The 58-year-old was the club’s first black player when he signed in 1981 and scored 15 goals in 103 games before retiring with a knee injury aged 25.
Canoville runs his own foundation and has been a prominent anti-racism campaigner.
The Blues have wished him a rapid recovery, saying he “holds a major place in Chelsea history”.
A statement from the Paul Canoville Foundation asked people to keep him in their thoughts.
“We are sad to advise that our founder Paul Canoville is critically ill in hospital after complications set in after emergency surgery,” it said.
Canoville, whose playing career also included a stint at Reading, has recovered from cancer three times.
“Paul has a major place in Chelsea history. He made his debut in 1982 and was the first black player in our men’s first team,” said a Chelsea statement.
“He faced considerable prejudice but stayed strong and went on to make 100 appearances, including during the glorious promotion of 1983-84 and a memorable season in the top flight that followed.”
Canoville with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick in Chelsea’s 6-1 win over Swansea in 1983