“Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it” -Kanye West, 2004
Name five black footballers who have graced England’s Premiership. Now name five black managers who have managed in the Premiership. One would wager a guess the latter question was much more difficult. Incidentally, this writer really struggled (Paul Ince, Chris Hughton, Jean Tigana, Terry Connor and Ruud Gullit) and this highlights an issue recently brought up by the BBC’s Jason Roberts.
Nearly thirty percent of all footballers in England’s professional divisions are black but there are only two black managers across England’s 92 professional clubs. It makes for a damning statistic and begs the question, why aren’t there more black football managers in England?
Jason Roberts and others cite racism as the motivating reason and they are justified in believing racism still exists in English football. Something that has remained with me is hearing a football fan refer to Jason Roberts as an ‘Uncle Tom’ live on BBC’s football phone in show a number of years ago. The recent cases of John Terry and Luis Suarez also seem to provide backing for claims racism still exists.
Are these isolated, yet terrible, incidences of racism indicative of racism in England’s boardrooms? Birmingham Academy Coach Michael Johnson summed up the opinion of many of his black colleagues when he claimed in 2013 that Football chairmen think black players are not “educated enough” to become managers. FIFA’s anti-Racism Chief, Jeffrey Webb has said England’s black players are becoming demoralised by the situation. Is racism the problem? Or are other issues at play?
In 2011, academics at Staffordshire University, undertook major research into this subject, polling the opinion of football fans, managers and players to try and foster a larger discussion regarding the dearth of black managers in England. The research, carried out by Ellis Cashmore and his colleague Dr Jamie Cleland, involved 1,000 football fans, professional players, referees, coaches and managers revealing their views on the lack of black managers. More than 56% of those polled said there is racism at the top of football’s hierarchy, lending credence to the claims of Robert and Johnson.
Interestingly, other opinions also emerged. One contributor was quick to point out that the number of black managers in English football is representative of the black population in England. The latest census figures in England from 2011 state that roughly about 3% of England’s population classify themselves as black and two percent of the total number of managers across England’s 92 professional clubs black. The argument goes that black footballers are actually over-representative of the black community, while black managers are almost perfectly representative. A nice bit of math but not something that gets us very far in the debate.
Others pointed to the inherent conservatism in English football. How often have we seen the same Managers leave one job and pick up another within the space of a month? Unless it’s a top-four club, like Manchester United, English clubs have a proven track record of cycling through the same five or six names for the managerial hot seat. Names like Ian Holloway, Neil Warnock and Sam Allardyce are just some that come to mind. Even when clubs do take a chance on a relative unknown manager, it is nearly always in the context of bringing back a former star, lest we forget Alan Shearer’s tenure at Newcastle.
Others have pointed to socio-economic and cultural factors. Some argue that because there has been so few black managers, becoming a manager doesn’t enter the consciousness of black players. A role model is needed. Coupled with this some commentators have argued socioeconomic factors play a large role in which kids grow up to take leadership roles and which do not. Take football. If top flight managers are on average 50 years old, it means they were born in the mid 1960s. During the ‘60s (and to a lesser extent today) whites in Britain averaged a level of socioeconomic status far higher than their black counterparts. This status provided privilege but also empowered those from the higher socioeconomic status to become leaders/managers/coaches, perhaps explaining why there are more white managers than other races.
The only definitive answer is that it is a combination of factors that have prevented more black managers from emerging. What can football do to encourage greater diversity?
The NFL’s Rooney Rule has been and will be continually touted as one possible solution. The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview one black or ethnic minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities that become available, as part of a transparent and open recruitment process. Given the fact that a manager’s average tenure in England is anywhere from 6 months to two years, the Rooney Rule could have an instant impact in English football. It could perhaps break the conservatism that is allegedly dominating English boardrooms across the country.
There is however an argument that the Rooney Rule won’t work in England. Currently about 20% of the total numbers of individuals taking coaching courses with the FA are black. That still represents a very small pool for clubs to work with. The PFA and FA have both attempted to encourage more black players to take their badges but the numbers are still low.
It is notable also that some of the more outspoken players on this issue such as Jason Roberts and Garth Crooks have not, despite having taken their coaching badges, made the plunge into coaching. Others like David James have moved abroad to gain managerial experience. This is likely due to the factors outlined above but it hurts the cause that such men aren’t coaching at the moment.
Upon retirement Gary and Phil Neville were given coaching roles by the English FA to work with the Senior Team. Such opportunities have not been extended to black players. Instead players like Ugo Ehiogu are given work with the underage teams. There is a valid argument for not needlessly promoting people solely based on race in English domestic football but the FA could surely give someone like Roberts a chance with the International Squad.
Will things change? Some have argued that a generational change is needed but activists like Roberts are unlikely to want to wait. Calls have becoming increasingly widespread in the past few years for more to be done. Football in general is not known for implementing new policies. It is a traditionalist game at its heart.
Time will tell but it appears little will be done in the immediate future. The Rooney Rule has been touted since 2010 and no progress has been made. Should this issue be put to bed, football can move towards becoming more inclusive for female, Asian and Indian coaches. A first step is needed. Whether it will come or not is a different matter.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.