by Nathan Adams © Nathan Adams (November 5th 2014)

A Potted History of an Age-old Problem

The first black manager in the English League was Tony Collins over half a century ago. He managed Rochdale AFC from June 1960 until Sept 1967, leading that club to their only major final, the League Cup in 1962. They lost 4-0 over two legs to Norwich City, but this remains the closest the club has ever come to major silverware.

Collins was a trailblazer on the pitch too. He was also the first black player in Crystal Palaceʼs history. That door is well and truly open now. Approximately 25% of players in the English leagues are Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) – an over-representation of the BME population in British society. But coaching and managerial positions tell a different story – a vastly different one. Of 522 positions in the English leagues only 19 are occupied by MBE talent – a measly 3.4%.


I write as someone who could have been part of history too. Back in the season of 1989/90 I signed as schoolboy for Wimbledon after joining the youth team shortly after their FA cup win over Liverpool on May 14th 1988. The team was known as the Crazy Gang. It was made up of some house-hold names including Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu and Dennis Wise.

Wimbledon was in the old First Division at the time and stayed in the top flight – the Premier League – until the club was sold, losing its spirit in the sale. That spirit was special for me. The Crazy Gang beat Chelsea, Manchester Untied and Everton, which I had the pleasure of watching from the home stand. My love of football has stayed with ever since – nurtured during those days.


Same Old Same Old

Back then I could not name any black managers, even though I ate and slept football and as I stand today 25 years later I ask myself “What has changed?” The answer depressingly is literally nothing. In over 50 years the involvement in coaching and management by BME in English football remains severely under-represented. Why? Thereʼs no shortage of black players past and present, but still painfully few coaches and managers. The sport is still haemorrhaging BME talent alarmingly. 

Only 19 BME coaches in the English leagues in this day and age is disgraceful. The Sports Minister Helen Grant described these findings as ʻappalling and worrying.ʼ A recent study funded by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) concluded that ʻInstitutional Discriminationʼ is present in top-flight English football. The Chairman of the Football League has done nothing to dispel that perception.

Greg Clarke had the opportunity to make a difference at last yearʼs AGM of the Football League, Instead he reneged on a promise to implement a trial of the Rooney Rule for football. Clarke was strongly criticised by the Professional Football Association for failing to keep that promise to ensure a vote take place at the AGM to implement a trial version of the Rooney Rule. But what would it change?


During 2003 the National Football League (NFL) introduced the Rooney Rule to American Football. The rule is named after Dan Rooney owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rooney Rule requires that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed for head coaching and senior operation jobs.

It doesnʼt mean they get the job, but it gives them a chance to demonstrate what they can offer. Since the Rooney Rule was established several NFL teams have hired African-American Head coaches.

The beginning of season 2006 saw an increase in percentage to 22%, whereas prior to the Rooney Rule it was a mere 6%. But football (soccer) has yet to follow suit, On September 2014 Gordon Taylor, the Chief Executive of the PFA (the players trade union), stated that the sport has a ʻhidden resistance,ʼ that is preventing black managers from getting jobs.

Personally I think its plain to see the shortage of BME coaches and managers in top flight football requires an explanation. More than half a century after Tony Collins paved the way, this debate still rages. It should have been consigned to history years ago by measures that brought the wealth of BME talent through. Whether the Rooney Rule will achieve that remains to be seen, but the facts show that experienced BME candidates like the 41 year-old former Birmingham City player Michael Johnson – who boasts the full range of UEFA coaching qualifications – has had just three interviews in five years without it.

Without innovative solutions the potential for change will remain somewhat slight. Unless a new system is introduced where an unbiased recruitment process is introduced BME talent off the pitch will continue to be lost to the beautiful game. It canʼt afford to allow that to happen.

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