A Long Time Coming

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

A Change is Gonna Come


It;s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come”, sang the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke. Just 42 years ago Englandʼs womenʼs football team played their first international against Scotland at Greenock since the FAʼs 50 year-long ban on womenʼs football was overturned. Prior to that outrageous ban womenʼs football had been popular. Before the ʻWar to End All Warsʼ it had even threatened to eclipse menʼs football.

The ban had a seriously detrimental effect. Other nations had not stood still and there was now a lot of catching up to do as the lack of exposure, investment and development of infrastructure all took a heavy toll on the sport. The first international that England played was in Scotland, but that squad had trained at Wembley Stadium ahead of that match. That team captained by Sheila Parker, who was later inducted into the Hall of fame, never got to play a match on the famous turf.

Against the Odds

This afternoon – almost 50 years after Cooke was murdered – a seismic change will come to Wembley Stadium. History will be made and itʼs long overdue, as Englandʼs women will play at Wembley Stadium against European champions Germany in front of around 50,000 football fans. Five years ago England met Germany in the final of the European Championship, losing 6-2. Both teams have a very impressive record in qualifiers for next yearʼs World Cup.

Just five years ago the best English talent had to go abroad to develop their skills to the maximum. There was no professional league here. Lianne Sanderson is a classic example. She had the dedication and talent to become a professional footballer, but like Kelly Smith before her, she had to go to the USA where the sport was taken seriously.

She had played for both Arsenal and Chelsea before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. She also played in Spain before another stint in the USA. After that she returned to Arsenal, the club she started her life in football at, a better player, having benefited from a commitment to womenʼs football in the USA that was absent here at the time.

Now the Football Association has demonstrated that it is committed to womenʼs football. In 2010 the FA delivered a long-awaited promise – the Womenʼs Super League. Liverpool recently won the title after a nail-biting conclusion to the season. Sanderson has returned, helping to build that league and pass on what she has learned.

Making History

The challenges are immense. Television wasnʼt interested in womenʼs football at first, but that has changed. The first time they will play at the home of football, the BBC will cover the match live. Another piece of history will be made as Birmingham Cityʼs Karen Carney will receive her golden cap.


Carney, like Sanderson, has come full circle – a journey that took her to Arsenal and then Chicago before returning to Birmingham. She won her first cap in 2005 – the youngest player given a debut by former manager Hope Powell. The winger has scored 14 times for England. She also played five matches for Great Britain during Londonʼs Olympic Games in 2012 including at Wembley against Brasil.

She will become only the seventh English female player to reach the landmark. She will join Gillian Coulthard, Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney, Rachel Unitt, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey as Englandʼs female centurions. She will also be the youngest, aged just 27. Carney hopes that this afternoonʼs match will be the first of many at Wembley.

Coulthardʼs record of 119 caps was beaten by Yankey two years ago. Yankey is Englandʼs most capped player with 129, but she is over 200 caps shy of the most capped player ever, the USAʼs Kristine Lilley who appeared for her country a staggering 352 times.



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.