Concerns

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%.

Nurtured

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.

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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?

Solutions

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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Trophy Droughts

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 16th 2014)

The Long Wait

Nine years of hurt for Arsène Wenger and his Arsenal side could end at Wembley tomorrow evening, or Steve Bruce’s Hull could claim their first ever FA Cup. Having secured Champion’s League football again Arsenal have the chance of a trophy that has eluded them for almost a decade. They start Saturday’s FA Cup Final as favourites. Steve Bruce’s Hull side return to Wembley for a second chance of atrophy, having lost the Carling Cup to eventual Premier League champions Manchester City.

Both sides are guaranteed European football, which will please Hull’s Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady. “Fantastic for the team, for the club – second time this year we are at Wembley”, Elmohamady said, looking forward to the FA Cup final. “It will be a huge game against Arsenal and I think they are all thinking about Europe as well. You know this game is a massive chance for us to play in Europe next year”. He relishes the tag of underdog too.

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He’s hoping for some consolation. Once again the Pharaohs missed out qualifying for the World Cup. “Yeah we’re all disappointed we didn’t go to the World Cup you know, but things happen like this”, Elmohamady said. “It’s a good chance to make the year – for it to be a good year for me, for the club, for the players, for everyone in Hull to play in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal – fantastic”.

But he insists that the Pharaohs are ready to become the dominant force in African football after American manager Bob Bradley failed to break the World Cup hoo-doo. “Well, you know we have a new manager – an Egyptian manager – a fantastic manager [Shawky Gharib]”, he says. “We played a friendly game against Bosnia and we did fantastic and we win this game, so we’ll have a good chance to go to Morocco and give the championship again to Egypt”.

Importance

Lukas Podolski was in no doubt that the league was Arsenal’s priority. “2005 was the last one, so of course the pressure is there … and you have the chance to win this cup and you know we are now in the final and of course we want to have the Cup now and have the FA Cup, but the important thing is the league”, Podolski said. “Of course every trophy will help us. The seasons have pressure when you don’t win nothing. The newspapers speak about it, the fans get nervous, but we have the chance this year to win the FA Cup so maybe it helps the club, us and the boss to win the Cup, but the other thing is the important thing is to get fourth place back, because when you don’t play in the Champions League it’s a disaster”.

Arsenal have accomplished that goal. Now they can concentrate on tomorrow’s final and the chance to end almost a decade of pain. “It’s important”, Podolski says of the final. “When you are now in the final and we want the title”.

But Curtis Davies has other ideas. “I grew up a [Manchester] United fan watching the gaffer [Steve Bruce], so the ’94 one was massive”, Davies said. “I remember that obviously cos it was for the double. ’96 as well when [Eric] Cantona scored that goal and Liverpool in the white suits as well and ’95 was a memory as well, because United lost that and I said to the gaffer as well that he was on the ground trying to stop the ball when they scored and he didn’t managed to do it”.

Davies regrets the loss of the FA Cup’s aura. It used to be a special event. “You just have to say FA Cup was special at the end of the season – well it used to be; it was an iconic day”, he says. “Everyone stops for the whole day for the FA Cup. I think maybe a little bit of the edge was taken away from it once it was moved to before the last game of the season and things like that, but this year I’m hoping that everyone switches on and watches the game because we’re hoping to make it a good occasion”.

He hopes that Arsenal being the favourites will work in Hull’s favour. “I think that’s if Arsenal have any nervous energy”, Davies said. “I said that Arsenal not having won anything for nine years is going to play on them and in the final they’ll have that edginess about them. I’m hoping the players actually turn up and have that nervous energy, because it’s all good the fans being nervous, but if the players turn up and they’re playing flowing football, it’s going to be tough to beat an Arsenal side”.