Lack of Black Football Managers a Problem
The number of black managers in English professional football has doubled – to a grand total of two – after it was announced on Thursday that Paul Ince would be taking over at Notts County. With Chris Hughton in charge at Newcastle, that is two out of 92 clubs in the four top divisions who currently employ a non‑white manager to steer their team.
The appalling figures highlight the disparity between the percentage of black players on the pitch – about a quarter at the last survey – and the paucity of black faces in the dugout. While racist chants have almost disappeared at football grounds in this country, discrimination lives on unchallenged in the boardrooms.
As members of the black community gathered at Wembley on Thursday to celebrate the Black List awards, recognising black achievement in football away from the pitch, there was frustration about a problem that just refuses to go away.
“It’s outrageous,” says the former England, Watford and AC Milan striker Luther Blissett, “and it does grate with me because I know there are a lot of guys who I played with who would make good coaches and managers, and the opportunity was never afforded them just because of their colour. Some may think that’s oversimplifying it but can you say it’s a coincidence when this thing goes on for so long? For the 20-odd years I’ve been applying for jobs, you start to think to yourself there’s got to be more to it than a coincidence.”
Despite possessing a Uefa A pro- licence coaching qualification, Blissett’s highest managerial role came at Chesham United in the Southern League. The 52-year-old, who had a brief spell as a coach at Watford, currently works three days a week at Stevenage with the under-16s, and says he has more or less given up hope of securing a high-profile managerial position.
“It’s insulting, in the end it’s why do I bother? It’s quite obvious they don’t regard you in the same way as they look at your white counterparts. In the end you think, do I continue to hit my head against a brick wall? No, but I’ll support anyone else who wants to give it a go. We’ll continue to highlight the problem until things change.”
At the Black List event Blissett paid tribute to Keith Alexander, the league’s first full-time black coach when he was appointed by Lincoln in 1993, who died this year aged 53. The England team wore black armbands following his death and luminaries around the country hailed Alexander’s contribution to the game. He took Lincoln to four consecutive play-off campaigns and went on to manage Peterborough and Macclesfield, but was never given the opportunity to work at a level higher than League Two.
“It really winds me up,” Blissett says of Alexander’s experience. “A man who worked so hard and was successful and yet was never ever in the thinking of anybody to say: ‘He’s done really well, let’s give him a chance at a bigger club with more resources and see what he’s capable of doing.’ It never happened. And now he’s gone, all these people come out and say: ‘Oh yeah, what a great person he was.’ Well, a lot of these same people were in a position to do something about it and did nothing.”
John Amaechi, the British former NBA basketball player who has been an adviser to the PFA on issues of diversity, says the statistics should “disgust people”. Amaechi compares English football with the NBA where, at the start of the 2008-09 season, the league employed one Asian and 11 black head coaches, 40% of the total. “Look at America right now, it’s a country in racial turmoil,” says Amaechi. “If they can still see the value of putting the best possible coach there, even if there are some racist fans that won’t particularly like it … then it’s a crying shame we can’t do the same.”
Part of the problem, he says, is a lack of player power. Amaechi uses the example of the controversial US right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh’s attempt to buy a stake in the NFL team St Louis Rams last year, when players threatened to stage a boycott rather than play for him. “The players’ association in Britain lacks teeth … it’s not an accident that the NBA’s coaching staff is made up of so many minority coaches. It’s simply that in the beginning there was an insistence from the players and they followed that through with the actions of their union, they realised that diversity was a 21st-century performance prerogative, and that realisation has not yet hit football.”
Read More: The Observer