Is English football’s “mindset” towards black and ethnic minority managers finally changing?
This week the Football Association announced it would be introducing its own version of the Rooney Rule, a policy first adopted by the NFL in 2003.
In the US, the rule states that teams must interview at least one ethnic minority candidate for every head coach or senior football vacancy.
And now the English FA will now interview at least one black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) applicant for future roles in the England national team system.
2017 was a difficult year for the FA, which faced fierce criticism — including from members of parliament — over its handling of a racism case involving Eni Aluko, a black female footballer for the England national team.
Currently, there are only six BAME managers in charge of the Football League’s 92 professional teams — just 6.52% — and there’s only in the Premier League.
With black footballers making up 25% of all professional players in the country, why don’t BAME manager figures similarly stack up?
“It’s a big question and it goes back a long time, and really an ability to change that,” Chris Hughton, the Premier League’s only black manager, told CNN at November’s Black List Awards.
“A form of Rooney Rule has of course been spoken about, there has been some introduction at a Football League level as regards to an interview process.
“But, more so, I think it’s a mindset, whether its stakeholders or clubs themselves, but a real conscious effort for that to happen.”
Hughton says he speaks as somebody who experienced a lot of racism as a player in the 70s and 80s, when discrimination was rife on the terraces of England’s stadiums.
He believes there is enough enthusiasm in football to increase the representation of BAME coaches, which he thinks can be done by fast tracking a percentage of the most promising young, black managers into certain positions.
While the small percentage of BAME managers reflects England’s elite — barely 3% of the country’s most powerful and influential people are from minority backgrounds — it doesn’t reflect the UK population as a whole.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 12.83% of people living in the UK are of BAME backgrounds.
Time for change
Chris Powell, who has managed Charlton and Huddersfield in English football’s second tier, points to the success of US sport teams appointing black coaches as proof that the Rooney Rule can work.
He believes the time to act on the situation is now, before too many more talented ethnic minority coaches slip through the cracks and out of football.
“So many good people from the black and Asian community are being lost to the game,” Powell told CNN. “People who are intelligent and organized but not getting a chance at clubs for whatever reason.
“But I also feel the structures have to change, the interviews have to change, the way people are employed has to change and come in line with the way the world is.
“I feel if that happens, it will encourage more black and Asian men and women to apply for roles in coaching in management and in administration because there are so many good people that should be in those roles and they’re not.”
Like Hughton, Powell recalls the vile abuse he used to receive as a player and even as a young fan when we would watch games in the stands.
“It was a breeding ground for racist organizations,” he says. “Because you’re with people that may be unemployed, disaffected, so it’s very easy to target them and get them into a different way of thinking.
“I used to watch a lot of my heroes get abuse but carry on playing and that was quite inspiring but what I knew was if I became a pro — and I wanted to that — I had to recognize that I’m going to have some problem.”
Powell did make it as a pro, going on to play for a host of Premier League clubs and represented England five times.
Inevitably, however, he would also go on to experience the same racial abuse he saw hurled at his heroes. One match in particular, in his early playing days at Championship club Southend, still stands out.
“We went to a ground and there was three black players in the team — myself and two teammates — and we got horrendous abuse and it’s never left me.
“The manager of my club then apologized because he knew how hurt we were and he was so supportive.
“I’ll never forget it but he didn’t know what to do because he said: ‘I hate it, I didn’t want to hear it, but what can I do.'”
‘We don’t want quotas’
Both Powell and Hughton recognize things have clearly got markedly better, while still acknowledging there is a long way to go.
Sports journalist Darren Lewis believes the main aim of the Rooney Rule will be to help reduce any preconceived stereotypes executives may have of BAME applicants.
“Even if he doesn’t choose that candidate, he can appreciate that some of the misconceptions that he may previously have had have been shattered,” Lewis told CNN.
“There are good forward-thinking black coaches he could work with, that he could put in charge of his club. The problem with the Rooney Rule is that people choose not to understand it.
“Anytime you have a debate about it lots of people say ‘we don’t want quotas.’ The Rooney Rule isn’t about imposing quotas — if black ex-pros could have their way there wouldn’t be a Rooney Rule at all because there would be an appreciation of their talents and their abilities and leadership qualities but that’s not the case.”