Football League Management – A Black And White Issue?

There has been a lot of talk recently regarding an obvious lack of black football managers operating within the realms of the professional game in England. But is the lack of black managers down to an underlying layer of racism with the game or could there be another simple and logical explanation at hand?

Looking at the facts available, initially the statistics do not make pretty reading for anyone. As of the 1st January 2012, I can find only two black managers operating within the parameters of the ninety-two professional league clubs in England, namely Chris Hughton at Birmingham City and Chris Powell at Charlton Athletic, doing their bit admirably and ‘flying the flag’ for the minority ethnic groups.

Now, I’m not suggesting for one minute that Mike Ashley sacked Chris Hughton because he is black, as to suggest that is as nonsensical as the sacking itself was. However, there is a suggestion amongst certain factions of the game that supporters themselves could be the stumbling block to a chairman appointing a black manager.

As unpleasant as it may be to think that that is even remotely likely in a modern, culturally diverse place like England, it is certainly worthy of mentioning as maybe being part of the sub-conscious thought processes that club chairmen may go through when deciding who to next entrust with their precious football team.

Figures will also suggest that almost a quarter of applicants to take their UEFA coaching licences and badges and the League Manager’s qualification courses are of non-white origin, so there is quite clearly a pool of candidates who hold the relevant qualifications, if not the experience. This then leads on to the debate that has raged for time immemorial – if you haven’t got the experience, how do you get experience without being given the job in the first place?

Luther Blissett. Remember him of 1980’s Watford fame? He is very upset and very vocal about the fact that despite him holding the necessary qualifications to manage at Premier League level, he has in fact never been offered a manager’s job above the 6th tier of English football and he feels that the only reason for that is because he is black, which, of course is laughable at best and an outrageous slur on the integrity of football as a whole at worst. I would advise Luther to either brush up his interview skills or take a job at that level if that is what it takes, to be successful and get the experience needed to move up the leagues, just like former Liverpool midfielder Nigel Clough did after he retired from playing professionally.

In October 1998, Nigel Clough took charge at the then lowly Burton Albion, who at the time, were plying their trade in the sixth tier of English football until 2002 when Burton were promoted to the Football Conference. Clough stayed at Burton until January 2009 before taking the Derby County job – a full ten and a half years of learning the ropes and cutting his managerial teeth at lower league level and Burton were consequently promoted to League Two in May 2009.

Does any of that sound familiar with what you’ve been offered so far, Luther? Of course it does. It’s an almost identical situation to what you’ve encountered But you think that you should be next in line for a Premier League job simply because you are black, right? Surely, that in itself is the worst form of racism, isn’t it?

I have no doubt that in some boardrooms across the length and breadth of this country that there is still some form of institutionalised racism being played out when it comes to non-white managers being appointed. But is this any different or any worse than the institutionalised sexism which was also a lot more overtly operated by some clubs? Not at all. Ask Karren Brady how many boardrooms she was not allowed entry into when she first became Managing Director of Birmingham City in 1993 and I’m sure you would be amazed at the answer!

There is always a bandwagon for people to jump on in England and if there is one thing we all love to do, it is jumping on a bandwagon. Myself however, I feel there is a slightly different and more logical explanation for the lack of black managers.

Let us explore the facts available in a slightly different context for a minute. There are, as mentioned before, only ninety-two professional Football League clubs. That means, obviously, that there are only ninety-two vacancies to be filled for the job of ‘football manager’ in England. I don’t think it is remiss to accept that in such a small job sector, that one particular ethnic group would be dominant in obtaining gainful employment and that dominant group would be the indigenous ethnic group of that particular country. I would not expect there to be a greater proportion of black football managers in Spain, Portugal, Italy or any other European country for that matter. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect there to be a greater proportion of white English managers working in African or Japanese leagues over that of the indigenous ethnic group.

Going off on a slight tangent and looking for comparisons, what if there was a specialist job in a different but less media intrusive trade – let us say astronauts, for example – how would that particular specialist field of work compare to football management with regard to the percentage of non-whites being recruited and how many of NASA’s astronauts are black African-American as a proportion?

Well, strangely enough, it seems that the figures are replicated and are indeed, of a similar proportion. In fact, as 15 out of circa 590 NASA astronauts are listed as being of African-American descent, does this mean that NASA is also suffering from the same institutionalised racism as we would be convinced by some parties that is prevalent in English football?

The simple answer is a resounding “no” and here’s why.

Sometimes in this crazy day of political correctness, bandwagons and stereotypes, there can’t just be a simple reason for something happening, there seems to be a yearning, and in some observers, a quite unhealthy desire to unearth a demonic, masochistic undercurrent in football society that quite simply isn’t there, especially now that the money involved at the top end of the sport is, frankly, quite obscene. Yes, there are always going to be the red top tabloid ‘World Exclusive sensations’ of how Mr X, footballer, who earns £100,000 a week, did something that the rest of the general public, as the sole moral arbiters of footballer’s lifestyles, should be outraged by, even if it is nothing more sordid than staying out until 2am and being photographed smoking a Marlboro Light! The fact that Mr X earns £100,000 is totally irrelevant but it doesn’t stop it being made to be a pertinent piece of the ‘exclusive’ and the same notion applies to the appointment of football managers and the colour of their skin.

My opinion is that the lack of black football managers in professional football is down to a simple and unequivocal piece of logic. There is a lack of experience in professional football management by black football managers, nothing more and nothing less and until their levels of experience change for the better and they are prepared to start off working away in the sixth tier of English football like their white counterparts, then don’t expect to see a surge in black managers being appointed in the Football League anytime soon.

Sorry Luther.

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