Phil Korklin: How to break down the barriers facing black managers
Written by Phil Korklin — March 15, 2020
A BARRIER can mean an obstacle that prevents movement or access.
This was the definition I had in mind when I began research for my dissertation, Hurdles encountered in English football by BAME participants that block pathway to first team management and coaching, at Manchester Metropolitan University.
I anticipated that a barrier would be something that stopped a BAME coach from gaining the qualifications he or she needed to work in professional football. However, once I had carried out interviews and research, the word barrier took on a completely different meaning.
Quickly, I realised that barriers are far more nuanced than just qualifications and soon a different definition became apparent: anything preventing people from being together or understanding one another.
Under-representation of BAME managers
There are currently six BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) managers at the 91 clubs in the top four professional divisions in England, which is 6.6% of the total.
The two BAME managers in the Premier League and Championship are European: Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves), who hails from Portugal, and Sabri Lamouchi at Nottingham Forest, who is from France with Tunisian parentage.
In League One, Doncaster manager Darren Moore is British-born and a former Jamaica international, while Southend's Sol Campbell is a former England international.
In League Two, former England international Keith Curle manages Northampton Town, while Tunisian Dino Maamria is in charge at Oldham Athletic.
To put the 6.6% into context, 14% of the UK population was from BAME groups (with 86% from white ethnic groups) in the 2011 census. Yet the 6.6% is put into a much sharper perspective when you look at the number of BAME players in English football.
A quarter of players in the Premier League and Football League are from a BAME background, highlighting the huge gap between diversity in playing and management.
This disparity is evident in coaching positions as a whole. According to the Sports People’s Think Tank report in 2017, BAME representation in senior coaching positions at professional clubs in the English leagues was 22 of 482, or 4.6% (Steven Bradbury, 2017).
Three of the 92 assistant managers were BAME (3.3%), four of the 65 first-team coaches (6.2%) were, four of the 57 Professional Development Phase coaches were (7%) and three of the 89 Academy Directors (3.4%).
"When people do not act out the racial roles in society one expects them to, people get confused. When black sportsmen articulate themselves well and speak from a position of leadership or authority, it's looked at as not befitting of the stereotype." (Kevin Hylton, 2008, discussing Michael Omi and Howard Winant).
This quote was particularly helpful in understanding the barriers faced by BAME coaches and managers and the problems they face when attempting to transition from playing.
There have been many studies in the USA (and to a lesser extent in the UK) into the categorisation of sports players based on race. This is called racial stacking and the centrality theory.
The theory is around the belief that black sportspeople are quick, athletic and less intelligent, while white sportspeople are leaders and intelligent. This categorises white players in central positions in the team, with black players on the periphery.
In 1990, former Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades said black players “lent skill and flair” and that "you also need white players in there to balance things up and give the team some brains and some common sense.”
Admittedly this was 30 years ago and attitudes have changed, but research by John Mills, Charles Ing, Tom Markham and Fergus Guppy in 2018 suggested that some racial stereotyping still existed in English football, with "players of a lighter skin tone primarily occupying the positions of goalkeeper, central midfielder and attacking midfielder" and those of a darker skin tone primarily occupying the positions of wider midfielder, defensive midfielder and striker.
This can have ramifications when black players finish playing. If a black player has never been given the opportunity to captain, lead or play in a central position, then will the player be seen as someone who can step into coaching and management as seamlessly as a white player?
These issues and stereotypes can come from non-sporting contexts too, such as the example highlighted via Instagram by Raheem Sterling in 2018, in which he showed the different ways in which the media had depicted white and black players who bought homes for their parents.
The white player was portrayed as being generous, while the black player was characterised as extravagant and flash.
Change needed at the top
A report into the ethnic diversity of UK boards by Sir John Parker in 2017 showed a startling lack of diversity.
For FTSE 100 companies, only 2% of UK-citizen directors in boardrooms came from a BAME background, which in no way reflects the 14% of the UK population from a BAME background.
This is echoed in football. For the International Football Association Board meeting in Northern Ireland in February, there was not a single BAME representative among the 29 representatives.
Steven Bradbury (2013) explained the hurdles BAME candidates can encounter when attempting to become a managers, because the board often has pre-conceived ideas of what a manager should look like.
He described the “invisible centrality of whiteness embedded within the senior organisational tiers of the game” and explained that there was a “large uneven distribution between the level of all different religions and ethnicities on the player side in comparison with the under-representation of all the minorities as coaches and in leadership positions.”
This also came through in the eight interviews I conducted with male BAME coaches and managers for my dissertation for the Masters in Sport Directorship course at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“It’s about even just getting through the door,” one told me. "I think at one point I counted 40 odd applications without an interview."
Another said: “I applied for over 100 jobs without an interview and interviewed for one job knowing the applicant had already been chosen and I was there to tick a box.”
The interviewees explained how they thought things needed to change from the top down.
“At the moment there’s no-one in any power of position of BAME background, so until it changes right at the top it will take longer for it to filter down into the lower echelons,” one interviewee said. “To make real change [you need] BAME candidates in top parts of the club to be able to go, 'right let’s make a real change here'.”
When looking at the top of the FA, UEFA and IFAB, it is quite easy to see why BAME candidates in the game could become disillusioned when experiencing barriers and hurdles in their progression.
One participant explained to me that he felt the “healthiest type of board or upper management is one that’s diverse and reflects both the job place and society.”
Dawn Wigmore from the Centre for Inclusive Leadership stated in 2017 that you need inclusive leaders at the top of an organisation who understand why ethnic diversity is so important.
In the NFL, in 2002, 70% of players were African American, yet only two of the 32 coaches were African American, a percentage of 6.25%.
This is why Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, helped devise an initiative to create a more level playing field for Black American footballers looking to convert into coaching.
This became known as the Rooney Rule and it instructs clubs to shortlist at least one BAME applicant when looking to select a new Head Coach. It became league policy from 2003.
Janice Madden and Matthew Ruther showed that in the seven years since the Rule was introduced, there had been an increase from two (6.25%) to seven (21.88%) BAME Head Coaches in the NFL.
N. Jeremi Duru also explained that "in 2011, the last four Super Bowls featured four head coaches of colour; two of the past five NFL Coach of the Year Award recipients are head coaches of colour, and [clubs had recently appointed] six head coaches of colour."
This season the EFL has introduced a policy that clubs must interview at least one BAME candidate when searching for a new first-team manager, following an 18-month pilot. But there is no equivalent rule in the Premier League.
One of my interviewees said: “It’s not that the Rooney Rule gives someone a job, but it allows those that are in disadvantaged backgrounds or coming from different diverse communities the opportunity to cross paths with people in those affluent or ownership positions... and that invisible governing structure.”
Another said: “The Rooney Rule can potentially get you in front of a panel that you would not have done otherwise. You may not even get that specific job, but they may like you enough to consider you for another job.
“It’s all about access and being able to get ahead of the stereotype and picture of what certain clubs may see as their perfect manager or coach.”
FA’s Pursuit of Progress
The FA introduced the ‘In Pursuit of Progress’ three-year plan in 2018 to improve inclusivity and diversity and open up the pathways for BAME coaches.
When the senior men’s England squad travelled to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, 12 of its 23 players were from either a black or mixed background (52%). However, only 13% of coaches with England squads were BAME.
So the FA set a target of increasing this to 20% by 2021 - and hit their target within one year. One of England's current BAME coaches, the Under-17s Head Coach Kevin Betsy, is pictured below.
The FA implemented similar principles to the Rooney Rule, requiring that at least one BAME applicant (if appropriately qualified) had to be interviewed for every national team position of head coach, assistant coach, specialist coach and mentee.
They also provided 12-month coaching placements for BAME male and female coaches throughout the national team set up and age groups, in partnership with the PFA.
Iffy Onoura took part in the inaugural programme and is now a regional coach educator at the PFA. He explained: “To see other people who look like them being part of that picture is vital. It’s important to set examples, make sure they have someone to look up to, and give real projection of opportunity to young players.”
One interviewee said "the 12-month placements for coaches with the age groups for England was a step in the right direction and that the FA should be applauded for that.”
The visual representation of BAME coaches and managers is of huge importance. One manager I interviewed explained that "I started playing in the early 90s and Keith Alexander, (who passed away in 2010), god bless him, (was) probably the only manager of colour managing in England at the time. This is why role models are so important, because role models make you see that you can achieve."
Another interviewee said this was what drove them on: to become a positive role model for aspiring managers themselves.
"You could just walk away from it and lock your door and get a nice little cushty job, or you could do something about it, and that’s what really drove me even amongst the dark times when I wasn’t getting anything.
"I had a responsibility not only to my children but to other peoples’ children to try and use the platform that god had given me for real change."
This is why the Rooney Rule and the FA Pursuit of Progress program are so important - so the next generation of players can feel they are represented on the touchline as well as on the pitch.
This must not just be a tick box exercise though, or it will be counter-productive.
One interviewee said “I’d like to see a little bit more policing of how we actually get the Rooney Rule, where it’s monitored; to ensure who is being interviewed, what the results were and to make everyone more accountable.”
Change can only come from a top-down approach to improving diversity, which will make BAME participants less apprehensive about applying for jobs and more comfortable that it is an open process.
We have a long way to go, but what I find most important and refreshing is that people are now standing up and talking about the inequalities that exist, giving a voice and a platform to those who were previously unheard.
This will help to ensure that the authorities and clubs continue to strive to improve.