Paul Ince this week became the Premier League’s first homegrown black manager following his appointment at Blackburn Rovers. Does this signal that change is finally coming to the English game’s attitude towards black coaches and managers, which has long lagged well behind the proportion of non-white players in the game?
Bitter complaints have long come from numerous black players about how hard it is for them to get the same opportunities as their white peers. Whilst each case should be taken on its merits, the collective dissent against this ongoing problem is best expressed by the ex-Chelsea player Paul Elliott, a renowned anti-racism campaigner:
“Thirty per cent of players in the game are black but there are only two black managers: Paul Ince and Keith Alexander. We have lost a generation of potentially good managers. Look at the multi-cultural country we live in, and the diversity within the game, and that has to be reflected in the boardrooms and administrative worlds. It isn’t.
“Wrighty [Ian Wright] and Les Ferdinand have spoken out against it. A lot of those in the system say: ‘If that is what is happening at the top level, I don’t see any chance for me.’ They feel disillusioned, disenfranchised and they walk away. Paul Ince is a role model. It will breed confidence in others.
“When Laurie Cunningham and Viv Anderson came into the game, they were key role models, and that created confidence. They showed the stereotypical managers at the time they could do a job at the top level. That breaks down an insular mind.”
“If you want to get there on your own merits, you have to be qualified. Then you are in shark-infested waters and you have to work hard, get connected to people and when the right opportunities come, you are in the frame for the job.”
Ince’s success or failure at Blackburn is, perhaps unfortunately, of critical importance. Many black players have said that a lack of a role model to show a black English player will be given a fair shot at a top job has put many of their peers off going into the profession. Brendon Batson, one of the first top black footballers said last year that “There haven’t been any role models for young black coaches, which has led to a mindset among black players of ‘this isn’t for us’,”
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, also sees Ince’s appointment as a step forward for those running the game.
But while Ince’s colour didn’t get him the job, he could easily have been denied the chance. Though campaigns such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card have turned British football into a European role model for tolerance in sport, the transformation hasn’t taken place within the game’s back rooms or on the touchlines.
At the last count, fewer than one in 100 of the senior coaching staff in the game are non-white. A report published three years ago by the Commission for Racial Equality took a blowtorch to the failure of the professional game to muster more than a handful of black coaches – most of whom were from abroad – when one third of players were non-white.
I know that the publication of that report wasn’t a pleasant moment for the game. But many of its leaders – Richard Scudamore of the Premier League and Brian Barwick of the Football Association particularly – responded energetically. Ince’s appointment at Blackburn is a clear demonstration that change has started.
It is possible to be less sanguine about this, however. The CRE’s report (which was actually almost four years ago) came at a time when there were more black coaches and managers than today. Still, much good work is being done at various levels, particularly by Paul Davis at the Professional Footballers’ Association, who set-up a black coaches forum and proactively helps black players ending their careers get into coaching.
Getting more black players actively training to coach is a critical need, though it becomes a chicken-and-egg problem, as many feel they would be unwanted as managers and choose other careers after retirement.
Perhaps the biggest problem lies higher-up: Keith Alexander, the only other black British manager in the game, asked rhetorically how much diversity there was amongst the criticial positions of those picking and training the next generation of managers.
“How many black chairmen or board members are there? I don’t know of any.”
“How many of the FA coaching courses are run by black people? Only Noel Blake.”
The fact that so few black managers are getting a chance at the highest level puts unfair pressure on the likes of Ince to blaze a trail; deeper change within the game is still undoubtedly needed.