There are 92 professional football clubs in the UK and around 25% of the players within those teams are black. Despite the fact that the number of black players has continued to rise there are still only two black managers: Chris Powell of Charlton Athletic and Chris Hughton of Birmingham City. To say this is disproportionate is an understatement. This has led to mounting pressure being put on the FA from various angles to change the face of football.
The lack of non-white faces in the football boardroom is contributed to by a lack of recognition and progression opportunities for grass roots coaches from Afro-Caribbean, Asian and other backgrounds. Many of these individuals dedicate years of time and energies into working with youth from inner city areas. A significant number of these players are from African and Caribbean backgrounds and desperately in need of positive male role models. “They need people who understand their backgrounds and the issues they face as young black men”. These are the words of Andrew Palmer, a coach from Nottingham and scout for Leicester City FC. Despite having worked successfully with many young people for over 15 years as a coach, scout and mentor. Andrew adds, “It is impossible for me to progress within the FA. I don’t know if it’s because I am black or because I’m not a professional player, probably a combination of both.”
Andrew is testament to the fact that given the current cultures that exist within football it is tough for black coaches of all levels to secure positions in the boardroom regardless of how much knowledge they have of the game, how many years they have dedicated to coaching or how effective they have been. Of this Andrew says, “It is not a merit based profession, it’s about who you know and having a face that is favoured by the media.” Coaches like Andrew have uniquely valuable connections with their communities and invaluable relationships with the young players they coach, scout and mentor. Yet they are overlooked for top positions. This leaves the FA suspected of not only racism but also extreme elitism.
There are numerous admirable professional players that may inspire young people from a range of backgrounds. However, it has been shown through studies that young black men need role models that they can relate to in order to be motivated to succeed and navigate their way through challenges in their personal lives and professional careers.
A lack of black men in managerial positions at all levels within football leaves players without such role models and suggests that whilst they may be valuable as players, men who are not white have no value as decision makers or leaders. In addition to this, denying community coaches the opportunity to progress into positions within the FA in an attempt to reserve such position for professional players leaves the association lacking the diversity needed to make it adequately representative of the whole fan base.
The continued dedication and support of fans of UK football determine its continued success. In order to maintain football’s appeal to the growing diverse population, the FA must consider how to make the game representative at all levels.