Racial bias in the dugout? – The stats don’t lie, but it’s not black and white

GullitChris Powell and Keith Curle are in a club of two. Black managers in the Premier/Football League. Two in 92. A stark statistic that people are demanding an explanation for. And you cannot blame them for that.

But let’s examine a few other aspects of the English game. For a start, it is not confined to the dugout or training pitch. How many black football directors or chairmen are there? In the stands and on the terraces, how many black supporters do you see? And in the corporate world, how often do you see a black executive? The problem is not confined to football and, within the game, certainly not restricted to management.

In 2012-13, a study was carried out to determine the ethnicity of football managers across the main football leagues of Europe: England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. Only England had a black manager in the top division of those leagues. Not a single black manager anywhere apart from Chris Hughton. So it’s not an issue that is exclusive to England.

And although it bears little relation to the study carried out by the Sports People’s Think Tank, just consider that in Black-dominant Africa, only seven of the 16 nations that took part in the 2013 African Cup of Nations had a black manager.

Some people might claim that black coaches and managers are up against it given there are only 92 jobs available at the very top of the management tree. But are there? Look at the Premier today. Of the 20 jobs, only eight are being filled by Englishmen. That makes it even tougher for anyone, be they black or white, to secure a position at a top club. The market is global. It gets easier as you go down the ladder, but across the 92 clubs, 66 have English managers. Not a single black manager from outside England is operating in the Premier or Football League. Still, two out of 66 is still a poor return.

If black players make up 25% of the English clubs’ playing resources, it also has to be assumed that a lot of these players are also not English. The figure for the Premier is alarming – only one third of players are English. At Chelsea, all their black players are foreign: Drogba, Mikel, Zouma, Ake, Remy, Willian, Ramires, Salah. At that level, you will find a similar story at other clubs. In other words, how many of that 25% are merely passing through the English system and are not likely to want to be candidates?

Outside the Football League, the situation is more encouraging. Two clubs, Arlesey Town and Hitchin Town, both from the Southern League Premier, have made a positive habit of employing black managers. Arlesey have had three in recent years, Hitchin two. The close proximity of the clubs means they have one in common, Darran Hay. Stevenage is also nearby, and they have Dino Maarmia in their ranks as assistant manager.

Hitchin Town is a club that has a long tradition of fielding black players. In the 1980s, they regularly fielded teams with three or four black youngsters in their line-up. As Hitchin is a multi-cultural town, close to the even more cosmopolitan Luton, this was not surprising. But in 2007, they plucked Hay from Arlesey Town. A prolific striker in non-league with Woking – he scored two FA Trophy winning goals – Hay rarely experienced racism as a player or manager. But when he took his UEFA coaching badge, there were no other black candidates. “There was one lad who had come from one of the Caribbean islands to get his badge, but other than that, I was the only black person. And that wasn’t down to bias, because if you apply to take your badge, you apply to take your badge.”

Hay feels, however, that opportunities for black coaches may be on the rise, especially in inner-city areas in London and Birmingham and other major urban areas. He cites other black coaches like David Howell, Brian and Eddie Stein, Zema Abbey and Johnson Hippolyte as good examples of former players that have come through the system successfully.

Carl Williams started his football career at Fulham and even back in the 1980s, he recalls black coaches being used at youth level. “The catchment area for a club like Fulham was south London, places like Peckham and Brixton. There were a lot of black youngsters, so they had coaches that could help bring the lads through,” he remembers.

Williams was always a tough opponent and was able to withstand any abuse directed at him, but he says that racist comments have always been part of the game. “You learn to adapt and put it down to ignorance and a lack of education,” he says. He hasn’t forgotten the last occasion, though, when he was manager of Hitchin and received some abuse from Evesham United’s fans at Worcester.

Williams believes that it may well be harder for a black manager to get a job, but at the same time, some players may be setting their sights too high by expecting to walk into a plum job without “earning their spurs”. He adds that there are a lot of white coaches out there also looking for a job and also finding the “closed shop”.

To a large degree, the problem is more fundamental. According to the paper, “Ethnic minorities and coaching in elite level football in England”, only 4.3% of high level qualified coaches are black. So are enough black players taking their badge? It would seem not.

The paper lists four reasons why there is an under-representation of black coaches in English professional football: access to and experiences of high level coach education courses; over-reliance on networks based methods of coach recruitment – i.e. the closed shop; experiences of racism and stereotypes; and lack of black coach role models and continued under representation – i.e. a self-perpetuating problem.

So what’s the answer? The so-called “Rooney Rule” has been talked about, something that was introduced in the American National Football League, requiring clubs to interview minorities for jobs. We’re getting dangerously close to “quotas” with this sort of debate, but it may be the only way.

The first black manager in England was Tony Collins of Rochdale in 1960. He was followed by Keith Alexander of Lincoln City 23 years later. We haven’t moved on much since then, have we?


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