Sport | Black History Month – Has enough changed in football?

As much as we would all like to think of racism in sport – and particularly football – as a thing of the past, it is still a prevalent feature of the game. A range of sources including managers, players and journalists all recall it was worse 30 years ago. Having not been around 30 years ago I cannot judge, although I am willing to believe them.

Bobby Robson created quite a stir when he claimed as England manager “if the best 11 players in the country were black, that would be my England team”. This was at a similar time to when John Barnes admitted he was regularly abused in training, never mind games.

This is not to say that things are good enough today. In the past few years there have been several high profile incidents namely Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez, Anton Ferdinand and John Terry and now the recent furore surrounding Roy Hodgson and Andros Townsend.

I do not believe at all that Hodgson is racist, the fact that he was telling jokes when England’s World Cup chances were in the balance is another matter completely. So too is his misplaced faith in the intelligence of a squad of English footballers. You can however, see how easily the comment was misconstrued.

That aside, we can be proud to an extent that racism today is only held within a minority. Having been to several grounds across the country for 15 years I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed or heard any racism towards a player, official or fan. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of homophobic comments.

Today’s biggest challenge is the lack of black managers in the Football League. Out of 92 positions only 4 are held by black men – Chris Houghton at Norwich, Chris Powell at Charlton, Chris Kiwonya at Notts County and Paul Ince at Blackpool. This works out as just over 4% of managers, in comparison to 30% per cent of footballers.

This point has most recently been highlighted by ex-England international Sol Campbell. Campbell claimed he would have to look to Europe to gain managerial experience due to the ‘archaic attitudes’ in this country.

He certainly has a point when he compares his plight to that of Gary Neville. Both played a similar number of times for England – Campbell  73, Neville 85 – yet while Neville walked into the England managerial set up without any prior experience, Campbell has struggled to find employment in any role.

Paul Elliott has made similar comparisons to Paul Ince who had to work his way through the leagues whereas contemporaries such as Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate took charge of Sunderland and Middlesborough respectively, both Premiership teams at the time, as their first managerial job.

Closer to home, Brian Deane, the ex-Leeds United striker and University of Leeds coach has come to the same conclusion as Campbell. Deane took over as manager of Norwegian side Sarpsborg FK a year ago this week in order to get professional experience when none was forthcoming in Britain.

Whilst the problem is not restricted to football, or British sport overall, for a country that prides itself on modernity, a multi-cultural society and open-mindedness, the current situation is simply not good enough.

Sir Alex Ferguson proclaimed a few years ago ‘I can see black people involved in all positions’, let’s hope that he’s right. Just like the influx of black players into the British game in the 1970s and ever since, we are long due a managerial one too.

Joe Bookbinder

Image courtesy of BBC

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