Favouritism, discrimination and racism is preventing BME coaches from working within English professional football

by Colin Joseph

Last month a 16ft statue of the world’s first black professional football player – Arthur Wharton – was unveiled at the Football Association’s (FA’s) national football centre in Burton, West Midlands.

AAStatue_3217333The memorial statue was erected (thanks to the efforts of the Arthur Wharton Foundation) to celebrate Artrhur Wharton’s magnificent sporting achievements and the 125th anniversary of him becoming the world’s first black professional footballer. The symbolic statue of Arthur Wharton as a goalkeeper leaping gracefully to save an on-coming football is cast in bronze. It is hoped that the statue, his name and his image will become highly visible beacons for the promotion of ‘racial harmony, equality, diversity and sporting opportunity.’

Born in Accra, Ghana, in 1865, Arthur Wharton moved to England at 19 years old (1882-4). He played from the late 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s as a goalkeeper (and occasional outfield winger) for football teams including Rotherham Town and Sheffield United. Arthur Wharton also played as an amateur at Darlington Football Club and Preston North End. He was described as ‘magnificent’, ‘invincible’ and ‘superb’ when he played at Darlington.

He died penniless in 1930, but his legacy as a pioneering sportsman who refuted racist theories in a time of adversity and prejudice lives on.

Whether Arthur Wharton (also respected as an athlete and cricketer) could have continued as a coach if he had wanted to after seeing out his playing career for Stockport County is likely to be seen as a bridge too far by many. After all he was a person of colour playing football at a time when it must have been extremely challenging to achieve success.

But worryingly coaching is still a fantastic notion or vain hope for many Black Minority Ethnic (BME) footballers and people from BME communities, as illustrated by a ground-breaking report published last week (Friday November 14th 2014). It shows that representation of ethnic minorities as football coaches in England’s first four divisions is at shockingly low levels, currently 3.4%.

It is over one hundred years since Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, played in England astounding crowds with his goalkeeping and football skills. But to-date there are only two black managers employed out of a total of 92 professional football clubs and 19 ethnic minority coaches employed out of a total of 552 coaching positions in English professional football. This is despite between 25% to 30% of BME professional footballers playing in English leagues.

The two black mangers in English professional football are Chris Powell for Huddersfield Town (in the Champions League – one below the Barclays Premier League) and Keith Curle for Carlisle United (in League 2 – three below the Barclays Premier League).

The report entitled ‘Ethnic Minorities and coaching in elite level football in England: A call to Action(the link to the report is here: ) was published by the Sports People’s Think Tank (SPTT) (a new group formed by professional athletes) alongside the Fare network (an international umbrella organisation that brings together everyone driven to combat inequality in football). The research data and analysis, some of it the first of its kind, was produced by Dr Steven Bradbury of Loughborough University.

The SPTT is led by former professional footballer, Jason Roberts, MBE. He has played football for a number of high profile English clubs as well as the Grenadian national team. Mr Roberts paints a miserable picture of the English football Premiere League management system and states that the under-representation of BME coaches will not take care of itself. In an introductory statement in the report on behalf of the SPTT, Mr Roberts says that despite BME coaching under-representation regularly aired in public discussions, action has not matched debate.

“We simply cannot leave this issue to take care of itself, change will not come through natural evolution,” he declares. “It has not in the hundred years since Arthur Wharton was showcasing his goalkeeping skills, it will not in the future.”

BME coaches in senior coaching positions: numbers and percentages (as of September 2014)Senior coaching positions                           Numbers                         Percentage

Overall figures                                                 19 out of 552                      3.4% BME

First team managers                                       2 out of 92                         2.2% BME

First team assistant managers                         3 out of 92                         3.3% BME

First team coach                                              4 out of 92                         4.3% BME

Development squad head coach (18-21)       5 out of 92                         5.4% BME

Youth squad head coach (16-18)                     2 out of 92                         2.2% BME

Academy Director (5-16)                                 3 out of 92                         3.3% BME

From the report Ethnic Minorities and coaching in elite level football in England: A call to Action – published jointly by the Sports People’s Think Tank and the Fare network

According to the findings in the report, the lack of BME coaches is partly due to the low number of BME candidates achieving core qualifications. The low figures for coaching qualifications within BME communities compares very unfavourably with the number of professional football players and the BME UK population as a whole at 14%. The statistics in the report also show a decline in qualified BME coaches gaining the higher level awards in coaching such as the FA UEFA B and FA UEFA A awards and the FA UEFA Pro-License.

Research for the report, was carried out between 2011 and 2014 and involved conducting extensive interviews on a one-to-one basis and in groups with BME coaches and key stakeholders (including footballers) at all levels of the professional game in England (as well as France and the Netherlands).

The report states that some of the reasons why there are not many senior professional BME coaches in England include:

  • Access to and experiences of high level coach education courses – lowering aspirations towards progressing further.
  • Over-reliance on networks based methods of coach recruitment (who you know not what you know) – Making it easier for qualified BME coaches with good experience to be over-looked for employment.
  • Experiences of racism and stereotypes – for example misplaced cultural perceptions in regards to the aspirations, attitudes, behaviours and intellectual capacities of BME coaches to successfully coach in the professional game.
  • Lack of BME coach role models and continued under-representation – limiting the aspirations of BME former football players to undertake coach education qualifications and pursue coaching careers.
Chris Powell for Huddersfield Town
Chris Powell for Huddersfield Town

According to the report, responsibility for the recruitment of first team managers is usually undertaken by football club owners and their directors. The recruitment of first team coaches is also undertaken by club owners and directors in consultation with first team managers. Recruitment of senior coaching positions below this level fall to the first team management team and sanctioned by club owners and other senior decision-makers. Disturbingly the push towards establishing qualifications based frameworks for coach employment has not been implemented effectively.

Piara Powar, Executive Director of the Fare network, said: “We are very familiar with seeing black and other ethnic minorities as professional players but coaches from those communities are rare. This new data shows a level of exclusion that urgently needs to be addressed through creative thinking and new measures.”

To read the recommendations for action by the SPTT, including, the setting of at least 20% of coaches in professional football to be from BME backgrounds by 2020 go here.

Mr. Powar, added: “If the English football authorities can address the concerns we have and move to a system that is both fair and helps performance management, football will begin to change the way it recruits coaches across the world.”

Following the publication of the report last Friday (in an unrelated development) all 20 Premier League clubs voted to introduce a new measure to increase top-flight coaches from BME backgrounds. The Premier League will now add three BME places to its existing Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme to develop top-level coaches and three places for female coaches.

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Colin Joseph is an experienced journalist and communications professional based in London. He has worked as a print journalist for national, regional and local newspapers and has worked as a senior broadcast journalist at the BBC where he specialised in Community Affairs focusing on BAME communities. Also skilled in public relations, he has worked for many charitable and public sector organisations focusing primarily on media PR campaigns.

One thought on “2014 marks the 125th anniversary of the world’s first black professional footballer, so where are the black coaches?

  1. FA should host a database on their website of the qualified UK coaches that club bosses and fans can refer to. I was disappointed when Van Gaal didn’t take Patrick Kluivert to Manchester United. The UK media needs to look at themselves too. As there is also a lack of BME football/sports writers in the UK national press.

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