Should you need evidence that football is the global game, then England is the place to find it. The Premiership is the most widely followed league in the world (if not perhaps the best, whatever Sky may claim) and there are more nationalities represented in it than any other. All of which throws into stark relief that in one way English football upholds a very old tradition – almost all the managers are white.
The striking lack of black managers was highlighted again in a BBC Sport report in February. It pointed out that in an industry in which 20 per cent of the employees are black only two per cent are in managerial positions. This issue has become a hardy perennial; indeed the BBC story was discussed on phone-ins and messageboards with a sort of weary exasperation. It’s nothing to do with race, some say, it’s simply a question of time. Things will change, the argument runs, in five years or so when more of the 1990s generation of players will have retired from playing and be available for management positions.
But we’ve heard similar timelines suggested before and there are plenty of white managers getting jobs in their late thirties who played in teams with several black colleagues, hardly any of whom have been given a chance to manage – unlike the position in athletics, where there are now a large number of black British athletics coaches. These include John Regis, a relative of Cyrille, who has often spoken of his frustration at being overlooked for management jobs. Some stop applying for jobs or give up on coaching qualifications because they don’t believe they would be given a chance. Garth Crooks admitted to this at the launch of the BBC report.
There were two black managers with League clubs at the start of this season, both of whom have since been sacked (Leroy Rosenior at Brentford and Keith Alexander at Peterborough). Another two have been appointed: Paul Ince at Macclesfield and Keith Curle, who was recently made head coach at Torquay.
There is no guarantee that any black manager will be a success and there can be valid reasons for them losing their jobs – Curle had had mixed fortunes at Mansfield and Chester; Brentford were on a record-breaking winless run when Rosenior was sacked in November. John Barnes was a disaster at Celtic, even if he had the job at a difficult time. But others fare as badly or worse and get more chances, such as Terry Butcher.
Open prejudice has been largely eradicated from the game, at least in terms of concerted abuse by sections of a crowd; there has also been action lately against individual players accused of racially abusing opponents. We’re now accustomed to hearing official complaints from the FA about racist barracking of black English players at matches abroad. But what about prevailing attitudes behind the scenes?
Managerial appointments often seem to be made on the basis of the game’s equivalent of an old-boy network – connections from which most black ex-players seem to be excluded. The only black Premiership managers have not been English: Ruud Gullit and Jean Tigana, the latter appointed by an Egyptian chairman. Whatever his many faults (and he wound up facing Tigana in court), Mohamed Fayed approached the matter with a more open mind than some.
Two former Manchester United players have made strikingly successful starts to their managerial careers this season. Neither Roy Keane nor Paul Ince appeared to be obvious choices for the posts they occupy. There was nothing wrong with Niall Quinn calling on a former team-mate and Keane was the more accomplished, if less well travelled and more controversial, of the two. But it is none the less remarkable that Ince should have to go as low as you can in the Football League to get a chance.
Macclesfield looked doomed when Ince took over, with five points from 15 games. Their record since is 31 points from 19 games – a slightly better ratio than that of the team in the last League Two play-off spot, at time of writing. But there are clear limits as to how far a club with crowds averaging barely 2,100 and no sugar daddy can go. If Ince continues to do well, then will he get the chance of a job higher up the League? Will England’s first black captain be the first black Englishman to manage in the Premiership?
It could be some time before we find out, unless someone else gets there first. But until it does happen, until black managers are as common and unremarked a sight as black players, we have to go on raising this subject. Let’s hope that in five years’ time no one is talking about change finally happening in another five years.
From WSC 242 April 2007. What was happening this month