The Fight not so ‘Black and White’

We hear a lot of stuff about racism in a football pitch and the authorities stepping up to eradicate this grave issue. But what about black managers? Who was the last black manager you saw managing an elite English club? Pratik Guha comes up with an interesting piece elaborating the issue here at GOALden times.

You have to take it with a dose of humour. We aren’t going to change things easily. If you don’t give it importance, they don’t achieve their objective.” said Dani Alves about the racial attack he faced in the game against Villarreal. Racism has plagued the arena of the beautiful game since its evolution. And it is far from over. Despite prompt and stringent response from authorities against cases of racism, such incidents still do happen.  Racism by fans is there for all to see. And hence it can be addressed if not completely fixed. But there is another form of racism that isn’t talked about often even though authorities and governing bodies are completely aware of it. It’s the practice of racism in football management. How many top tier clubs in the European football league are managed by a manager who hail from Black, Asian, Minority or Ethnic community (BAME in short)? Widening the time frame reveals that the number of managers from the aforementioned group is very low.Racism has managed to find its way from stadium and fields to boardrooms.

Football has always gifted us talented men who went on to become legends The crafty and flairy footwork of whose have enamoured the fans and the lovers of the game since time immemorial. And many of those legends belong to the BAME community. The name that first comes to our mind is none other than Brazilian legend Pele. From Eusebio of yester years to Roger Milla, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry or Didier Drogba of present day. All of them have enriched the history of football and the list is gigantic. But when it comes to managing a team why is it so that this huge list gets transformed to a paltry and handful one?

One reason behind this startling phenomenon is that not many of the footballers of the BAME group take up the position of gaffer as their next career option or consider it to be one surely. But what might be the reason behind that? What is that barrier that keeps them from staying associated with the game they have so dearly loved, through a different role?

Chris Ramsey took over the reigns of Queens Park Rangers from Harry Redknapp. But just before the season ended he opened up in an interview and predicted the heat he might have to face if his side gets relegated. But the Rangers gaffer was right in a way as he put it that all the blame will go on his skin colour for the team’s under performance. Nobody will care to look behind, what happened when he was not in charge before February 2015. The people will not care about the achievements he had under his belts. The only black manager in the top flight of English football, he was the first of his community to manage an English national team when he took the under-20 national football team to the World Cup in Nigeria in 1999. But it was the situation from where he took over that was noteworthy, not the performances on the field. The then U-20 English team was plagued by injuries and withdrawals and at a time when the rest of the managers backed down to take the burden Ramsey braved it and came forward. According to him it is not just always about the statistics they deal with but more than that. The journey, the struggle the people of the BAME group have to face is not recognized. That struggle itself sometimes turns out to be so arduous that not much is left in people like Ramsey after coming to a certain height. And nobody gives them their due. The most ironical part is all these were happening with Ramsey in the season when one of his disciples was taking the league by its neck and making the world take note of his scoring prowess.While Harry Kane continued to grab the headlines with each goal he scored, the man who so carefully nurtured him was facing the heat.

Chris Ramsey was appointed head coach of QPR on a permanent basis on 19 May 2015, signing a three-year contract - wind of change?
Chris Ramsey was appointed head coach of QPR on a permanent basis on 19 May 2015, signing a three-year contract – wind of change?

Almost similar was the reaction of former Liverpool and Manchester United man Paul Ince. He was sacked by Notts County in 2011 in his sixth month of being in charge. Ha started his managerial stint with Swindon Town in August 2006 as a player manager but stayed there for a brief period before getting recruited by Macclesfield Town in the month of October in the same season. Ince showed his managerial prowess there by reviving the team from an imminent relegation and climbed up the League Two table. He eventually won the ‘Manager of The Month’ for the month of December in January 2007. Next season Ince signed with Milton Keynes Dons and won the first silverware as manager when his side defeated Grims by Town by 2-0 to become the champions of the Football League Trophy 2008. He helped MK Dons script their return to League One when they beat Stockport County by a score of 3-2. Ince’s boys became the champions of the league when they tamed Bradford City 2-1. In his tenure as the MK Dons custodian Ince won the ‘League two Manager of the Month’ thrice that season, for the month of October and December in 2007 and for the month of April in 2008. In the next season, Ince became the first Black manager of Premier League era when Blackburn Rovers trusted him with the duty of their first team. That is where Ince had his complains. He had to travel much harder a path, had to prove himself again and again and against all adversities to see himself as a manager of a top flight team even after playing under many famous managers like Sir Alex Ferguson. His former teammates Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate, on the other hand, tasted their maiden managerial roles straightaway with Sunderland and Middlesbrough respectively, two of the then premier league sides. Ince, the first of his community to captain an English National football team in the history, sounded sad and frustrated when he said the he believes football is never going to be free from racism.

Ince’s words are not something that can be made light of if we see the track record and statistics. The first ever black manager in the history of English football is Tony Collins. He was appointed the manager at Rochdale back in 1960s. And after that it took three decades before the country got another manager from the minority community when Keith Alexander was recruited by Lincoln and thus became the first ever full time black manager in the history of the football league. It’s a staggering time gap. A study conducted by Staffordshire university recorded the opinions of nearly 1000 people associated with different quarters of the game. Almost half of the sample people believed racism exists in the managerial and boardroom level of the football hierarchy and a mighty 82% were of the opinion that managers are recruited on the basis of their skin complexion.

Now, if we have a look at the comparative statistics of black managers in English football against that of the black players currently playing with the total population being 100% the shock will rise up a few degrees. Out of 552 managerial positions available across all the divisions only 19 such positions are occupied by people from BAME community i.e. a mere 3.4%. To put things into perspective, a total of 25% of footballers in the country are from minority communities and 14% of the total population are from the BAME community. The stats look only marginally better if only the 230 clubs which make the top seven tiers of English footballs are considered where 14 managers are from the neglected population making a total of 6% approximately. The charts below give a better understanding of the situation.



The figure in the rest of United Kingdom is more disturbing. There is no black manager in all the four divisions of Scottish League or in top flight of Northern Ireland. In Wales, Andy Preece, in charge of Airbus UK, is the only representative of the black community in the top flight.

At the root of this problem is the lack of transformation of black players into managers and the rejection they face whenever they try to cross the next hurdle. As a recent study conducted by The Guardian suggests, clubs believe that players coming from this faction of the society excel in on field jobs but lack what it takes to be a successful manager. Surprisingly no explanation or reasoning could be found behind this prejudice.So what compels the concerned authority of the clubs who are responsible for recruiting managers? Brian Deane, the manager of Sarpsborg 08 of Norway, tells there is a premeditated notion in the minds of the clubs’ boards that that black players are generally good for roles where hard work is more relevant and a few other misconceptions like the players from these communities will be inevitably unruly, lazy and likely to create trouble for the club. And although in some occasions that has turned out to be true  it still is a far-fetched generalization. Brian Deane is an exception himself. A centre forward in his playing days, he shot to fame in 1992 for scoring the first ever goal of the Premier League era for Sheffield United against Manchester United. The path from player to manager was not so straight for Deane. He started as a consultant but then realized football is his inner call. But as expected, he did not get much acceptance in his homeland. But luckily for him, with Leeds having a sizeable following in Norway, Deane was a known name to the footballing fraternity there and it helped him to find a position. He saved his club from relegation which turned him to a messiah to locals. Deane does not want to have much complains against these issues of racism and unequal struggles. But he accepts that the problem is there.

Brian Deane, the manager of Sarpsborg 08 of Norway, tells there is a premeditated notion in the minds of the clubs’ boards that that black players are generally good for roles where hard work is more relevant

Another reason behind this problem can be the conventional captain-to-coach pathway followed in many clubs. In many cases the club shortlists its leaders or captains of the senior teams for the future managerial roles. In the later stages of their careers these players remain involved in the selection procedures, transfer proceedings, match day tactics etc. They interact with the manager, directors of the club and others. So when it comes to appointing a new manager the club hires the captain.Exactly what has happened in the cases of Gary Monk at Swansea and Ryan Giggs at Manchester United. And history stands witness to the fact that there have not been many black captains in English football. As do statistics. Out of total 111 different captains The English National football team had since Cuthbert Ottaway first wore the armband back in 1872, only 3 such men from the BAME community got the honour to lead their country on the field and all of them were on makeshift roles – Paul Ince, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand.

But what the clubs fail to understand is going for the fresh faces will provide them with a wider spectrum and newer possibilities albeit with added risk. According to a recent statistics published by Sky Sports, the average tenure of a manager in the top divisions of English football is little more than a year. But most of the names are known. The clubs keep rotating a cycle where the known faces come and go after a regular interval. There is no room for surprises. Let us consider the example of Tony Pulis, a well known manager in English football having managed the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and more famously Stoke City.  And there are other managers like Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew who have managed several mid table and relegation battling clubs in the Premier League. And these names keep repeating at the top clubs. Hence the new managers, especially from the BAME communities, get disheartened day by day and most of them don’t take long to reject the idea of taking up managing as a future goal. No one likes the idea of getting rejected time and again and the coloured managerial aspirants learn to accept the irrational prejudice of clubs. And this deep rooted feeling of frustration keeps them from even thinking of being associated with the game after retirement. They switch to some other professions only to realise after few years that this field is not their cup of tea. But much time has already been wasted by then and they are already late for enrolling themselves for the further training courses for getting coaching badges and licenses. The path that was already hard gets more of an uphill task for them.

So is there any way that can at least reduce this practice if not can totally abolish it. Rooney Rule can be one such way. The rule that was named after Dan Rooney the owner of Pittsburgh Steelers was implemented in the National Football League in the USA in 2003. It was made mandatory for the teams’ administrations to interview at least one candidate belonging to ethnic or black candidate. But this rule also has a fair bit of doubt around it. While it had shown some early signs of positive influence when just in a few years of the rule being introduced the number of black managers had gone up to 14 (out of a total 32 positions available) and the 2007 edition of the ‘Super Bowl’ was contested by two teams managed by two African American, the present situation is not that bright as there are currently only four such managers working in the league and no manager has been appointed from the population under discussion in the last two years. And there is also  quite a strong opinion that airs its doubt on whether this legislation will have any effect on the Premier League or the rest of the divisions. And the reason behind this is solid since this rule brings a kind of quota system with it and that is never a right way to scale one’s eligibility. Some of the former players and aspiring managers have tagged it as a disgrace because according to them the token interview will get them to nowhere. But Deane is more open to it. For him getting to an interview means getting one step ahead. But the candidate has to have the right attitude and belief in him that he can do it and managing a club is all that he wants. But that does not quite satiate the previous doubts.

"Football has nothing to lose" - feels Dan Rooney (Source - BBC)
“Football has nothing to lose” – feels Dan Rooney on implementing “Rooney Rule” (Source – BBC)

What is the role of The FA in this situation? Brendon Batson, once a footballer for England and representative of the black community and now working with the association is hopeful and claims the situation is taking a positive turn and better than what it previously used to be. The reason behind this claim  is the Bursary Program that FA has been running for the last few years. The program that educates and train male and female aspirants who want to join football management. But it is too early to tell how much success it will bring in long term. But its a welcome step no doubt.

All the discussion so far has been limited to the English football. But the situation is no better in the rest of Europe too. The problem of on-field and off-field racism is more prevalent in the eastern parts of Europe. But the shocking part is that the even the “Dark Continent”, where people with coloured complexion form the majority, is not free from it. Let us take the example of this year’s African Cup of Nations which started on 17th January and ended on 8th February. Out of the 16 teams that took part in the latest bi-yearly continental completion of Africa, only 4 out of the 16 teams had coaches of African origin. Florent Ibenge, manager of Democratic Republic of Congo was very clear that racism is very much present in the football administration or “Insidious Racism” as he put it.He was not at all ready to buy the idea that skin colour determines the acumen of a manager or the black men are in any way less eligible than the fairer ones and he proved his right by leading his team to a third place finish.

There can be no denial that the group of managers we are talking about have not been able to prove their mettle on a bigger platform so that it can make their claim stronger on the field. It is true that the black players on the verge of retirement or people of their faction associated with football nowadays are not taking up football management as seriously as they should if they had really wanted to remain associated with the game. The number of BAME candidates applying for the licensing courses are dropping down. The inevitable question that rises is that are they really eligible for the job? But this fallacy can be viewed from the reverse way round too. The long history of rejection and negligence of their quality where they deserved are making their approach less sincere day by day. One Ramsey or Deane is too insignificant to turn the tide around. And this practice has become so commonplace in the lower echelons of football that despite remaining so open in front of our eyes we fail to recognize it.

So at the end of it all what can we really expect? To be honest we can only hope. We can only hope that what Batson claims is going to be true in future. that there will be more people like Brian Deane or Paul Ince who amidst all the adversities will shine and their achievements will make their teams immortal in the history of the game. We will hope that people like Chris Ramsey will not have to fear for their job if their teams eventually fail to perform on the field. The journey they had had to travel will get recognized. There will be hope that the governing bodies of the teams and supporters will realize that not everything is in manager’s hands. No matter how good he trains or how efficient he tactically is, it all depends how the eleven players perform on the field because a manager cannot take the field to cover for his players’ faults. And success in football is not always a readymade formula for success. Although not all hopes are lost. Rare occasions of the credits of these managers getting acknowledged do take place as it happened in the case of Ramsey when QPR offered him a three-year contract for being the head coach of the club on permanent basis on May 19, 2015 after the club got relegated and he signed it.

The game that we love so dearly was once a game played by a few with a leathered sphere. All these present glitz and glamour, limelight, huge amounts of money associated was never a true part of this. The game that still brings a ray of hope, the strength to fight to live in too many corners of the world where otherwise ‘Life’ has lost its way in debris or ruins of but it is already neck deep in controversies that have already taken away a part of trust quotient that it had. The stories of scandals and them getting exposed can even bring celluloid dramas to shame. Amidst all these external blots we can hope that the game will at least be able to free itself from the internal problem that is eating it out silently. The only colours that matter in football are the colour of passion and love. The love that take the form of the Yellow wall saying “Danke Jurgen” at a certain Westfalenstadion. Because football doesn’t care for the colour of a person’s skin. Let the colour of passion be the only colour that matters in football.


1. ‘Why Are There so Few Black Football Managers?’ Tim Lewis (The Guardian)
2. ‘Is football failing black managers?’ Simon Stone (
3. The Football Association (
4. Sky Sports (
5. The Times (
6. Daily Mail Online (