LONDON (AP) – Norwich didn’t sack Chris Hughton because he’s Black. It fired him because it is petrified of dropping out of the Premier League and the millions in revenue that would be lost. Still, the result is the same: Every manager leading his team out next weekend will be White.
Not just in the Premier League, but across England’s top five divisions.
While English football prides itself on progress made largely eradicating racism from grounds and its footballers from every corner of the world, it is an alarming anomaly that more than a quarter of Premier League players are Black but none of their managers are. It reinforces for Herman Ouseley, the long-standing chairman of English football’s anti-racism body, Kick It Out, just how much the game remains “institutionally racist.”
“There isn’t the drive and collective feeling of responsibility to become diverse,” Ouseley told The Associated Press on Monday from the British parliament where he sits in the House of Lords.
“That’s because of the way they do business, the way they make decisions … it’s harder to be Black and successful in a process where there is no proper process and accountability.”
Norwich’s commitment to tackling racism is indisputable. It backed police action against online abuse Hughton faced earlier this season.
But while the club is unlikely to ever win the Premier League, its legitimate ambitions of staying in the top flight have been jeopardized by four losses in its last six matches. With the team five points above the relegation zone with five matches remaining, Delia Smith, the co-owner who made her name and fortune from cook books and television shows, will fear missing out on at least $60 million in television revenue next season if Norwich falls to the second tier.
But 55-year-old Hughton’s dismissal Sunday followed a depressingly familiar pattern: no job advert was posted; no line of candidates appeared to be interviewed. Instead youth team coach Neil Adams was hastily promoted to his first senior managerial job. Critics argue that not throwing open jobs to a wider pool of talent, and simply going with football’s known – and overwhelmingly White – managers makes it much harder for aspiring Black coaches to get top jobs.
English football has been exploring whether to emulate the NFL and its Rooney Rule, which forces clubs to at least interview ethnic minorities for top jobs.
“It would be a huge step forward in England in terms of giving coaches and managers from ethnic minority backgrounds an opportunity to at least put their case forward,” said former Blackburn and West Bromwich Albion striker Jason Roberts, who retired from playing last month and has campaigned on race issues.
The Rooney Rule was named after campaigning Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. A survey this season of 200 professional players in England found 62 percent backed the mandatory shortlisting of Black and ethnic minority candidates for all non-playing jobs.
But not all are convinced the NFL rule would work in English football. Even Ouseley accepts: “You can’t transplant the same thing over here.”
There has been investment in courses for aspiring coaches – both male and female – from Black and Asian backgrounds which can lead to the UEFA licenses required for top management jobs.
David Gold has been a football owner for more than 20 years, first at Birmingham and now at West Ham. He is White. He said a non-White manager has never approached him about a job.
“When I hear this constant thing – it’s been going on for a number of years – this concern about ‘Where are the Black managers?’ … I have never interviewed a Black candidate because a Black candidate has not applied,” Gold told a football diversity seminar for lawyers last year attended by The Associated Press. “The applicants are just not there.”
But ex-England striker Les Ferdinand, who is Black, thinks his skin color is slowing his progress up football’s ladder. While coaching at former club Tottenham, he has been studying corporate governance, along with 13 other former Black professional players, including Roberts.
“I’ve always felt as a Black person I’ve never been able to hold a position of authority,” Ferdinand said.
“I felt I needed to do this course in the hope I can go one step further and break into the boardroom. We talk a lot about how we are going to get more Black managers. Unless we can break into those boardrooms and show we can have positions of authority it won’t happen.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris