Would Rooney Add Colour?


Anyone who watched football in the 1970s and 1980s will know what racism in football is all about. They were the decades of ‘firsts’. First black player to do this, first black player to do that. Yet there have been very few instances, other than one or two high profile incidents, occurring since then. The issue still exists on the terraces and in the stands, but clubs have moved on. The 2011 Census reported 87% of UK population to be white, yet approximately 25% of players playing professional football are black or ethnic minority as clubs have long since given up worrying about the looks of a player, preferring the value they might bring. Which is why it is difficult to fully believe football would be able to completely ignore a person’s colour when they’re playing, only to have a block on them when they finish their career.

On the face of it with Chris Powell (Huddersfield) and Keith Curle (Carlisle) the only black managers currently employed at the helm of any of the 92 league clubs, this would suggest a problem. However, this also highlights some people’s continuation with trying to divide people based on their colour. In a true equal society there would be no ‘black or white’, just people. We don’t single out ginger haired, bald, or beardy managers so should we really try and find a problem with lack of black-skinned managers? There are plenty of people finding it hard to get a coaching job in football, yet we are only to have sympathy for those who are black, apparently.

If we go by 2011 Census information then only 3% of UK population is registered as Black or Black British. So following that through 3% of 92 is 2.76 and therefore it would appear black managers are only slightly underrepresented according to the population ratio. However, if you consider how many black players there are then you could easily argue against those statistics.

One factor which is being ignored is the focus is on how many black managers there are, yet no one is considering how many black coaches, scouts and other important staff members there are in the League.

The Rooney Rule

One suggestion is to implement ‘The Rooney Rule’ which currently exists in American Football (NFL). The rule was named after Dan Rooney, owner of Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the league’s diversity committee. The Steelers have a long history of giving African Americans opportunities in leadership roles within the franchise. The aim of the rule was to make sure minority coaches were considered for positions within the NFL teams. There is no compulsion on teams to employ a black coach, yet they must interview at least one for any coaching position. The rule was implemented in 2003 and supporters point to statistics which suggest there was a real problem within the sport for ‘not trusting a black person for such an authoritarian role’. Prior to the rule there had only been 7 coaches employed by any of the teams from the first man in 1921 to 2003. Since the rule has been in place there have been 13 coaches employed.

However, on closer inspection of these statistics you must bear in mind USA barely allowed black players into the sport until the end of the 1960’s, so to try and look back over 80 years gives a misleading slant on the statistics.

There have been a number of football people who have called for the rule to be implemented into the game. Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the PFA, said recently the sport “has a hidden resistance preventing black managers getting jobs”. Seems odd he’s never voiced that opinion before, but maybe he hasn’t been asked the direct question before. Garth Crooks, former player and now tv pundit/interviewer, went further by accusing The FA of ‘lacking courage’ and especially singled out Greg Clarke, Chairman of the Football League, accusing him of ‘bottling it’ when Clarke revealed he had tried to get the matter discussed within a committee meeting but found the only director who was sympathetic to the idea lost his seat on the board when his club was relegated.

Another former player and now radio pundit, Jason Roberts, has also been particularly vocal in his incredulity of a lack of motivation within the game’s authorities to change the status quo. In fact even Dan Rooney himself has said “English football has nothing to lose” by implementing the rule. But is The Rooney Rule the solution to the issue? Is there an issue at all?

With so many of England’s league clubs having foreign owners can you really suggest English football chooses managers based on the colour of their skin? Are there many black managers throughout Europe? At the recent World Cup how many nations had black managers?

My problem with The Rooney Rule is you automatically single people out for the colour of their skin, whereas there may not actually be that distinction at the moment. The rule is racist as it singles a man out for the colour of his skin. It says

“You, you are different cos you is black. So we’re going to treat you differently and ignore everything else about you, your attitude, your intelligence, your ability to plan and motivate. We’re singling you out because of the colour of your skin and we’re going to interview you. There, that’s nice for you isn’t it? You see, we’re giving you a real opportunity here and if and when you get a job, you can thank us because you wouldn’t have got this job if we, as the white man, hadn’t stepped in and changed the rules simply for you. Oh, and in 10 years’ time we can review this and you can look back and will now owe us white folk as you wouldn’t have had this opportunity without us. Now, run along little black fella, and don’t forget who’s in charge.”

There you are, job done, everything in the garden is rosy.

But is it?

For every coaching position in NFL there has been a black person interviewed, yet barely one a year has been successful in their application. Does that mean the problem has been eradicated? Can the NFL truly claim there is no racism within the selection of their coaches? If it is the rule which has allowed black coaches to come through, why do they still need it after 10 years? If they didn’t before, surely the franchises all now believe in the ability of any coach, no matter their colour, and so removing the rule would mean every coach is selected on merit, wouldn’t it? But then that’s my problem with the issue.

White people can feel they’ve sorted the problem by giving the black man an opportunity and the black man must feel continually thankful for it. So much so, that there are no calls for the rule to be relaxed, presumably for fear it would take the sport back to “the bad old days”. Racism is something which is learned and so can equally be unlearned. Surely franchise owners now want to employ the best candidate and if they did have a problem, no matter how conscious they were of it, they will now be aware of the need to show they’re inclusive not exclusive.?

If NFL is afraid to remove the rule then they’ve hardly dealt with the underlying problem in any way, and rather proves my point of it being a ruse for the ‘white man’ to suggest they have allowed the ‘black man’ to join their party. You need to deal with the cause before you can enjoy the effect.

The Rooney Rule goes against looking at a person’s ability to manage, motivate, organise and recruit, yet these are all qualities needed for a manager in club football. Wouldn’t Jason Roberts, Garth Crooks, Sol Campbell or Dwight Yorke serve ‘the black argument’ better by seeking careers in management rather than take the Sky pound?

Numerous people have pointed to the dearth of black managers in English football but no one will name names. By that I mean nobody states who the managers are who are not being given opportunities. Every out-of-work manager will tell you they should be in work, regardless of their background or ethnicity. Often ex-players will need to take over at clubs in the lower divisions and work their way up, but even that doesn’t guarantee a smooth journey. There aren’t many Premier League clubs willing to take a chance on an ex-player, especially English ones. So why should we be surprised if Campbell, Roberts or Yorke aren’t taken on?

Sol Campbell accused The FA of bias based on skin-colour when not selecting him as captain, maintaining he could’ve been captain of his country for ‘at least 10 years’. This was then roundly batted back as more viable alternatives had been chosen merely illustrating Campbell may well have had sufficient qualities yet there were others with more.

In addition to this, is Jason Roberts really saying he’d be happy to be given a management role simply because of his skin colour? Can you imagine the press conference if he was to be given the recently vacated Bolton job? How many times could you do that? Surely if he is unqualified and not as capable as others, then how many clubs really want to take a chance purely because it appeals to some people’s perception of football?


But if racial discrimination exists in football, is it the only form of discrimination? I don’t believe it is. So if the Rooney Rule sorts out any bias towards and against people on the basis of the colour of their skin what about the discrimination which exists in football in other areas of coaching? For example, it appears in order to get a decent job in football you need to have been a former professional player. There are plenty of people who have achieved their coaching badges yet do not get real opportunities because they don’t know club owners well enough. But even English ex-professional players struggle to get too many opportunities in the Premier League, yet any amount of foreign ex-professionals do.

Let’s take the example of Cardiff City, they got rid of Iain Moody as Head of Recruitment and replaced him with a mate of the owner’s son. That’s discrimination as you or I wouldn’t have been able to get that job even if we were qualified as we didn’t know the owner’s son. Plenty of jobs within football are given solely on the basis of ‘who you know’. This is where football continues to be in conflict with wider society which has moved on from ‘nepotism’ as swathes of employment laws have sought to remove it. How often do you hear of a club sacking a manager and then it is suggested that “Mr X” is their favourite candidate. That rarely happens in the business world outside of football as companies have to be extremely careful about whether they recruit externally as well as internally, for vacant positions.

By the simple act of looking at statistics (two black coaches throughout 92 clubs) on their own merits means you are not only accusing clubs of not appointing black people based on the colour of their skin, but equally you are accusing clubs of appointing white people simply based on the colour of their skin and not their ability to do the job. I would like to see names being named. Come on, where are the coaches who believe they have been turned down for a job based on the colour of their skin? There are employment laws in place now to deal with discrimination and plenty of media outlets who would be more than happy to take that one on, yet we never hear of anything.

Football is not an easy industry to get into unless you know the right people and have the right connections. Take Dean Saunders, for example, he took 7 years to get his coaching badges. He sent off applications for 25 jobs yet only heard back from 5. That can happen to black & white people and suggests a greater problem with opportunities than simply to highlight colour. Talk to any unemployed person in the country and they will tell you of the soulless experience of not even getting a reply.

In the end, Saunders got a job as Assistant Manager to Graeme Souness at Newcastle, which was largely down to their association at Liverpool when Souness signed him to replace Peter Beardsley. Joey Barton stated when he did his coaching badge there was not a single black or ethnic person on his course. Nobody is saying black or ethnic people are not interested in becoming coaches and of course there may be some truth in a counter argument which says some black ex-players are deciding to “not even bother trying” for a coaching job as they believe they will be turned down immediately. It is also interesting to note that one of “the two”, Keith Curle, has publicly stated he doesn’t believe he has been turned down for jobs purely for the colour of his skin.

If you don’t believe me on that front, consider this. Graham Rix was Assistant Manager at Chelsea in the late 90’s. He sent to prison for underage sex with a 15 year old girl. Yet after serving six months of his twelve months sentence he walked back into his old job. John Sitton was caught on camera swearing at some of his Leyton Orient players during a documentary in the mid-90’s and has struggled to work in football again.


During a recent discussion it was suggested the answer maybe for clubs to make public their decisions for rejecting applicants. Laudable though this may be, in practice it is not something which will have legs as employment lawyers will be all over it. Clubs will be hamstrung to such an extent they will not be able to say anything detrimental for fear of being sued. It’ll be like employment references where previous employers are not able to say exactly what they think of a past employee as they will be sued for defamation with lawyers arguing the reference has ruined the applicant’s life and they may never get accepted anywhere.

Let’s imagine Dean Saunders applies for the Bolton job and is turned down. Bolton then make it public that perhaps he turned up late for the interview, was disorganised and just wasn’t as well connected as the successful candidate. Then when the next job comes up, Saunders doesn’t even get an interview as the next club believes he’s late, disorganised and not well connected. This could hamper him for years. Then of course a club saying that about a black manager may well be accused of simply disguising the fact they didn’t want to employ a black manager. That isn’t progress.

English football may never get past it’s obsession with celebrity and it is undeniable many clubs believe a ‘name’ is better in charge of their players as they can motivate by reputation. Additionally a nervous owner may feel a ‘name’ will get the fans back on their side. This is short-term thinking in the extreme but it is one of the things which means football remains a sport rather than a business.


I agree there should be more black and ethnic minority coaches around professional football but we need people appointed to jobs on merit rather than to try and engineer something which makes some people believe the job has been done. Positive discrimination is still discrimination and it is wrong. I would rather have people chosen for their ability to do a job, regardless of the colour of their skin.

Instead of a “Rooney Rule” I would like to see The FA work with clubs to discover if there is a problem. They don’t need to make this public, just instigate an education programme. But as I have already mentioned, there is bias towards and against certain candidates already, and by simply focussing on skin colour may not completely deal with this.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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