As someone who has played football since I was a little kid, spent two decades in the game and had the chance to become a coach, I would like to think of myself as an asset to the sport. Then I remember that I was one of the lucky few in my position. Imagine if I felt compelled to walk away and find another profession because I didn’t feel there was a way for me, for no other reason than the fact that people decided that I couldn’t. bring nothing? I know so many black and ethnic minority people who would have made fantastic managers, soccer directors and coaches, but they just can’t see where the opportunities could come from. Football is losing great minds because they feel the door is closed to them, and it’s really overwhelming.

Society is full of unconscious prejudices, and since football so closely reflects life, we have to accept that they are rampant here. It is a fact of everyday life for many of us, but the subject has particularly come to mind in recent weeks. October is Black History Month and it made me wonder how we can tackle these injustices more effectively and how football can lead the way in making it happen.

Since black history is intertwined with this country’s heritage, I don’t see how a month apart benefits anyone. Tackling prejudice should mean dealing with the problem at its root: getting into the education system and making sure people learn the truth from the start. When I was in school we learned a little about the abolition of slavery and its consequences but nothing else about black history. Where have we heard of politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, explorers: those who have contributed so much to society, here and elsewhere?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that black history was just about taking uneducated people out of mud huts and bringing them back here. We never hear of the advanced civilizations that existed in countries like Mali, or that there was a time when the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were black. How many people here in the UK really know about the Windrush Generation, who arrived after WWII and helped rebuild the country, or whom Shakespeare created prominent black characters in plays? The point is, if you are taught in school that a group of people have been mostly slaves and hardly more, you are unlikely to respect their culture or put them on the same intellectual, social and financial level as you. Also, if you are a black youth, what will it do for your self-esteem?

West Indian immigrants in the customs hall after arriving in Southampton in May 1956. Photograph: Haywood Magee / Getty Images

The place of football at the heart of society means that it must be able to help. If our sport came together and said, “We want to change the way black people are viewed, both for the good of people inside and outside of the game,” I think people would listen. We have seen the impact Marcus Rashford has had in tackling critically important issues: We have platform and influence, so now is the time to stand before government and other authorities to discuss how things can go forward.

It wouldn’t be a quick fix, but the impact would be far greater than any of the anti-racist slogans and gadgets that appear in different packages every few years. I feel like people at the top of football are comfortable ticking those boxes rather than doing anything substantial to tackle the causes. The long term impact of this is disillusionment and exhaustion among black people in the game. The point comes where you doubt anything serious is ever going to be done.

A mural in Manchester by Marcus Rashford
A mural in Manchester by Marcus Rashford, which has had an impact in tackling issues of critical importance. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

I’m sure chasing racists on social media is done with good intentions, but what does it really help? Banning someone from Twitter or Instagram doesn’t stop them from being racist. Giving equality sessions in schools is fine, but I doubt that an hour here or there makes a big difference if kids go home to parents who transmit their own biases all day. Getting down on our knees was helpful in highlighting an issue, but then the fanatics started making it a political issue, even though neither of us had ever said a word about it. There is a clear divide in this country and, until we change the underlying narrative around what people are learning about black history, it will remain.

The same will be true of the talent drain I mentioned earlier. Football needs a more diverse training setup in order to get the best out of people. I hear stories of young players having a bad attitude, or being a ‘bad egg’, but there is sometimes a lack of empathy and understanding in the way they are treated. People from different sectors of society have different registers, different terminologies that they understand. If you are from a predominantly black area and are coached by middle aged white men, there is no guarantee that they can identify with you. The mental side of this sport is so important and clubs often don’t know it. We need a coaching demographics that reflects future footballers in order to help them realize their potential.

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I’m lucky at Hereford, where I’ve been a manager for 16 months. Our president fought for equality for many years, so as a mixed race with a white British mother and a Jamaican father, I was offered the same chance as anyone else. It is still a rarity and football can take the lead in ensuring that thousands more are treated the same. It’s time to stop talking about racism and take a hard look at the factors that make it a problem.

Until the powers that be come together and tackle the real causes of the disparities we constantly see, we will spend another maddening decade having conversations that will lead nowhere.

About The Author

John R.

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