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Time to celebrate

PICTURED: Leon Mann

A WELL respected former footballer - who I admire greatly - challenged me with a very valid question earlier this year. In a very direct, but polite, email he asked: 'What exactly are we celebrating at the Football Black List?'

It was a good point. The black community has no chief executive or chairperson across 92 professional clubs - and a measly four managers (Chris Hughton, Keith Curle, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Nuno Espirito Santo). All of this sits very uncomfortably against the huge achievements of the community on the field - where one in three professional players are black. 

The situation in the football media is just as bad with mass under representation of the black community across written journalism, and only a tiny sprinkling of opportunities in broadcasting for those who haven’t played the game at the highest level. Don’t believe me? Have a look at who is covering the weekend fixtures - away from The Voice Newspaper coverage - and you’ll struggle to find much black representation. 

But it is because of this depressing situation that I believe the Football Black List is needed more than ever - as it is the context of the celebration that makes it far more meaningful than a back-patting awards night.

The evening holds up those flying the flag - underlining that achieving, against all the odds, is possible. It’s a message that is vital if we want the next generation of diverse communities to push forward to change the demographic of the industry and it’s leadership. The principle is simple - see success, be success. 

It is also key that if we are going to instil a belief that there is a way into the football industry, that there is also an acceptance of the historic inequality of opportunity and it is addressed with action to remedy an ugly past.

There have been some innovative solutions attempted in recent years. In coaching and management the English Football League have introduced a positive action recruitment code across their 72 clubs’ academies - it is also voluntary at first team level.

Those in the know report encouraging signs… So should every club be adopting this as a mandatory measure for all coaching appointments? And why stop there - maybe it should be applied across all positions in the football industry? From the boardrooms to the dug outs and media tribunes. 

And the great thing about the Football Black List celebration is while it brings people together to recognise and applaud achievements, the initiative also creates a space for important conversations, reflection and learnings to take place. 

So I hope the initiative and event can help focus minds. After the disastrous handling of the Eniola Aluko case - clearly this is paramount.

The recent inclusion of Arsenal women’s Danielle Carter and the PFA’s Iffy Anoura on The FA council suggest a move in the right direction. Something we should celebrate - while charting out how we can continue to progress.

The Football Black List celebration November 8 is supported by the Premier League.

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