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True diversity in football - let's make it happen

INFLUENTIAL UNION LEADER: Barnes (left) with Chelsea star Eden Hazard

WHO WERE your role models growing up?

Many of mine were black footballers. I was in love with the game and there were enough black and mixed-race stars excelling on the big stage to make me believe that following in their footsteps was somehow achievable.

Statistically the chances of me becoming a top level professional footballer were at best very slim - but because of a connection through a shared identity, I seriously felt I could do it. And, we can see the fruits of that dynamic on the pitch today. More than 30 per cent of players are black or mixed race, compared to the same groups making up around 5 per cent of the UK population.

But, my hope - and mission - is to ensure that when young people from the black community think about a future in football, they see a range of options in front of them - on and off the pitch.

ON THE FA BOARD: The FA’s Heather Rabbatts

Boardroom

This genuine diversity is what the Football Black List is all about - highlighting achievers from the boardroom to the boot room and beyond. It’s about sending a message to young people
from all communities that they are welcome and encouraged to join the football industry at all levels.

The facts about what happens beyond the pitch at the moment underline the challenge ahead. No non-white CEOs, no chairmen and just two directors of football across 92 professional clubs paints a depressing state of affairs - but also makes shining a light on the leaders we do have all the more important.

Dame Heather Rabbatts is on The FA Board, Bobby Barnes is the president of the European division of FIFPro - the world player union, and Chris Hughton is flying high again in the EFL Championship with Brighton - as one of just three black managers in football. These are the role models our young people, with a strong interest in sport, need to know more about.

Industry

I only became aware of the very few black senior decision makers in the industry after I had got a job in football. I had gone through university knowing more about black players in League Two than those sitting around the decision making tables. The Football Black List is all about addressing this through celebrating individuals and creating a space for reflection.

The industry says it wants to be more diverse off the pitch. Let’s make it happen.

The Football Black List celebration, supported by the Premier League, takes place this month.

Leon Mann is a journalist and broadcaster.

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