Is the Rooney rule needed?


By Ben Jones

An early start the other week resulted in many hours of sports radio discussing the fact that The Football League is planning to introduce a version of American Football’s ‘Rooney Rule’.

In a nutshell the plan means that from the 2016/17 season each club will have to interview one black minority ethnic (BME) for each head coach or manager role. The thinking behind this is simple; of the 72 league clubs only five employ black managers.

I nearly fell into the trap of trying to be overly fair and balanced and saying that any move in this direction is to be applauded. Nearly. But I simply can’t. I’m apoplectic with rage at this idea. I find it an insult of the highest order. I think our sanitised and PC world has gone so far as to shoot itself in the foot. It’s outrageous what is being proposed for reasons that require some thought and not an immediate reaction of encouragement for a gesture of apparent appeasement.

Firstly, please never reduce a human to an acronym. BME. Please?

Secondly, do not insult human beings by unfairly advantaging them due to the colour of their skin. The world’s leagues are awash with brilliant players whom have risen through a driven childhood. Their lives dedicated to a sport and little else. For some it’s building a better life and achieving- dramatically for some, leaving a war torn or deprived country. For those in the developed world it’s foregoing the lifestyles of those who couldn’t make it. No nightclubs, little alcohol and leaving friends behind to be dedicated. There is a reason only the chosen make it. Hard work, graft, hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and more graft.

Anyone who has ever known a professional sportsman will know they are a different breed. Robotic. Confident. Driven. Arrogant. I cannot imagine one professional sportsman who feels they deserve a favour. We all need luck. A break. But a favour? No. Not one true professional would want to be somewhere due to a favour. It goes against the grain. But to be given that favour due to the pigmentation of your skin. That’s downright offensive.

It’s a fact that only five mangers of the 72 in league football are of colour. I cannot explain that. It does seem crassly disproportionate. It’s also disproportionate that Scotland seems to produce a raft of the current good managers. I also cannot explain that.

Perhaps we try too hard to seek explanation. I personally believe we do. Simply because the racism angle doesn’t float with me. Perhaps I’m naive, but in this harsh modern world I don’t believe the vast majority of the population give a thought to the colour of another’s skin. In everyday life we are all happy to achieve a new friendship with a person if they are decent, kind and funny. If a person presents as an enhancement to your life, you will encourage and foster that relationship.

In football fandom this equation is strangely skewed as you never know the manager or player. But again, if they enhance your club, and therefore your life, you will worship them. The vast majority of football fans – I am not so naive as to say all – don’t recognise the colour of their team’s players. They recognise heroes. They crave heroes.

I’m 40 years old. But Nakhi Wells just ignited me with pure pride. I loved the back story. I loved his humble beginnings. I loved his silly voice. Above all else I loved that for the first time in years when he got the ball I felt magic. Expectant. I felt we had unearthed a superstar. I sung his name loud and proud. I wish he was still a City player.

I didn’t care what colour his skin is.

I also loved Gary Jones. Brian Tinnion. Nigel Pepper. Robbie Blake. Eric McManus.

I don’t care what colour their skin is.

A player who gives his all will always be cherished. Be it Paul Ince or Paul Gascoigne. Ian Wright or Ian Rush. David Beckham or David Ginola. Colour, nationality or any other factor matter not. A heart, a flourish of skill and a pride to wear the jersey do though.

In short fans don’t care. So what of the clubs?

Nor do they. It’s a results business. If a manager could guarantee promotion then they would be hired. Nothing matters in football but success. It’s therefore a fanciful theory to suggest that a potential manager or coach would not be hired due to the colour of their skin. Why is every top league in Europe heavily represented by players of all nationalities? Because they are good enough to attempt to bring success to their employers. To sell shirts. To be idolised by the fans. There is no suggestion of any racism or selectiveness when picking players. Why would it be any different with managers? It simply would not. It’s a leap too far.

Bringing the issue back to Bradford City, I will never forget Chris Kamara’s anger-fuelled charge down the stairs following the assault upon Gordon Watson. Nor Paul Jewell’s cigar gesture at Wolves away. Nor Phil Parkinson’s sheer jubilation at Chelsea away.

I shall never forget the tough tackling of Nigel Pepper or Stuart McCall. The skills of Jamie Lawrence. The fact Jamie stands behind you at Villa away and simply loves the club. His tweets oozing passion for our club. His club. Our club.

I shall never forget Edinho. I may forget Rodrigeuez! I shan’t forget Zavon, Doyle, Cooke.

I will remember all as City players who contributed to the club, to a greater or lesser extent. Players who brought me immense happiness and cherished memories.

So please don’t patronise a fellow man, or perhaps in the future woman, by placing them in a box. Let the best rise to the top because they eventually do.

I always watched Jamie’s tweets with interest and bemusement. How did he not have a top conditioning/ fitness role at a top club I thought. Then with immense pride I saw him sat next to Avram Grant. He earned that. He was hired due to his graft, determination, skill and more graft. And long may it continue.

But here’s the caveat, I’m a member of the indigenous population. I may have no right to speak for those who feel in a majority. And if that’s the case, then I apologise for trying to state your cause.

Categories: Opinion

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12 replies

  1. Good article,

    It would be interesting to know what percentage of black coaches get appointed in American Rules football under the Rooney rule.

    I never thought of Chris Kamara as black until that cretin Mellor raised the subject when he was sacked(was it because he was black ?)

    Funnily enough, according to the cretin, when Chelsea sacked Gullit, it wasn’t because he was black.

    I guess they both got sacked because they couldn’t do the job anymore ?

  2. Good piece Ben. you mention Paul Ince and while his managerial career might not have panned out like he hoped, i had huge admiration for him starting at Macclesfield and willing to do the ‘hard yards’ as did Keith Alexander & Chris Powell to an extent. They never asked for preferential treatment or expected it. On the other hand the perpetual whinging of the likes of John Barnes & Sol Campbell do them no favours at all. Barnes, simply put was not a good manager. Great player , yes, but sorry John, you couldn’t hack it but then again neither could Bobby Charlton & Bobby Moore.

    Do your apprenticeship and learn the ropes and you will gain the respect you deserve. Its al about ability, not the colour of someone’s skin at the end of the day.

  3. I understand your argument, but this regulation only requires that one of the candidates to be interviewed is a black minority ethnic person, not that that person must be appointed.
    And only in a years time.
    A reasonable step, I believe.

  4. Sorry, Tim ….. But if I were to consider interviewing candidates – and I set an initial short list of ten – then I would be looking for the BEST ten to interview. Are you suggesting one should fail to be interviewed at the expense of a coloured person, or to extend my list to eleven? Similarly, what if my top ten were all coloured, would anyone raise an eyebrow? PC has much to answer for.

  5. I agree with the Rooney rule just not the way it is being presented in its current format.

    I was born in 1990 so I have grown up with Black players as the norm but before my time they werent. But it took a generation and we need to wait for a new generation of successful black managers. Paul Ince claims racism….fact is…he was garbage. But for every black manager who fails….how many English (black or white) fail at the same time.

    We are seeing a new generation of successful managers. Hasslebaink and Hughton. We will see more but we dont need the Rooney rule

    I believe foreign managers are cheaper and taking over. My version of the Rooney rule would involve interviewing at least one home grown manager.

  6. I think your last comment makes the point of the Rooney rule Chris, it attempts in a small way to break through the barrier that stops a black candidate in the BEST ten from being overlooked for the 11th or 12th best candidate purely because of the fact that they are black.

  7. Probably the best argument for the Rooney Rule is that it has worked. Despite not compelling owners to employ a black person (just short-list them) employment of black coaches has increased. That suggests that some people who were never getting in the interview room are actually shining when they do.

    I did a piece of work on this nearly a decade ago and the two main things that struck me were:

    First (and this was something the late Keith Alexander talked about when I interviewed him), a lot of black managers or potential managers are more than happy to work hard to get the job but not only do they feel they have to work harder than their white counterpart, crucially, they are punished harder for mistakes. Most managers make mistakes, especially early on, but the re-employment of black managers is low. Many talked about not getting short-listed for one of the many jobs Bryan Robson kept getting despite being a bad manager!

    Second, a lot of black players don’t seem to have escaped those really basic stereotypes about why they’re suited to play in certain positions and why they shouldn’t be captains. Certain roles lend themselves to the transition to management (a centre back who is also his club captain for example). Whilst we assume that players are not pigeon-holed owing to colour any more (Ince, Campbell, Ferdinand etc etc), when I did my study (a decade old now I’ll admit), British-born black players were still much more likely to find themselves playing on the wing, at full back, or as the ‘fast-one’ up-front.They were much less likely to be club captain. I don’t for one second suggest that modern clubs think like this and pigeon-hole in this way, as an earlier comment suggests, clubs just want to win! However a lot of the decisions that shape where a player plays are still made in youth and school football where coaches might not be as enlightened.

  8. God forbid that we should be ‘overly fair or balanced’. I was transported back to the 1970s reading this piece, and not in a good way. There is a reason for positive discrimination – it is to make some attempt to redress the disgraceful imbalance that exists in all walks of life, either through peoples’ or organisations’ ignorance or deliberate discrimination. To challenge it is, in my view, ignorant and/or discriminatory, and to justify it with ‘reasoning’ based on hypothetical scenarios about inferior candidates bizarre, but not unexpected in this context probably. Use of the term ‘coloured’ just about sums it up (better than an acronym apparently). It has been virtually outlawed in all discourse on BME issues – and it is the terminology ethnic minorities themselves have agreed on using, and which consequently all Goverment and campaigning organisations use unless referring to one specific ethnic group. But this person thinks he knows better. The ignorance/belief running through the argument that the issue can be reduced to the colour of a persons’ skin beggars belief.

    • To be fair Dave I think that most people on here agree that the issue can’t be reduced to colour. The debate is whether the Rooney rule tries to do just that.

  9. To football’s great credit at least the sport is actively addressing covert or overt racism, be it in the stands, on the pitch or in the board room. Whether or not you think the Rooney rule is right or not is immaterial, the fact that we are debating it at all shows how high up it is in the game’s consciousness.

    Interesting that we don’t hear similar debates about the number of black players / coaches at Wimbledon, at the Masters, F1, or in the GB swimming team for example.

    I think in time it is inevitable that black coaches will come onto the scene. You only have to look at the ethnic make up of a lot of teams now to realize that some must start to break through into management once their playing careers come to an end. It will only take a couple to be successful before the flood gates will open – just as in the case of black players in the 80’s. Whether the Rooney rule accelerates that process or not is open to debate.

    For me the far more worrying aspect is the lack of ethic minorities in the crowd at VP. What a shame in a such a multi cultural city as Bradford. Lets hope the season ticket offer brings a more diverse crowd to home games next season. Be great to have a Bangra chant to go alongside John Denver!

  10. I struggled to agree with this article. To mention that only people who work hard get the breaks and then state only 5 Black coaches exists seems to lead to the conclusion that black people are not working hard enough. I know that is not the intention but I am afraid the aged, white owners stick to’what they know’ rather than looking at the whole field. The Rooney rule is needed, in the same way universities need to look at students from deprived areas with different qualifications than the privileged private schools. It is an attempt to redress the balance, and it is fair.

  11. When you look at the huge number of black footballers that have played in England over the last 20 years, many at the highest level, the fact that there continue to be so few black managers is startling. To respond with ‘I cannot explain that’ is just burying your head in the sand.

    If all managers were genuinely picked on merit alone then the only explanation surely is that black footballers do not make good managers, a suggestion I find deeply offensive. I wish we did not need a ‘Rooney rule’, but if we do nothing then things will simply continue as they are and potentially great managers will continue to be passed over.

    In many respects this is similar to all-women-shortlists for selecting MPs, I understand the arguments against but if we do nothing we will continue to have a parliament that is less gender balanced than the parliament of Afghanistan.

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