Addressing underrepresentation with action: The Sports People’s Think Tank at Soccerex 2017

By Jacque Talbot & Ola Fisayo


The Sports Peoples Think Tank held a panel at Soccerex 2017 in Manchester, with Leon Mann posing questions to Manchester United ambassador Andy Cole, broadcast journalist Jessica Creighton, Derby County ambassador Michael Johnson, and Dr Steven Bradbury of Loughborough University regarding the underrepresentation of BAME individuals in football coaching positions, and whether change is truly on the horizon.

Dr Bradbury commented on the research he had made into the lack BAME individuals in coaching positions.

“Looking at the research landscape, we know there are low levels of BAME coaches in senior coaching positions.”

“Historically There have been issues of conscious or unconscious racial bias and stereotyping that took place within the coaching workplace; so the tendency, particularly for black coaches, is to be problematically conceptualised in terms of their assumed racial self rather than their actualised professional self,” he said.

The EFL code of recruitment, which came into place last year, ensures that at least one BAME individual is granted an interview for potential coaching positions.

“Initial evaluation of that programme undertaken by the EFL suggests some room for cautious optimism, especially at the mandatory level of the code. For any meaningful change to happen, there needs to be strong organisational buy in and significant attitudinal change at clubs, and more holistic thinking and working together on part of the football authorities,” Dr Bradbury suggested.

Despite these interventions, Andy Cole says that he still would not purse achieving his coaching badges in today’s climate.

“If there were twenty black managers in the Football League, then of course I would change my stance, but I don’t think would happen in my lifetime.”

“When black players play at the highest level, they should expect to be given the same opportunity as their white counterparts. But when we do try to get in coaching, the response we get is very disappointing,” he said.

Michael Johnson has earned every coaching badge possible but has still struggled to gain employment with one of the 92 clubs in the Football League.

“I sent over 50 applications which resulted in only a handful of interviews – and never once have I got to the final stage. Plus, out of the five interviews I had only one offered me advice going forward.

“I think the governing bodies need to do more. What should happen is the game should come together and try and work out the best way forward to improve the situation,” Johnson said.

Jessica Creighton was asked whether the media could play a bigger part in pressuring both clubs and the football authorities to take action. “The problem is that the media is not diverse. There is a lack of women, there is a lack of colour, there’s a lack of LGBT representation, and because of that, and you get a lack of diverse ideas,” she said.

“So it’s not enough at the moment and there needs to be a lot more in challenging the hierarchy to ensure that workforce is a lot more inclusive.”

Watch the full panel discussion here: