Coach Andrew Palmer
Soccer News: Does Soccer Need the Rooney Rule that exists in the NFL?
The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires National Football League (NFL) teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities. It is often cited as an example of affirmative action. Does our beloved sport of soccer need a Rooney Rule? Writer Carla Palmer thinks so.
The English Premier League is clearly very Wonder Bread as all the 20 Managers in the world’s richest league are white. According to Sports Illustrated, “England's 92 professional clubs over the top four divisions, there are only two black managers -- Chris Hughton at second-tier Birmingham and Chris Powell at third-tier club Charlton. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, has recently advised English Football Association officials on adopting the Rooney Rule which was set up to offer more chances for black and minority coaches.
When the Rooney Rule was implemented in the NFL, there were only three black coaches. Clearly the Rooney Rule works.
With over 3.5 million fans worldwide, football is the world’s most popular team sport. The huge fan following is due in part, to the accessibility of the sport. Football requires very little equipment and even young children can learn the basics. It is a game that is played by male and female, rich and poor alike. Children from all over the globe start playing soccer at an early age. Many go on to become lifetime followers of the game, fans and players at a variety of levels. Within professional football in the UK there has been a steady increase in the number of black players. Within the 92 professional football clubs in the UK around 25% of the players are black.
Despite the fact that the number of black players has been consistently rising for many years there are still only two black managers at Premiership clubs. It is significant that there are also very few non-white coaches, managers and officials across the board. This includes within academies, county Youth FAs and management committees. There is an obvious disparity between the number of black players and the number of black faces at higher levels within the game. It is not surprising that black coaches such as Andrew Palmer, an experienced youth coach and Leicester City FC scout feel they are being overlooked for top positions.
Many coaches such as Andrew dedicate their time and energies into working with youth from deprived, inner city areas of the UK. These young people rely on football as a way to stay out of trouble. Many of them are black and desperately in need of male role models during their youth and as they progress in the game. Andrew says, “They need people who understand their backgrounds and the issues they face as young black men and need to see real people that they can relate to being able to progress in life. They need to see people who they relate to at all levels not just on the pitch.”
Despite having worked with the Nottinghamshire County FA and successfully with many young people for over 15 years as a coach, scout and mentor Andrew says, “it is extremely difficult for me to progress within the FA”. Andrew’s passion for the game and a keen desire to help young people and provide other black males with a role model motivated Andrew to work in youth soccer in the UK for many years despite knowing that there were a lack of opportunities for him to progress within the FA.
Being the only black man on both the Nottingham Schools FA and the Nottinghamshire FA management committees Andrew knows only too well the challenges faced by both black and working class professionals trying to progress in UK football. There are not only a lack of opportunities it may seem for black players to progress into top coaching and managerial jobs.
It seems unattainable for many black coaches who have not been professional players to secure positions in the boardroom regardless of how much knowledge they have of the game, how many years they have dedicated to coaching or how effective they have been. They have a uniquely valuable connection with their communities and invaluable relationships with the young players they coach, scout and mentor. This is overlooked, and more white and middle class men still fill the majority of the managerial seats within the FA.
The universal appeal of football places regulatory bodies such as the English FA, under pressure to evolve and ensure that the standards they themselves have set for the game are consistently applied at every level. Included in this is a responsibility to ensure that the FA is representative of all of the people that comprise the fan base. After all is it not the fans and the huge international following that make football the success that it is?
Incorporated within the The FA’s rules and regulations is an Equality Policy that acknowledges responsibility in relation to fairness and impartiality. Herein it is stated that the FA recognises their duty to ensure “everyone is treated fairly and with respect and that the FA is equally accessible” to all. They also pledge that they are committed to confronting and eliminating discrimination and encouraging “equal opportunities”. The policy declares that in all their activities the FA “will not discriminate, or in any way treat anyone less favourably”. However, they appear to be dragging their heels in relation to instituting specific rules similar to the Rooney Rule that would help them to honour their pledges. In addition to this the representation of the fan base of football will only ever be partial as long as the black man, the poor man or the unknown, common man is permitted to work at lower levels but has no route to progress to varied higher positions within the organisation, despite demonstrating competence.
Given his history and success in youth football in the UK, a coach like Andrew Palmer should be turning down job offers. Andrew successfully scouted and mentored youngsters who are currently at Leicester City FC, three of whom are scholars at the Academy. Two are currently scholars at Notts County FC one of whom Curtis Thompson made his first team debut against Wolverhampon Wanderers FC and played against Juventus in Turin. Subsequently Curtis has just signed a professional contract with Notts County FC at 18 years of age. On this Andrew says, “I coached Curtis from the age of 12 and selected him to play for the Nottingham side. For four years I took him to Leicester City Academy three times a week for training and to matches playing against the likes of Chelsea, Man United and Scunthorpe. After he wasn’t selected for Leicester for a scholarship I contacted someone from Notts County for him to be signed there so I am very pleased that all my hard work paid off.” Andrew also scouted and mentored three scholars at Burton Albion FC amongst others.
In 2005 Andrew became the first black coach and manager for the Nottingham City Schools Football Association in their 117-year history. He ran the u13s and coached all age groups starting from u11s up to the 15s. He guided various age groups, won trophies and Cup finals and became the first black manager to lead the team to a cup final at the Nottingham Forest F.C Academy and also at Meadow Lane home of Notts County F.C, the oldest football club in the world. Andrew also set up and directed the first Development Centre for u9s for Leicester City FC in inner city Nottingham and Developed Nottinghamshire’s first Futsal team and coached and promoted football as a way to focus the energies of young people and keep them out of crime and anti-social behaviour in a range of settings across the City of Nottingham in the UK for years. Despite all of this Andrew has had little recognition and chance of being offered a top job due to the current practices within the FA.
The UK has much to learn in the way of demonstrating equality in practice from the USA as is demonstrated by the fact that on the merits of his CV following one telephone conversation and a few emails Andrew was invited to be Camp Director for soccer camps held in Lawrenceville New Jersey and Cornwall on Hudson, New York in July and August of this year. Being offered further job opportunities since has supported his thoughts that in order to make progress in football he will have to look outside of the UK to the USA and other countries where his knowledge, experience and skills would be valued.
The implementation of the Rooney Rule in the NFL is an exemplary way to demonstrate a dedication to the principle that people should be equally rewarded and given recognition for hard work. This includes being offered opportunities to progress, particularly when they have made significant contributions to their field of endeavour. Given the different response to his experience and skills working with young people by those he has met in the US Andrew is certain that the future of his career in football lies in finding opportunities outside of the UK. Implementing a similar rule in UK football would offer people like Andrew the chance to progress in the UK.
Whilst it is certainly fair to require candidates to have the qualifications and experience required for a job, it is unfair to make these so restrictive that they eliminate or inadvertently discriminate. In light of the facts, it has to be explored whether this is what is happening within the FA?
As it currently stands, Chris Powell of Charlton Athletic and Chris Hughton of Birmingham City are the only two black managers at Premiership Clubs. It would appear that door has been set ajar for black players to squeeze in and progress to the ranks of manager. However, black grass roots coaches like Andrew who have dedicated so much time and energies to what is arguably the most fundamental level of football remain frustrated by the lack of opportunities for them. They find it impossible to surmount the barriers to those who have not been professional players filling top positions within the organisation. The question must be asked; does this harmonise with equality?
In an idealistic world there would be no need for specific rues such as the Rooney Rule established in the USA in 2003. This rule requires National Football League (NFL) teams to ensure they interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities. The Rooney Rule is often cited as an example of affirmative action because it has led to policies that take factors including race, colour and nationality into consideration in order to benefit underrepresented groups and counter the effects of discrimination. With racism still rearing an ugly head in the stands and on the pitches of UK football, there is certainly a need for something specific to turn written policy into equality action in practice and eliminate it from the boardroom.
Before the Rooney Rule there were 2% black head coaches and 1% general managers. The figure is now at over 20%. On a interview for the BBC Cyrus Mehri, the US civil rights lawyer and man behind the Rooney Rule told BBC Sport's Leon Mann how the rule, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney requiring all teams to include at least one black or ethnic minority candidate in interviews has changed the face of the NFL. To many the implementation of the equivalent of the Rooney Rule in soccer may on the surface appear controversial. However, it is noteworthy to mention that the implementation of such a rule does not suggest that black men should be given opportunities that they are undeserving of simply because they are black. Neither would the rule remove the need for each candidate to go through a fair and just interview process and win positions based on merit. Rather such as rule would simply allow the equality of opportunity that enables deserving candidates to demonstrate their competence. Part of the success of the Rooney Rule has been the fact that as Mehri said in his BBC interview, the black men who “have had these opportunities have seized the moment and delivered for their clubs”.
A Rooney Rule in UK soccer would ensure that people from all backgrounds are represented at all levels within the game and provide a variety of role models for young black people aspiring to work in soccer. Currently, with the bulk of black faces being seen only on the pitches, this is not the case.