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Last night, Chris Hughton was sacked by Norwich. They are five points clear of the relegation zone, but have still been a miserably poor side of late, and so to sack the manager is fair enough. A new manager might give a club an immediate boost that guarantees survival, and under Hughton, Premier League survival was in no way obviously within his grasp. There is nothing about his track record to suggest that he is anything more than a competent, if uninspiring, manager of a football team.
However, he is a person of colour, and was the most prominent manager of colour in football until today. That means that the highest-placed managers of colour in England are now Marcus Bignot, Frank Sinclair, Marcus Gayle and Phil Babb, all of whom manage in the Skrill leagues. This suggests that football has an institutionalised problem with race, and as we've seen in the past, racism. This is a time to consider how best to address that. We are excluding huge demographics of people from the biggest sport in the country, and logic suggests that the quality of football is suffering as a result. Really, making sure that managers of colour get a fair chance can only improve football, and it's morally right. Hooray, let's do it!
If only it were that easy. The best idea that is currently on offer is to introduce a version of the Rooney Rule that's in American football. This guarantees that those interviewed for a coaching job cannot all be white. It has been successful in increasing the diversity of coaches. This should be introduced as a rule in football immediately, and if there are wider legal reasons that it cannot be done, then the country as a whole might want to take a look at the direction it is heading.
To look at the internet last night, you would see the scale of the resistance to such an act, and to see a genuine sense of anger that some people might consider the problems of race in football when none of the managers of the 92 league clubs is a person of colour. The wilful ignorance and resentment was in one sense staggering. In another, it was entirely predictable.
One man stated, 'citing racial discrimination for Hughton's sacking is just like citing gender when Maria Miller is eventually sacked'. For the record, nobody had cited racial discrimination for Hughton's sacking - as above, most people thought it was a reasonable enough decision, if not necessarily the correct one - but had simply taken the moment to reflect on its wider implications. It was a classic tactic, to re-frame the argument disingenuously, to avoid having to deal with a serious problem. It's worth noting, too, that one of the reasons that David Cameron is so staunchly behind Miller might indeed be because women are so poorly represented in his party (and politics generally), and if there weren't such a problem of sexism in politics, we wouldn't be stuck with such a snivelling excuse of a minister.
Another (white) gentleman decided to give his opinion on the concept of institutional racism even possibly existing in England, let alone just in English football. He thought, 'In Britain, never seen it myself or seen any evidence on the contrary.' This more or less sums up the entire problem. The largely white FA, and the largely white British public, don't see a problem, therefore it doesn't exist. Regardless of the numbers, people will deny it.
When it was pointed out that Ashley Cole, a success under Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, was one of the most intelligent English footballers of the last two decades - for all the 'ha ha, footballers are thick' jokes, you can't succeed under these coaches without cerebral aptitude - the sole retort was, 'He's an angry man who can't control his emotions. Not a manager.'
The only notable time that Cole got angry was, embarrassingly, when he almost drove off the road when quibbling a weekly contract payment of £55,000 rather than £60,000, but that's no more egregious than many other footballers, such as the now most famous living Rooney on both sides of the Atlantic, Wayne Rooney. In fact, it might be his only display of anger one can recall. The idea Cole is an angry man, though, fits into the Angry Black Man cliche, which is a clear example of the discrimination black managers will face.
It is easy to highlight racism, and harder to combat it. Despite that, some people refuse to see that the problem even exists. Last night people responded to the sacking, hysterical over the 'usual bleating about institutionalised racism'. That is despite the obvious institutionalised racism for which the examples above are merely a select few, rather than the overwhelming case - we have a word limit. So here's a suggestion we've just come up with, let's call it the Rooney Rule Max.
Next time a job comes up at the FA, at any level, you have to guarantee a person of colour is interviewed. Next time a job comes up behind the scenes at any football club, you have to guarantee a person of colour is interviewed. Next time a managerial job comes up, you have to guarantee a person of colour is interviewed. And lastly, the next time a white person thinks about chipping in on problems of institutionalised racism in football to deny it's a problem, suddenly becomes an expert in Rioplatense Spanish to defend Luis Suarez, or chants at Anton Ferdinand that he knows what he is, or decides that the quenelle is just a way of showing support for an anti-Semitic comedian, they have their laptop and phone taken away until there is fair representation in football.
Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton