Teamwork, collaboration and individualism all feature in the Sol Campbell story, as he begins a new life as the manager of Macclesfield. Sol enjoyed life as a hugely successful footballer with Spurs, became one of the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’, played for England with pride and passion and, after his career was over, found himself being overlooked for coaching and managerial positions, similar to many other black former players. Sol has always talked himself up and now he has the chance to show what he is made of. But, if he succeeds, how much praise would be accorded to his backroom team?
Sol recently had the chance to work with England under-21s, where he worked with their coaching set up. This opportunity came through the Football Association’s ‘In Pursuit of Progress’ initiative which provide opportunities for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) coaches to get experience of working with and observing the national teams’ coaching techniques, tactics and preparations for matches and competitions.
That initiative came about after a long process of negotiation, involving ideas from Kick It Out taken forward by the Professional Footballers’ Association, driven by former players such as Brendon Batson, Paul Elliott and Garth Crooks, and supported by PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor over a long period of negotiation. But they get no praise for their endeavours, investment and tenacity.
It is teamwork that made it happen and teamwork will take such initiatives forward, and giving due praise to key people behind the scenes is important.
Read more: Will Sol Campbell succeed at Macclesfield Town?
Sol now has attained his “experience”, which cannot be denied, and it is hoped that other suitable qualified BAME coaches will now get a chance to prove themselves, having been discriminated against for decades.
Increase in discriminatory abuse
The FA, Macclesfield Town FC and Sol Campbell will enjoy the limelight, but let’s not forget the backroom women, men, girls and boys who are part of the team and who are selfless in what they give to help kick racism and discrimination out of football.
This week has seen the release of statistics about complaints received by Kick It Out of discriminatory and abusive conduct at football in England during the past season. There has been an increase of 11 per cent during the past year, and an increase each season for the past six years. The key questions thrown at Kick It Out have been: Why is this happening? Is discrimination and hate getting worse or is it simply that more people are reporting it?
There are no clear answers. After 25 years of campaigning to kick racism and discrimination out of football, it is clear there have been considerable improvements. On-field discrimination in the professional game is nowadays at a relatively insignificant level, but still rife at non-league and grassroots level.
But fans tend to reflect what is going on in society and some allow their prejudices to prevail over common sense and decency, especially when in the company of others who are similarly inclined; hence the persistence of increasing levels of discrimination abuse cases.
Thankfully, nowadays, there are more fans who exercise good common sense, resist joining in abusive and discriminatory activities, challenge such behaviour and make reports to the clubs, the FA, the leagues and Kick It Out. There are many others like them who still do not feel sufficiently safe, secure and confident to complain because of the fear of reprisals. So, there is a lot more work to be done to build trust and confidence if we are to inspire others to come forward with the evidence and be witnesses in proceedings against the perpetrators.
Work behind the scenes
As part of an interview I did this week with BBC Radio Manchester about the reporting data, I was very fortunate to hear the story of Brandon, a young man who experienced homophobic abuse while playing football locally, which drove him out of the game for nearly a year. He has since resumed playing football, with a local LGBT organisation, and is enjoying the camaraderie of being with friends and playing in a competitive environment. Although I was saddened to hear of his awful experiences, I was most impressed with his expressions of gratitude for the staff at the county association who he described as enlightened, helpful and supportive.
There is so much good work going on behind the scenes in the pursuit of equality, inclusion and cohesion and there is relatively little praise for the many foot soldiers who are tirelessly committed to the goal of fairness for all. Within each club, there will be aspects of good practices and innovations that can and should be replicated elsewhere so that football, as a whole, can have common standards applicable across the game so that everyone knows that there is zero tolerance of discrimination and abuse and to be aware that consistent action will be taken against perpetrators.
In this respect, the FA, the Premier League and the Football League need to provide coherent and responsible leadership. Football relies on teamwork and the authorities and clubs need to operate likewise.
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