Dear Jose Mourinho,
Sorry I haven’t been in touch sooner. I’ve been meaning to write ever since you joined the discussion about black managers in the English game by saying, “there is no racism in football”. That really was one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. I mean, fair play to you, it takes some real front to make that claim and also retain John Terry as the captain of your side, but you should really engage your brain before you let the words slip out of your mouth.
We know you’re arrogant. Dare I say it, some of us quite like your trademark persona. It brightens up our football days. Our eyes widen in mock incredulity when you have the temerity to describe yourself as “The Special One”; we snigger as you go to shake Roy Keane’s hand minutes before the final whistle. But tell me, Jose, how does it feel to be the multi-millionaire manager of one of the world’s richest clubs and tell struggling black coaches that racism doesn’t exist?
And it takes a special kind of arrogance to state there is no racism in football and offer no evidence whatsoever in support. Instead you say: “If you are good, you are good. If you are good, you get the job. If you are good, you prove that you deserve the job. Football is not stupid to close the doors to top people. If you are top, you are top.” Yes, Jose, we all know that this is how it should work. The problem is that something is quite obviously wrong with the supposed meritocracy. Can you honestly say that football truly reflects the talents of black managers in this country?
I suppose you might respond by arguing that the burden of proof rests on those of us who seek to confront racism in football. Fair enough – there’s plenty of evidence. Only two of the 92 managers working in the top four divisions of English football are not white. And both Keith Curle and Chris Powell were appointed at the start of the current season. The Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, claims “there is a hidden racism which holds clubs back” from appointing black managers. In this interesting segment from Football Focus both Dion Dublin and Paul Ince discuss the difficulties facing black people in football and say that action is urgently needed.
Perhaps you’re still not convinced. Perhaps you’re waiting for a smoking gun. Perhaps you’ll only accept that racism exists in football if you see video footage of dozens of white club chairmen sitting in a room discussing their favourite racial slurs. Jose, there are none as blind as those that will not see.
By ignoring the evidence that does exist, you not only belittle the struggle of ethnic minorities in English football, you also pander to the worst sort of class prejudice. Everyone is quick to point out the problems of racism as long as it is being perpetrated by working class people on the terraces or on the pitch. And rightly so. But is it really so inconceivable to you that bigotry and racial prejudice can also be found in the boardroom? Are the great and the good, the movers and shakers and king-makers immunised against intolerance by virtue of their education and their riches? The answer, in case you were wondering, is no.
All the time racism exists in society then it will exist in football – at every level of the game. Burying your head in the sand won’t change that. Instead we have to look at ways to fight it. That is why so many people are looking towards a version of the Rooney rule. First adopted in American football the rule states that clubs seeking a new head coach must interview at least one person from an ethnic minority.
There is a debate over how effective this would be. Les Ferdinand seems to be against it while Rio Ferdinand is for it, which should make for fun conversation at the family Christmas get-together. Let’s be honest. Such a regulation would hardly change the world. What it would do is show that English football is taking the issue of racism seriously,
Sadly it feels like we have been here before. It’s nearly 40 years since Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis played together for West Brom and were booed by racist sections of their own fans. It’s nearly 30 years since John Barnes back-heeled a banana thrown at him from the crowd in one of the most iconic anti-racist images football has ever produced. As these generations of black footballers moved into coaching they faced the old racism in a new setting and have stared long enough at the glass ceiling. They have never enjoyed your privileged position Jose. The very least you can do is to acknowledge their struggle.