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12 June 2018updated 27 Jun 2018 8:26pm

Love or loathe Stan Collymore, the man has a point about minority representation in football

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker is right to call out football’s institutional racism.

By Rohan Banerjee

As a Newcastle United supporter, nipped by the black and white bug in the mid-1990s, it’s been hard-wired into my DNA to dislike Stan Collymore the player. Watching him wheel away in celebration after scoring the 92nd minute winner for Liverpool in that famous game at Anfield in 1996, in doing so effectively ending hopes that Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers could win the Premier League title, is an image most Newcastle fans would like to forget, but can’t. 

As an ethnic minority, however, I’ve found myself shelving petty tribalism to appreciate that Stan Collymore the broadcaster has recently been talking a lot of sense.

In the wake of two former England midfielders – Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – being given the Derby County and Rangers jobs respectively as their first forays into management within two years of hanging up their boots, Collymore, a prolific Twitter user, chose to bring up football’s awkward relationship with race and representation.

Tweeting to his 892,000 followers, the 47-year-old listed the white Lampard and Gerrard’s coaching credentials alongside those of the black ex-England defender Sol Campbell. And despite the similarities in their qualifications and stellar playing careers – Campbell was part of the 2003-04 Arsenal side that won the top flight unbeaten – Collymore highlighted that while Lampard and Gerrard had walked into management roles, Campbell, who retired from playing in 2011, has been overlooked by League Two’s Grimsby Town. 

Collymore’s tweet, if a little loaded, does not demonstrate anything but facts. The criticism here is not necessarily directed at white players – as many Twitter users disappointingly seemed to think that it was – but rather it is an overview of football’s wider problems. In a sport so multicultural at playing level, why are there so few black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) managers? Currently, there are just five working across England’s top four divisions: Brighton’s Chris Hughton, Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo, West Brom’s Darren Moore, Southend’s Chris Powell and Dino Maamria at Stevenage.

The lack of BAME managers, Collymore later told The Guardian’s Sachin Nakrani in a no holds barred interview, is only a subset of football’s enduring conscious and unconscious biases in favour of white people. He said: “Black people are deemed good athletes but not good leaders. They’re not trusted to lead by the status quo, which is made up of white men, and this is particularly the case if they speak their mind, like myself and Sol. The thing white men hate most, that they’re scared of most, is outspoken black men.”

And Collymore’s criticism of football’s status quo is not simply limited to management or coaching. He noted that within the punditry and sports journalism spheres that people from BAME backgrounds are not often represented. He said: “To be a black pundit you either need to be a comedian like Chris Kamara or Ian Wright – guys who have big pearly-white smiles and everyone loves laughing at – or Jermaine Jenas and Alex Scott, who are completely inoffensive.”

Collymore added: “I’ve become increasingly outspoken and that’s not allowed in this country if you’re not white. It’s not just me who is affected – look at that Sky Sports show, Sunday Supplement. There are never any journalists from a BAME background on there; every week it’s a panel of all white men. That can’t be right.”

It isn’t. Yet the willingness with which people explain away football’s failures as minorities having chips on their shoulders or as mountains made out of mole hills is alarmingly common.

Even more alarming is the willingness to dismiss valid points raised by minorities such as Collymore, because of their personal histories. While nothing can excuse Collymore punching his ex-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson – he himself doesn’t try to – it is worth pointing out that indiscretions committed by white pundits and players are rarely scrutinised to the same extent. Where Paul Gascgoine elicits sympathy as a troubled genius, no such similar sentiment is extended to Collymore. Why? That Gascgoine was the better player is a weak and unacceptable explanation.

Football, from fandom through to its national and international bodies, has still not worked out how to deal with racism. If Fifa cared about fighting racism at the World Cup in Russia, for example, it would disqualify any team with fans found guilty of racist chanting. In the modern, mega-moneyed game, fines offer little in the way of a deterrent.

Ultimately, Collymore’s powder keg of opinions is exactly what the game needs to hear: inconvenient truths. BAME people must stop being held to invariably higher standards, football’s governing bodies need reforming from the top down more urgently than from the bottom up, and sports media must become more reflective of its readership and viewership. What Collymore might lack in diplomacy – his comments regarding Ian Wright admittedly represent unhelpful infighting – should not detract from the fact the man has a point. 

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