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All You Need To Know About Arthur Wharton – The World’s First Black Professional Footballer?

It is over one hundred years since Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer (born in Ghana) astounded English crowds with his goalkeeping and football skills.

Whether Arthur Wharton (also respected as an athlete and cricketer) could have continued as a coach or even a manager in England after seeing out his playing career at Stockport County (1901-02) is likely to be seen as a bridge too far by many. After all he was a person of colour playing football at a time when it must have been extremely challenging to achieve success.

Fast forward to the present day and ironically there are currently no BME (black minority ethnic) managers in the Premiership. This is despite a large proportion of BME footballers playing top-flight football in the Premier League. And last season there was only one BME manager, Chris Ramsey, who was appointed manager of a struggling QPR (Queens Park Rangers) with only a handful of games remaining. Despite Ramsey’s valiant efforts, QPR were relegated from the Premiership meaning the woefully low number of BME managers in English professional football now all work in the lower leagues.

When I originally wrote this feature (please click on link for the full version) in November last year there were only 19 senior BME coaches in English professional football (including two BME managers) out of 552 senior coaching positions.

Is there hope for the future?

Interestingly a version of American Football’s ‘Rooney Rule’ could be introduced for the 2016-17 English football season to increase the number of BME managers and coaches at English football clubs. It will mean that from next year all English football clubs in the Premier League (20 clubs) and the following three lower divisions (72 clubs) – run by the Football League – will have to interview at least one BME candidate for each head coach or manager position.

The shockingly low numbers of BME coaches and managers in English football is being looked at closely by the Fare network (an international umbrella organisation that brings together everyone driven to combat inequality in football). Piara Powar, Executive Director of the Fare network, said the lack of BME senior coaches in English football is a serious cause for concern. He said: “We are very familiar with seeing black and other ethnic minorities as professional players but coaches from those communities are rare.

“If the English football authorities can address the concerns we have and move to a system that is both fair and helps performance management, football will begin to change the way it recruits coaches across the world.”

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