There are 92 professional football clubs in the UK and around 25% of the players within those teams are black. Despite the fact that the number of black players has continued to rise there are still only two black managers; Chris Powell of Charlton Athletic and Chris Hughton of Birmingham City. To say this is disproportionate is an understatement. This has led to mounting pressure being put on the FA from various angles to change the face of football.
This situation is contributed to by a lack of recognition and opportunities for community, grass roots and youth coaches. Many of these coaches dedicate their time and energies into working with youth from inner city areas that rely on football as a way to stay out of trouble. Many of these are black and desperately in need of role models during their youth and as they progress in the game. “They need people who understand their backgrounds and the issues they face as young black men”. These are the words of Andrew Palmer a coach from Nottingham and scout for Leicester City FC.
Despite having worked successfully with many young people for over 15 years as a coach, scout and mentor Andrew says, “it is extremely difficult for me to progress within the FA”. There are not only a lack of opportunities it may seem for black players to progress into top coaching and managerial jobs. It is practically impossible for black coaches who have not been players to secure positions in the boardroom regardless of how much knowledge they have of the game, how many years they have dedicated to coaching or how effective they have been. They have a uniquely valuable connection with their communities and invaluable relationships with the young players they coach, scout and mentor.
Given his history in youth football in the Midlands a coach like Andrew should be turning down job offers. Despite sending several job applications for positions within the FA he has not even been invited for an interview. He like many others suspects that this has to do with having a face that does not fit. On this Andrew says, “ I don’t know if it’s because I am black or because I haven’t been a professional player and don’t have a reputation in the media or a combination of all of these things”.
Andrews experience and history in football include becoming the first black coach and manager for the Nottingham City Schools Football Association in their 117 year history. He was invited by the Nottingham City Schools Football Association to accompany the Nottingham under 14s team on a trip to Karlsruhe Germany. “We played against two club sides Siemens Football Club and former Bundesliga Champions Karlsruhe SC,” he says. He ran the u13s and has coached all age groups starting from u11s up to the u15s culminating in playing the English Schools Football Association Cup.
Having guided various age groups, won numerous trophies and cup finals every year since 2005 and become the first black manager to lead the team to a cup final at the Nottingham Forest F.C Academy and also at Meadow Lane home of Notts County F.C (oldest football club in the world) Andrew feels he is deserving of more recognition for his hard work and dedication. He is also certain that the future of his career in football lies in finding opportunities outside of the UK.
Andrew is well known to the Nottingham City Schools Football Association. He became a member of the Management Committee, the first black man in 123 year history and by the end of the coming season will be enrolled on the English Schools Football Association’s roll of honour for eight years service as a coach.
He became the first black manager of the Nottinghamshire Football Association Youth u18s in their 100 year history playing against numerous counties all over England in the FA County Youth Championship and FA County Youth Cup.
In the last season Andrew became a member of Nottinghamshire Football Association Representative Youth Committee. In 2005 he became a scout and coach for Leicester City FC and directed the first Development Centre for u9s for them in the city of Nottingham.
Andrew successfully scouted and mentored youngsters who are currently at Leicester City FC, three of whom are scholars at the Academy. Two are currently scholars at Notts County FC one of whom Curtis Thompson made his first team debut against Wolverhampon Wanderers FC and played against Juventus in Turin. Subsequently Curtis has just signed a professional contract with Notts County FC at 18years of age. On this Andrew proudly says, “I coached Curtis from the age of 12 and selected him to play for the Nottingham side. For four years I took him to Leicester City Academy three times a week for training and to matches playing against the likes of Chelsea, Man United and Scunthorpe. After he wasn’t selected for Leicester for a scholarship I contacted someone from Notts County for him to be signed there so I am very pleased that all my hard work paid off.” Andrew also scouted and mentored three scholars at Burton Albion FC amongst others.
Andrew has had to start his own projects which include developing, establishing and directing ‘Football For Fun’ for three years where he applied and received funding to co-ordinate and deliver Football camps to children aged seven to 15 from Nottingham and the surrounding area. He also delivered and coached The F.A After Schools Development programme over two years and was a Futsal Coach who developed Nottinghamshire’s first Futsal team from 2008 to 2009. Nottinghamshire Futsal u19s and Nottinghamshire u14s played matches all over England against various counties. The u14s won a trophy at a Midlands Futsal Festival.
As well as coaching Andrew has been a tutor and worked in schools as a Learning Mentor, coach and PE teacher. He set up and coached girls and boys teams for primary schools that played in the Nottingham Schools Football Association Area League. The closest Andrew has come to an award for his achievements, was being nominated for Nottinghamshire Coach of the Year Award in 2005-2006. Andrew feels that there is a desperate need for change and hopes that by sharing his story others will be encouraged to speak out despite the fact that conversations about race make people feel uncomfortable.
On the merits of his CV following one telephone conversation and a few emails Andrew was invited to be Camp Director for Premier Soccer Camps held in Lawrenceville New Jersey and Cornwall on Hudson, New York in July and August of this year. This conformed his feeling that “taking FA coaching badges in the UK is a waste of time and there are better opportunities elsewhere. America has opened my eyes to the fact that no matter what colour skin you have you are rewarded and given recognition for hard work.” Given the different response to his experience and skills working with young people by those he has met in the US Andrew is certain that the future of his career in football lies in finding opportunities outside of the UK.