English Football Should Take Another Look at the Rooney Rule After Mackay Texts

Patrick Barclay@@paddybarclayCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2017

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Let me make one thing clear from the start: I don’t believe it is a question of numbers, this problem within English football that has been highlighted by the publication of text messages allegedly sent by Malky Mackay and Iain Moody when they were manager and sporting director, respectively, at Cardiff City.

Amid the reaction to the texts, which contained a relatively small but shocking number of racist, sexist and gay-unfriendly references, it was widely agreed that the English game seemed to harbour a form of institutionalised racism, reflected by the fact that although there are plenty of black and mixed-race players around, not one is currently a manager.

The statistic itself doesn’t bother me. I don’t care if there are no black men in positions of footballing responsibility—just as I wouldn’t care if there were no white ones—as long as the best man (or woman) for every job is in it.

I hate the idea of quotas. If we had quotas based on population analysis, they would have to apply to players as well as managers—and black and mixed-race players, who by that token would suddenly be over-represented, would lose their places in the team to inferior white players.

Former Norwich City manager Chris Hughton was a rare sight as a black manager working in the Premier League
Former Norwich City manager Chris Hughton was a rare sight as a black manager working in the Premier LeagueSang Tan/Associated Press/Associated Press

So it’s with a certain reluctance that I concede it: English football should take another look at the Rooney Rule.

As anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of American sport knows, this procedure—making sure that so-called "minority candidates" are at least interviewed for senior posts—was introduced to the NFL more than a decade ago and has radically increased the number of black head coaches.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings walked out for the annual NFL game at Wembley last year, they were led by black coaches Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier. To American fans, it was perfectly normal; in English—or indeed European—football, it would have made history.

Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers
Mike Tomlin, head coach of the SteelersMatt Rourke/Associated Press

We do need something like the Rooney Rule here to help overcome a suspicion that the disturbingly archaic attitudes flavouring the alleged exchanges between Mackay and Moody are not as close to banishment from the game as we imagined.

The input to the debate of black and mixed-race observers such as Stan Collymore, Jason Roberts and Lord Ouseley has been helpfully consensual in that the demand is for education across the game rather than mere punishment of Mackay and Moody. As Lord Ouseley wryly pointed out, as per BBC Sport, if all of football's worthies’ private correspondence were put in the public domain, few would survive the resulting wave of outrage.

Mackay, for his part, has agreed to consider undergoing a course in equality. He is likely to have plenty of spare time in which to take it; having been the favourite to land the manager’s job at Crystal Palace before the texts were published last week—they also cost Moody his post as sporting director of that club—he seems certain to face a ban by the Football Association.

But there is little appetite for exemplary punishment, more a recognition that Mackay, who is regarded as one of the game’s brighter managers after he steered Cardiff into the Premier League, will find it hard to persuade club owners and players that he can be trusted to treat all employees alike—for all his protestations that the messages were sent in a spirit of "banter."

So some good can indeed emerge from this latest scandal in a game that may have thought the worst was over when Luis Suarez and John Terry served their punishments for racially aggravated offences.

The FA is becoming more and more politically sensitive under the chairmanship of Greg Dyke, who recently referred to it as being "overwhelmingly" male and white, and with Heather Rabbatts, the Jamaican-born lawyer and businesswoman, on the board. The inclusiveness message seems to be getting over.

Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA
Greg Dyke, chairman of the FATom Dulat/Getty Images

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the latest revelations followed a long-running dispute between Mackay and Moody and the "minority" owner of Cardiff City, Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan, initially over alleged overspending on transfers after promotion.

Both men eventually left the club but were pursued by Tan, despite a public apology issued by Mackay, and under warrant the texts were seized from mobile telephones. It remains to be seen whether we shall learn some of the secrets of the transfer market from further revelations.

Mackay insists that there is nothing untoward. But how he and Moody must curse the day they made an enemy of Vincent Tan.


Patrick Barclay is an award-winning football journalist and best-selling author, whose portfolio includes biographies on Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Herbert Chapman.