David Conn: Palmer the manager joins a tiny minority

Click to follow

Carlton Palmer, the well-known former England midfielder with no coaching experience or qualifications, this week accepted the manager's job at the First Division strugglers Stockport County, becoming only the third serving black manager in English football. "It's a difficult situation but a well-run club," he said. "I like the chairman [Brendan Elwood] and get on very well with him."

Black people in football are hoping that the 35-year-old Palmer will fare better than most of the few others who have been given managerial opportunities in the game.

This season, Noel Blake, who left Exeter City, and Gary Bennett, who stepped down as Darlington's manager, have been among football's lamentably high number of 22 managerial cast-offs. Only Andy Preece remains, having survived nearly a year and a half at Bury. Fulham's Jean Tigana is generally considered an exception – a manager from the ranks of international superstardom rather than the English coaching system.

Chris Ramsey, the country's most qualified black coach, who is without a job in football, accused the game yesterday of "institutional racism".

Brendan Batson, the Professional Footballers' Association's deputy chief executive, said he had been "seriously interested" in becoming a manager when he retired from playing in 1984, but could not get a job. "There were no black managers then and I felt race was an issue. Now, there are a few," he said. "They are having to break down barriers, as my generation had to fight to become players."

One of the most promising breakthroughs came in July 2000, when Luton Town appointed Ricky Hill, their 1980s playing legend, as manager. Hill had coached in the United States, completed Football Association courses, then coached in the Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham academies. He appointed Ramsey as his assistant – a former Brighton full-back, who holds the Uefa A coaching licence and diploma, the highest coaching qualifications. Ramsey also has a Health and Physical Education degree, 10 diplomas and is a qualified physiotherapist. Three years ago, Howard Wilkinson, the Football Association's technical director, appointed Ramsey as the FA's South-East regional director and assistant with the England Under-18 side.

At Luton, Ramsey lasted three months before being sacked. A month later, Hill was asked to resign. He has only recently agreed a financial settlement, with the help of Batson and the PFA, so he declined to comment. Ramsey, however, was scathing.

"What they did to Ricky was a disgrace," he said. "They said we weren't getting results, but we were given no time to change things. Joe Kinnear is now doing well there, but he has been respected and allowed to make changes. I've been around and worked hard to get qualifications, and I believe it is much harder for black coaches to be given opportunities.

In August, a report by Leicester University's Sir Norman Chester Centre said of the lack of black coaches: "There may be, to some extent, a 'glass ceiling', in which black players are viewed solely in terms of their physical 'performance' abilities rather than their analytical, motivational and 'organisational' capacities."

The report found that only around one per cent of employees at professional football clubs were from ethnic minorities, a "poor" record. Only two clubs employed a black or Asian person in a senior role – Abdul Rashid, commercial manager at Aston Villa, and one other commercial manager – a record described as "particularly disappointing". Put bluntly, all 92 professional football club boardrooms are completely white.

"There is institutional racism. We're still seen, somehow, as not management material," Ramsey said.

Piara Power, of the anti-racism campaign Kick it Out, said: "There is too much complacency, because we have eliminated most of the worst racist abuse from the terraces. Football has a serious problem about under-representation of the ethnic minorities and is not facing it."

It is, though, difficult to know whether the scarcity of black managers is caused by discrimination or football's generally chaotic hire and fire culture. "There is no proper, objective recruitment," said Garth Crooks, who also eschewed management when he retired as a player: "It's what have you won, and who you know. That makes it difficult to have positive policies to nurture black talent."

When top players were first invited to work with England teams three years ago, Crooks was shocked that none were black: "I complained bitterly to Wilkinson and others. I was told it wasn't an issue. Since then, to be fair, the FA has changed things."

This is only partly true. Two of the coaches on the current Uefa Professional Licence course are black: Noel Blake and Chris Hughton, but very few go through the other courses. Until he left, Ramsey was the only black coach employed by the FA's technical department. In April 2000, he became the first black manager of an England team, when he took the Under-20s to an international tournament in Nigeria. Since his departure, the FA has no black coaches except Hope Powell, manager of the England Women's team.

Ramsey, 18 months on, was yesterday helping Classford Sterling, a social worker who runs football programmes for underprivileged, mostly black young people on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London. He has been offered a job coaching Charleston Battery in the United States' A League which could mean having to leave his partner and four-year-old son behind.

"I'm grateful that Howard Wilkinson gave me a job, but I'm seriously wondering if there is any future in English football. I didn't play in a high-earning era and need to work."

Chris Kamara, the black manager with the most senior experience – under three years at Bradford 1995-98 then three months at Stoke – said black people must keep trying: "There is racial discrimination in football. The barriers are there, as they were to us as players, but they can be broken down."

Paul Newman, the FA's head of communications, said when asked about the number of ethnic minorities employed and being coached by the FA: "We don't really want to get into those issues. We have an equal opportunities policy."

Palmer will do well to forge a path at turbulent Stockport. By one of football's small-world coincidences, a former Stockport manager, the Urugayan Danny Bergara, was the first foreign manager to take charge of an England team – the Under-18s. Hill also credits Bergara with making him a player, when he was Luton's youth team coach over 20 years ago.

Bergara brought Elwood's Stockport promotion in 1991 and three Wembley appearances. Then in 1995, he was brutally sacked and replaced by Dave Jones on a third of the salary. Race was not a issue. Bergara won his industrial tribunal, which found that Elwood lied to Stockport's own board, telling them Bergara had assaulted him after a club function. In fact, Elwood had attempted to assault Bergara. Bergara has struggled to find work since.