Thu, Dec

Dwight Yorke and his assistants at Macarthur FC, Russell Latapy (right) and James Meredith, are bucking a global trend against people of colour in key off-field sporting roles. PHOTO CREDIT: Wolter Peeters

Dwight Yorke has made history. Not by winning his maiden trophy just five games into his managerial career, although that probably went close to setting some sort of record, but simply by getting the job at Macarthur FC in the first place.

Yorke is the head of a majority black coaching panel at the Bulls, in what is believed to be an Australian first, and is among a small handful of black head coaches currently working in sport across the world. The significance is not lost on him, nor his two senior assistants at the Bulls: Russell Latapy — his old Trinidad and Tobago teammate and childhood friend — and James Meredith, the former Socceroo of Jamaican heritage who retired at the end of last season.

Football, like many other sports, is full of players of black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Yorke was one of them, a three-time English Premier League winner with Manchester United and a key attacking weapon in their 1999 UEFA Champions League triumph. But post-playing opportunities, in coaching or other key off-field roles, are nowhere near as common for them as they are for white players.

“It’s not rocket science,” Yorke, now 50, said. “The numbers add up. Let’s just call it for what it is.”

Last year, 43 per cent of players in the Premier League were black, according to a report commissioned by the Black Footballers Partnership – but it found only 4.4 per cent of managers and 1.6 per cent of executive, leadership and ownership positions were held by black people. In the Premier League’s 30-year history, there have only been 10 black or minority managers – an imbalance that Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira, the most recent and only current one, has said “disturbs” him.

It’s been a long, hard road for Yorke to get this chance at Macarthur, the A-League’s newest club who play their first home game of the new season on Sunday against Adelaide United – and the Bulls, who their chief executive Sam Krslovic said is a club that wants to be a “positive force of change”, was proud to offer it to him. We don’t really know how good a coach Yorke is just yet. But we might soon, and we never would if he was never given a job.

After completing his badges, Yorke applied for other vacancies back in England, including at his former clubs Aston Villa and Sunderland, but kept hitting brick walls. Villa didn’t even call him back - and, as a rookie manager with no experience, he understands why, and would have appreciated a bit more courtesy from a club he gave 10 years of service to, but isn’t bitter about it.

However, from United’s 1999 team, Yorke can rattle off 14 ex-players who have become managers or were given other high-level jobs.

“And yet myself, and Andy Cole - we were the two black guys there at the time, and even Wes Brown, who was coming through and is now retired ... you don’t get any opportunity,” he said.

“You can’t tell me there is not a reason behind it when everybody else has been given a chance, guys of very little experience. I’ve got my qualifications. We’ve done everything that everyone else has done. And people got three, four jobs before you even get one. So where is the fairness in that?

“I do believe that if I was maybe a different colour, then the transition into management would have been much easier. I’ve been fortunate to get in, but there’s so many other people that haven’t even come close. There are people of colour, predominantly, who don’t want to do their coaching badges because they just don’t see the reason of doing it ... ‘nah, waste of time, because they just won’t give it to me.’”

Yorke pushes back, strongly, on the suggestion that his off-field reputation as a hard-partying playboy may have counted against him in previous applications. Even his nickname, ‘All Night Dwight’ - which dominated headlines during his time with Sydney FC, but he now describes as an “awful stigma” that he cannot shake - is tinged with prejudice, as he sees it.

“What, dating a beautiful woman makes me a really bad person?” he said.

“You don’t hear I’m involved in drugs, you never heard I’m missing training, that I went to prison, I’m in an altercation with anyone. I had a good time when I go out, that’s for sure. But it’s all within reason.

“Go ask all my coaches, ask anybody who knows me: there’s nobody who worked f---ing harder than me. Even to this day, I’ll be in the gym at 7.30 tonight, guaranteed, when everyone is at home doing their thing. People don’t talk about that.

“There is, I know, current managers that has done far worse things than me, and it’s just been dust under the carpet, by a mile. I know all these guys personally, too. I’ve been in the game long enough. I know exactly what they do and what they haven’t done and what they’ve been perceived to be.

“[Wayne] Rooney, for instance, done a [documentary] about his life recently, and it’s all about the drinking and the prostitution, but it’s all right for him to go and get jobs. I’m not saying something that is not out there. But there’s other people in the game, they haven’t been called out over things that they have done.

“Yet this ‘All Night Dwight’ seems to be something that people seem to be using directly to me ... and the reason behind it is because of your skin colour. What else could it possibly be?”

Despite this being a long-standing issue, little has changed. Progress is glacial, and as it is in Britain, so it is in Australia, where Indigenous and other ex-players of colour simply don’t get off-field positions - although the NRLW, where three of the six teams are coached by players of First Nations origin, is fortunately bucking the trend.

The NFL introduced the ‘Rooney Rule’ (no relation to Wayne) in 2003, requiring all teams with senior vacancies to interview ethnic minority candidates, with the aim of boosting the number of black coaches. The English Football League has adopted a similar policy, but the Premier League hasn’t. Either way, Yorke doesn’t rate quotas and such.

“If someone was to sack me, they already know who the [next] manager is. The token gesture of the Rooney Rule, it’s just been BS for a long time,” he said.

“You look around, the facts show it. We’ve got one black manager now in the Premier League and lucky enough, that’s Patrick Vieira. But you go to Italy. Is there any black? You go to Germany? Is there any black? In Spain, you think there’s any black managers? The top five leagues in the world: one. What does that tell you?

“Does that deter me as a person? No, it actually inspires me because I like to defy the odds.”

The onus, Yorke believes, ultimately falls on decision-makers at clubs, like chairmen and CEOs, to broaden their horizons. But with most of those roles being filled by white people, it’s hard to see how this vicious cycle ever breaks - unless, as Yorke tips, someone like himself or Vieira does something of global significance with a bigger club that makes everyone sit up and take notice.

In any case, the challenge Yorke faces as he aims to one day scale those heights is nothing new to him.

“The transition when I went from the Caribbean to England [as a player], I never forget that I couldn’t afford to be on equal terms with someone - I had to feel like I was better all the time,” he said.

“Same thing in management. I can’t be like everybody else here. I have to do the exceptional stuff. Exceptional means come in the first five games, win the Australia Cup. You build from there, and look to put yourself in contention of doing something a little bit unique, that nobody else has done.

“I’ve managed to do it in my playing career. I have no question about it, I [just] needed an opportunity, and Macarthur has given it to me, which I’m very grateful for.”

SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald