Breaking the black ceiling

June 22, 2008 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Misc. | 10 Comments
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Quite soon after Mark Hughes left Blackburn Rovers for Manchester City, the press began its usual desperate speculation over who was going to replace him and placed Alan Shearer and Paul Ince among the top candidates. When looking at their CVs as players, it’s difficult to tell them apart; both had enjoyed successful playing careers, captained two of the country’s top clubs (Ince with Liverpool, Shearer with Newcastle), captained England and played at the highest level for over a decade.

But when it comes to their managerial experience, the gulf is vast. Ince had performed a miracle at lowly Macclesfield before moving to MK Dons and achieving promotion at the first time of asking; Shearer is a contributor to Match of the Day and has never even held a coaching position, let alone been a manager. Yet right up until the moment he pulled out of contention, it was Shearer, not Ince, who was considered the favourite.

So Paul Ince could be forgiven for wondering why Shearer, who has never managed in his life, has been linked with management roles at England, Newcastle and Blackburn respectively, whilst he has had to work his way up from the very bottom. It doesn’t make him paranoid to wonder whether his race has anything to do with it.

I think it does, but not in a straightforward way. Most football fans certainly don’t think about race when it comes to appointments & transfers: when your entire week can either be made/ruined by victory/defeat, the only criterea you seek in a player/manager is ability, and those who have it are feted beyond measure. But at the same time, football suffers from an unhealthy fetish with the past: every promising new Argentinian is the new Maradona, every new Manchester United winger is the new George Best, Mark Hughes & Roy Keane get compared to Alex Ferguson and Alan Shearer to Kevin Keegan.

Because of the absence of successful black British managers, Paul Ince has lacked a predecessor who shares his skin colour, and that is probably one reason why Shearer gets tipped for the top jobs whilst Ince had to pay his dues on the sodden training grounds of Macclesfield.

But through his own prodigious success, Ince has broken through the black ceiling and become a trailblazer, giving hope to every other black footballer that with determination, hard work and excellence, they could follow in his footsteps and become a manager at the top table of British football. Though I have no real affection for the man (us Liverpool fans never warmed to him), I hope he succeeds in a new role and becomes a model for black British footballers to follow.



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  1. Do you think that Shearer being favoured might have had something to do with him playing at Blackburn and winning the league with them (hence thier fans loving him) and Ince being a manc gobshite in thier fans eyes?

    Do you think what Ince did with MK dons given the vast amouts of cash spent was a real achievement? Hence his only real achievements in management so far were with macclesfield. I think (though I might be wrong) Shearer also holds a UEFA coaches license over Ince. So the gap is not as vast as you make out.

    Do you think any of that has anything to do with Race? If you’re looking for someone ‘breaking through the black ceiling’ you need look no futher than Young Barack.

  2. The point I was trying to make about race was that it’s peculiar there’s only one black British manager in the football league, and this can be a self-perpetuating thing which might discourage others from trying to enter this profession. Now that now Ince has broken into the top-flight, it may serve as an inspiration for other would-be black managers and a reminder of what many have known all along; that British football is now overwhelmingly based on merit and not identity.

    But yeah, he’s still a manc gobshit ;-)

  3. Yeah I changed your name. On this blog, unlike anywhere else on the planet, my power is limitless

    *affects evil laugh*

    It might go to my head at some point…

  4. Stupid question, but was Ruud Gullet not black (managed both Chelsea and Newcastle)? Or is it only English black managers that can inspire?

  5. Yup. So is Jean Tigana. And so is John Barnes. And they all had something in common other than their skin colour that meant they’re unlikely to inspire anyone…

  6. So let me get this straight… John Barnes won’t inspire someone (when did he manage in the premiership?) but Paul Ince will?

    This isn’t a Jackie Robinson moment, admit it.

  7. As you know, Barnes managed in the Scottish Premiership for a couple of months, and that’s the closest a black Briton has come to top-flight football management until know.

    Of course it isn’t a Jackie Robinson moment; Robinson became a player in an America still governed by Jim Crow some 60 (?) years ago and Paul Ince is plying his trade in the 21st century in an industry that’s long since gotten over it’s race problems.

    But saying that doesn’t make this statement untrue:

    “Now that now Ince has broken into the top-flight, it may serve as an inspiration for other would-be black managers and a reminder of what many have known all along; that British football is now overwhelmingly based on merit and not identity.”

  8. Anyway, in my head when I was writing it, the post was meant to go as follows:

    1. Paul Ince = first black British manager in the English top-flight.
    2. Good. It’s about time.
    3. Hopefully we’ll soon start to see more black managers trying to enter management.

    It wasn’t meant to be any more grandiose than that, and if it came across as some defining moment in the history of the sport, then it clearly didn’t do the job I’d intended.

    This says a similar thing to what I was trying to, but with more words:

  9. And finally… lest you think I was putting down John Barnes, I was simply saying that whilst he was hugely inspiring as a player (you bought me the DVD, after all), but not many people could’ve looked at his management career and felt the same.

  10. 6bJJOB comment6 ,

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