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Alena coaching in Bangladesh with Fans for Diversity's Anwar Uddin (far left)

“Be as authentic as possible” says leading female black coach

Liverpool and Derby County fan Alena Moulton, who is now head coach at Stoke City women, is one of only two black female managers in the top three tiers of the women’s game.

To mark Black History Month we spoke to Alena about how being a football fan from a very young age, and her Dad’s determination to let her enjoy the beautiful game, put her on the path to coaching at an elite level…

Alena is one of the very few black coaches working in English football at the moment, and black women are the least represented group across the game as a whole. Despite this, Alena has continued to rise up through the ranks, acquiring the A-license before the age of 30.

“When I look back, I didn’t ever think I would reach the A-license,” Alena told us. “I honestly didn’t think it was possible before 30, that’s probably my biggest individual achievement.

“One day I’d love to get the Pro-license and be the second black female in England to get it.”

Derby County’s old Baseball Ground features heavily in Alena’s memory when she talks about how she acquired her lifelong addiction to football and drive to succeed in the game.

“Like anyone else I first got into football as a fan,” Alena told us. “I’ve been hooked ever since I was around six or seven.

“Derby’s old ground was literally round the corner – my Dad had a season ticket and my cousin played for Derby reserves. There were always opportunities to go to games.”

Despite being keen, the spectre of racism loomed large at the time and despite being right next to the club, some of Alena’s family were reluctant to let her go.

“We lived so close to the Baseball Ground you could see the floodlights,” Alena says. “Mum was fearful, she used to explain that she didn’t want me going to games because we’ve had fans, home and away, starting with the monkey chants and stuff like that outside our house.

“I think I was at a young age where I didn’t know what half of it meant really.

“Despite the macho culture my dad was really big on me going to games, he’d say ‘if she likes football I’m going to get her involved’.

“And from what I can remember my experience was a lot more positive. As a fan I never really saw or heard any of the racist abuse you might expect.”

With the game, and the terraces, transformed over the last thirty years Alena says those invisible barriers that black and other ethnic minority fans faced going to the match are beginning to disappear.

“I’d say it’s much less of an intimidating prospect for young black fans who want to go to the game now compared to 20, 30 years ago,” she said.

“Crowds are definitely more diverse now. You can see it in how supporter groups represent that level of diversity at each club.

“I think people feel more comfortable as there is more representation. Black fans are more visible now.”

Despite seeing that progress in the stands, the dugout remains an overwhelmingly white and male domain.

Alena started coaching when she was still a teenager and has risen remarkably through the coaching ranks. In 2016-17, Alena completed the FA’s BAME Mentee programme – leading to a role at Nottingham Forest Women.

“I gained a lot of experience as assistant manager at Forest, I was there for two years,” she told us. “I even ended up doing the interim manager role as well for the final eight or nine games.

“Things change in football, people move on and I decided I wanted a different challenge, I wanted to work with people that would challenge me and make me feel comfortable in my environment – as a black female that’s really important to me.

“That’s how I’ve ended up at Stoke.”

Now at Stoke City, Alena is just one of two black women head coaches in the top three tiers of the women’s game – does that come with a burden of responsibility?

“The highest coach at the moment is Hope Powell,” Alena said. “In terms of black females there’s no-one else in her league, no-one in the league below her and below that is my league.

“You know I feel there is a bit of a responsibility for me to be a role model and try and do a good job.

“We have to demonstrate to people that coaching is a possibility for black women and ensure we don’t dismiss other black females in future.

“Women get dismissed anyway, and if you’re a black woman you get dismissed for different reasons. I probably put a bit of pressure on myself to do a good job because it’s not just for me. I’m doing it for other people, too.”

The FA have committed to diversifying football’s leadership, ramping up its diversity programmes in recent years and this week releasing the “Football Diversity Leadership Code”.

So far 40 clubs across the Premier League, EFL, FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship have signed up to the code, which aims to tackle inequality across senior leadership positions, broader team operations and coaching roles across football.

“I’d like to think things will improve because there’s a written dedication and agreement,” Alena said. “They are committed to doing it. How they do it, and who they connect with to support them, will be interesting to see.

“At the moment just 4% of coaches in the game are black women. What questions are we asking to increase that number? Being female is one thing but being black is another.

“We have to make football accessible – if we think about accessibility in general you should start to get diversity. It’s all about removing those barriers.”

Stoke City women with three wins on the board so far this season take on Fylde at the weekend, who currently sit atop the FA National League North in what should be a big game for the Potters. What advice would Alena give to young black women coming through the system now, looking to follow in her and Hope Powell’s footsteps?

“Just by being visible you will support others,” she says. “Thinking about my experience as a coach I would definitely want more people like me in that working environment supporting me.

“But you’ve got to remember the negative experiences too, don’t pretend they never happened. Bring that to your coaching – be as authentic as possible.

“I’m not sure it’s the right word necessarily but don’t think you can’t show your blackness. Don’t be afraid to bring yourself for the fear of being judged.

“Let them have their stereotypes, people will have their preconceptions. We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do.”

  • You can read more of our #FootballVoices features here.

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