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Fans for Diversity: A look back on Black History Month

The FSA and Kick It Out’s joint Fans for Diversity campaign celebrated Black History Month by interviewing pioneering coach Alena Moulton and reminding everyone of the importance of the Jack Leslie Campaign.  

As part of our ongoing #FootballVoices series we also invited members to a panel discussion featuring supporters and industry figures which would explore topical issues. The idea was to look back on Black History Month and reiterate that this is something which can continue around the calendar, and not just take place in October.

Osei Sankofa (ex-pro and coach), Natalie Burrell (founder of MUWFC’s Barmy Army), and Rodney Cyrus (On and Off The Pitch Podcast) joined Troy Townsend (head of development, Kick It Out) to discuss racism within football and wider society.

Watch the full event:

Taking the knee (pre-panel poll) 

The issue of players “taking the knee” has solicited polarised and passionate views of social media, so before our panel debate we polled our audience of 41 and asked them whether they thought the act should continue. 22% thought it should “indefinitely” while 46% felt it should “until there’s been further change”. 10% thought it should not continue while 22% were “not sure”. Would that change after participants had listened to the panel’s views? Read on to find out…

What did our panel say? 

  • Natalie Burrell (founder of MUWFC’s Barmy Army) – “I remember when the Premier League started again and it was the first image back from football. I felt proud. I felt pride in myself and my team. They had Black Lives Matter on their shirts, they had the badges, I liked that. I voted for it to continue until we see change. Until we see a black players union, until we see change; the Premier League and the FA making big changes, pushing things, getting clubs to educate fans and players, I don’t think it should stop. If someone wants to ‘boo’ or post stuff online then it just shows that it needs to be done. Potentially people are shouting out about it because maybe they don’t understand. More needs to be done to tell people it’s not just an American thing – things are happening here.”
  • Rodney Cyrus (On and Off The Pitch Podcast) – “It’s all about what the players want to do – that’s where it starts. It’s about the journey to diversity and inclusion, that’s the end game. Taking the knee is just the process in which people can complain or show they’re upset about something or choose to stand by someone. It’s just a thing. It’s saying no to injustice, no to being pushed to the side, no more poor treatment. The conversation should be led by players and then that information from the conversation is shared with the fans, not the conversation with the fans telling players what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s about the players and clubs saying, this is what we’ve decided and this is why we are, or are not, going to ‘take the knee’. It’s like wearing a badge, it means something until everyone says we’re going to come together to have an equal conversation about the disparities in society and then people will no longer take the knee.
  • Osei Sankofa (ex-pro and coach) – It’s down to the individual to decide whether or not they want to ‘take a knee’ but I would like to see it as part of an overall strategy. Players always seem to be the ones who have to put themselves above the parapet when they are young men trying to have a career in the game and now they have to take on all of this extra strain that’s no fault of their own. I don’t think players should be having to convince anybody. I would like to see the real big hitters in the game, the chief execs, the owners, the heads of the major governing bodies to protect players and say, OK these are our players, this is what they think and we believe them and we back them and this is what we’re going to do…and this is why we’re going to do it. The decision makers have to take a stand and take the burden away from the players so people can understand a little bit more.. 
  • Troy Townsend (head of development, Kick It Out)  – My response was “indefinitely” because I think the second answer was “until we see more change”. Well, I’m telling you now, I haven’t seen any change. I haven’t seen anything demonstrated at the moment that tells me that change is just around the corner. I’ve seen more of an outcry against the knee than for the knee. I’ve seen more of a negative reaction than a positive reaction. I’ve seen a plane over the Etihad with White Lives Matter which for me was two fingers up to whatever you’re doing, this is what we believe. For me the game has far too often ignored this topic of conversation. When Ben Mee was asked “Why did you concede five goals?” he said you know what there’s something more important that I want to talk about … for me that’s leadership, that shows someone who understands the purpose, the reason. Now if you replace Ben Mee with the chairman or a director that for me would show me they’re taking this on board. I don’t  think football is ready for the kind of change we actually want and need. An equal, level playing field across the game so that we can all be respected for the contributions we have made in the game and be acknowledged for what we bring to the game. That we’re still talking about it in 2020 – it’s beyond me…

Did the debate change opinions? (Post-panel poll)

Yes –  it firmed up opinion in both directions. An identical percentage (68%) still thought that taking the knee should go on “indefinitely” or “until there’s further change” but 34% now thought it should go on indefinitely as opposed to 22% when the call started. On the other hand 32% still said “no” or were “not sure” – but more people (18% as opposed to 10% at the start of the call) were now in the “no” camp. While all of those figures are interesting it should be noted that this is a relatively small sample of 41 people. 

What does the panel think fans should do?

  1. Kick It Out has a new campaign called #TakeAStand which calls on everyone to drive change and become part of the collective voice for change. Find out more here.
  2. #TakeAStand is about being the change yourself. They say football is a driver for social change – but it’s individuals within football that actually do it not the organisation itself. 
  3. Be proud of what fans are trying to achieve – tell everyone what you’re doing and encourage people to talk about the issues with sensitivity and empathy. Look after each other and let’s make caring for one another something which is valued and respected.
  4. Find out more about the FSA’s Fans for Diversity campaign and, if you’d like to do something at or with your club get in touch – we have a budget for activities at a local level and can help.

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