Manchester United legend Andy Cole has highlighted the need for change in football and indeed society during a powerful interview to discuss Black History Month.
The Treble winner, 51 today, speaks passionately about role models and the influence of black players in an in-depth conversation with club journalist Sam Carney that you can read below.
Cole feels particularly strongly about the lack of opportunities for black coaches and managers in English football, pointing to the fact his great friend Dwight Yorke could not find a route back into the game. As Andy explains, Yorkie’s eventual chance came on the other side of the world with Australian club Macarthur FC and, like every Red, he was delighted to see him win a domestic cup earlier this month.
Firstly Andy, can you sum up just how important Black History Month is, and who were your black role models when you were growing up?
“Yeah, it is very important and I agree that we deserve more than a month, but it is what it is. It is very important. I think you always look at your father as a role model because, ultimately, when you are growing up he is the provider. So I would say my dad, who passed away in June. In footballing terms, Cyrille Regis was my biggest inspiration and he was one of the reasons why I wanted to play football. We have all got role models and he was definitely mine.”
And were there people like John Barnes and perhaps Ian Wright later on?
“I think John is a lot of the younger generation’s idol, younger than my generation, but I respect John 100 per cent. I think he was a fantastic player. But for me it was more Cyrille Regis. Wrighty is more of a friend. Obviously I look at him and what he has achieved in his career as well, but my role model was Cyrille Regis.”
You were one of the Premier League’s most high-profile black players during the 1990s when English football was going through a transformative process. What was that like?
“It was very special for us and, ultimately, we were trying to show the generation beneath us that anything is possible. A lot of people are prepared to tell us what we can’t do, but it’s what we can do. When we were playing, we were showing people that if you believe in yourself then the sky is the limit. I like to believe that I achieved that, playing the way I did, achieving what I achieved for all of the clubs I played for. It is a special feeling for people to turn to me and say I was their role model growing up. Being a role model is what it is. Sometimes you accept it and sometimes you don’t. But if you can be a positive on somebody then that is a fantastic feeling.”
Did you feel you were a role model during your career, or is it something you only realised afterwards?
“During my career, or even now I am retired, do I look at myself as a role model? I don’t know. I know what I was like when I was younger and the way I played the game. Some people might have liked that and some people might not. Ultimately you are always trying to leave a legacy and if people want to look at that legacy as being a role model to them for what you achieved then that is a great feeling. But we do try our best, we do we try to conduct ourselves in the right manner. I did anyway. I tried to conduct myself in the right manner. Sometimes you let yourself down a little bit, with frustration or whatever it is, you are only human, but if I am a role model then I am a role model.”
How do you feel it has changed for the current generation of players? Do you think we’ve made progress since the ’70s and ’80s, or has it just shifted to social media?
“I don’t think we have really made progress. I think what we do as a footballing country as a whole, we get to a certain place and then everyone forgets about it. They think we have cracked it and we think we have made vast improvements. Then all of a sudden, its head rears up and everyone says ‘well, we eradicated it’. But we never eradicated it. We get it to a certain holding position and then think we have done our jobs. It will always rear its ugly head because that is what the world is. People will always come back to read their ugly head because, like I said, we get to a holding position and think we have cracked it. As we see it as it is now, I am not surprised at all. It is just waiting to happen. Because once you loosen the purse strings so to speak, things like that will always happen.”
I think we saw that after the Euros final when Rashford, Sancho and Saka missed their penalties. But do you think this current England team helps? I think half of the team is black and perhaps that could help with acceptance?
“I don’t think so no. I will be honest, it is not. Racism is not just in football, it is in society. That is what we felt needed to be understood. It is in society every single day. What happened to the boys in the Euros, that is just society being what society is, rearing its ugly head in football. But how do you get on with it? We are constantly talking about education, but we have been talking about education for how many years now? Not just a few years but hundreds of years and we are still at the same place.”
We spoke to Yorkie last year about Black History Month and he said there aren’t enough opportunities for black managers in football. He is now managing Macarthur in Australia and won the Australian Cup a few weeks ago. How happy are you for him?
“I was absolutely buzzing for him. Me and Yorkie had this conversation many, many times. He said he wanted to get into management and he wanted me to get involved with management. I always said I am not going to do it. I said as black players we are always going to find it difficult to get into management. They talk a lot of nonsense about it getting better, but no it is not getting better. It is only getting better if you are getting an opportunity and we are not getting the opportunity. Yorkie had to go to Australia to be given an opportunity! I was absolutely delighted when he won the cup. I spoke to him before the cup final and I spoke to him after. He is buzzing and rightly so. It is just unfortunate he has had to go all the way to Australia to get a position. I am delighted for him and I am always happy when a black manager gets a job. How many are there now, two? Patrick Vieira at Palace and Paul Ince at Reading? You look at it and say to yourself, for the contribution that black players have had not just on the Premier League, but the Championship and League One, and only two names spring to mind. You look at the ex-players that want to get into management that had stellar careers and have seen their white counterparts go into a job straight away, you turn around to yourself and say what is the point? In management, that is the way I view it.”
How do you think we tackle that? Is it somebody like Vieira doing a really good job, or is it more rules-based, like the Rooney Rule in America?
“I have had this conversation so many times regarding the Rooney Rule, it’s a nonsense. It is just like I am sitting down having a conversation with you now. ‘Oh we’ve had a great conversation, an unbelievable conversation, it was really good, but we have done what we’ve done, we’ve had a chat, we’ve ticked all the boxes and I’m still going to give it to Joe Bloggs over here’. Unfortunately we get type-cast as well. If one black manager has failed, the opportunity for another black manager becomes extremely hard because one has failed. How does that work? You are judging one black manager as you want to judge the rest. It can’t work like that, but that is the way the system is. When I hear people talking about it getting better, no it’s a nonsense. Whatever anybody wants to say about me and my views on this, it’s the truth I’m speaking. It’s a nonsense.”
What would you say is the best way of getting more black managers into the game?
“We have to be given an opportunity like everybody else, we have to be. I could sit here and say you are not good enough, but how do I know that if I don’t give you an opportunity? You never know. If I sit and have an interview like I just said, and I ticked all the boxes but they gave it to somebody else, how do they know they are better than the individual you haven’t given the job to? So if you are not going to give anybody a chance then you are never going to know. Somebody has got to be given a chance at the highest level, just like everybody else is given a chance, then you can go from there. But it doesn’t happen like that.”
Visit www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk for more information.