[Press and Publications] New Research on Football Clubs and Ethnic Minorities

The New Football Communities: A survey of professional football clubs on issues of community, ethnicity and social inclusion by Steven Bradbury, Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, University of Leicester

New research by the University of Leicester on progress in combating racism by professional football clubs in England offers some mixed messages about progress. A small number of professional football clubs have made great strides in following the Government Task Force recommendations on this issue from 1998.

But progress has been much slower at some clubs, and also there are signs of a relative lack of progress in opening up clubs to members of minority ethnic communities in particular regions. There is also some evidence that some football clubs which self-define as good ‘community’ clubs might be excluding the involvement of people from local minority ethnic communities in that description.

In terms of offering employment opportunities at senior levels for people from minority ethnic communities most clubs do extremely poorly. Not all clubs have equal opportunities policies - and some of those which have such policies do not always seem to adhere to them.

The University of Leicester research was conducted by means of a postal survey of all 92 FA Premier League and Football League clubs. 88 clubs replied to the survey. This research is supported by the Professional Footballers Association and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Some of the Research Findings

1. Spectator Issues

  • Over half (51%) of all professional football clubs are situated in areas which have a minority ethnic population of 5% or more, whilst over one quarter of clubs (29%) are situated in areas where one in ten local residents are of minority ethnic backgrounds.
  • Most FA Premier League clubs and most larger, urban-based, Football League clubs are sited in areas with significant local minority ethnic populations.
  • Although, nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondent clubs claim that they already appeal to all members of the community and one-third (33%) of clubs feel they are already ‘successful’ in attracting black and Asian fans to matches, at most clubs, including those situated in areas with significant black and Asian communities, minority ethnic ‘active’ support is probably between 0-2% of the total crowd. Any claims for ‘successful’ recruitment of minority ethnic fans on the part of some clubs here, seem to us to reflect more a relative lack of ambition among clubs on this score rather than real successes in this respect.
  • Around 60% of clubs recognise their lack of success in attracting black and Asian fans to matches.
  • Whilst around one-third of clubs explained minority ethnic non-attendance at their clubs matches in terms of fan concerns over racism (32%) and also cost (33%), a smaller, but significant number of clubs persist in using some familiar cultural stereotypes such as views that minority ethnic groups like other sports (24%) or that their members are prevented from attending matches because of religious and cultural factors (11%).
  • More than half (57%) of all clubs were unaware of any recent incidents of racism amongst spectators at their home matches. These included some clubs whose supporters had actually been involved in high profile incidents of racist chanting during the 1999/2000 season. Fewer clubs (41%) had taken any recent direct action against racist incidents at home matches.
  • Only eight clubs (9%) have telephone hotlines for fans specifically to report incidents of racism at the clubs matches. Despite this relative lack of formal procedures for reporting racism at many clubs, 41 clubs (52%) had received recent reports of racism at home matches from fans.
  • Three-quarters (76%) of all clubs felt it unnecessary to do more work specifically with black and Asian fans. Over half (52%) of all clubs also felt they were already open to all fans. Clubs which claimed to be already open to all fans were also among those which were least aware of the possibilities for racial exclusion, and to be the least active in terms of being generally geared up to deal with racism if it occurred.
  • 2. Working in Partnerships

  • Three-quarters (76%) of clubs claimed to have worked with the national anti-racist organisation Kick It Out, although few clubs here adhered fully to all aspects of Kick It Out’s own ‘ten point plan’ against racism. Similarly, nine out of ten clubs (90%) claimed to have worked with at least one partner organisation on local projects against racism, although the nature, outcomes and effectiveness of these partnerships is unclear.
  • Generally speaking, London clubs were consistently more likely to have worked with more partner organisations on projects of this kind and, along with some notable larger clubs in ‘high’ minority ethnic areas in the Midlands and the North of England, tended to exhibit a greater sense of ‘racial awareness’ and commitment to opposing racism than many, smaller, Football League clubs sited in largely ‘white’ areas. However, responses from some clubs in the North West and the Midlands to dealing with racism and appealing more appropriately to minority ethnic communities seem very limited.
  • 3. Players and Scouts

  • Whilst 10% of young players (14+) who are based in club youth Academies and Schools of Excellence are reported to be black only 1.6% of such players are reported to be of Asian origin. Most clubs seem to have no Asian youngsters on their books. Of 71 young Asian players based at professional clubs, thirty were concentrated at just six clubs, suggesting a continuing problem of recruiting young Asian footballers to professional football clubs.
  • According to our estimates based on club replies, about 13% of all professional players at FA Premier League and Football League clubs during the 1999/2000 season were UK born black players.

    4. Other Club staff

  • Minority ethnic workers are considerably under-represented in the administrative departments of professional football clubs. Only two minority ethnic employees, nationally, hold what one might describe as a senior administrative post at any of these 88 professional clubs.
  • The administrative recruitment procedures at a large number of football clubs seem effectively ‘closed’ to outside applicants, including members of minority ethnic communities. Many clubs (35%) still admit to using methods of ‘word of mouth’ or personal contacts in order to recruit senior administrative staff. This is likely to discriminate against applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds and it almost certainly helps to maintain a strongly ‘white’ senior administrative core in professional football.
  • Fewer than one-third (31%) of all clubs, according to our returns, have written equal opportunities policies, despite this being a specific recommendation of the Football Task Force. Furthermore, two out of three of those clubs which claim to have equal opportunities policies do not seem to adhere to these policies, at least in terms of their preferred or utilised administrative recruitment strategies. This means that most of those clubs which claim to have such policies do not properly use, or understand, them.
  • The Issues

    The spectator racism at many British football grounds during the 1970s and 1980s, was increasingly challenged during the 1990s by a series of localised fan group campaigns and the development of national initiatives, such as the Kick It Out campaign, which has the support of the football authorities.

    In 1998, the Government Football Task Force, in conjunction with the football authorities and representatives of local and national anti-racist campaigns drew up a series of recommendations for football’s ruling bodies and professional clubs, as part of a comprehensive and wide ranging effort to eliminate racism from all levels of football.

    With specific regard to professional football clubs, these Task Force recommendations involved ways in which clubs might attract more minority ethnic support, open-up recruitment structures to better attract playing and non-playing staff from minority ethnic (specifically Asian) communities and implement the measures outlined in the Kick It Out ten point plan, in particular, the adoption of an equal opportunities policy document. More generally, the Task Force was concerned that professional clubs should engage in multi-agency partnerships to help better connect with local black and Asian communities, many of which were resident in areas immediately adjacent to football stadiums.

    In spring 2000, the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, in conjunction with the FA Premier League, the Football League and Kick It Out, and funded jointly by the Professional Footballers Association and the Economic and Social Research Council, conducted an extensive survey of professional football clubs to discover the extent to which clubs had responded to these specific Task Force recommendations and, more generally, the ways in which clubs had attempted to engage with their local minority ethnic communities around issues of playing, scouting, spectating, policing racism and employment. In total, staff at eighty-eight professional clubs returned completed questionnaires representing a 96% response rate. Effectively, this report, which is the first of its kind, provides a unique national audit of a series of anti-racist strategies by professional football clubs in England aimed at combating racism and promoting social inclusion within the game.

    Some comments on this research

    Steven Bradbury - the author of the report says:

    “The findings of the ‘New Football Communities’ research suggests that many professional football clubs have offered too limited a response to the implementation of anti-racism measures outlined in the 1998 Football Task Force recommendations. In particular, many clubs seem to have struggled to try to connect with their local black and Asian communities and to increase their involvement in football in terms of playing, spectating and, perhaps, most notably, employment opportunities, where a series of semi-institutionalised barriers to greater minority ethnic participation seem to be a feature.

    More promisingly, our findings also suggest that there are a small number of professional football clubs working directly in conjunction with other football and non-football agencies, at the local level, to engage local minority ethnic communities in a more effective dialogue and to implement practical measures to challenge racism and to promote social inclusion. It is at these highly localised initiatives that some real progress seems to be being made.

    The majority of professional football clubs might do well to follow the lead taken by these more progressive local campaigns and move beyond the adoption of simple and overly-defensive ‘colour-blind’ approaches which tend to limit their chances of recruiting people from minority ethnic backgrounds as either players, fans or staff.”

    Brendan Batson, Deputy Chief Executive, Professional Footballers Association:

    “The research findings will be an important source of information enabling clubs to re-evaluate their anti-racism policies.

    Whilst there are many positive examples of work being done by clubs, the research shows that still more needs to be done in the areas of attracting more spectators from the ethnic minority communities and also in terms of recruitment so that there is a better representation within clubs’ administrative departments.”

    Piara Powar, National Co-ordinator, Kick It Out, football's national anti-racism campaign:

    "Some of the findings of this study highlight the continuing failures of some clubs and other institutions in the game to take forward the progress made in fighting racism. At a time when football represents popular culture at it's most dominant the game says much about the way we see ourselves as a nation, who is in and who is not, the imperative for change could not be greater."

    John Williams, Director of the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research says:

    “This is an important piece of research, which shows the real progress made at some football clubs since 1998, and the challenges which still lie ahead at others. The recent street disturbances in some English towns and cities show the very real tensions and frustrations which still exist at local level in terms of issues of racial exclusion. Football clubs could have a very significant role to play in offering an important local forum for social inclusion and promoting more integrated and harmonious relations between different sections of the community. Unfortunately, at some clubs this does not seem to be occurring.

    The challenge is to offer support and help to those clubs which have ambitions to be more open to local ethnic minority communities. Often it is expertise and good advice rather than a will to change which is lacking. But clubs also need to think much harder about how they present themselves to the range of communities they now serve.”

    Copies of The New Football Communities Report are available at £9.95 (cheques made payable to the ‘University Of Leicester’) from the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH (telephone 0116 252 2751).


    FOOTBALL RESEARCH CENTRE: 0116 252 2751/2741

    PRESS OFFICE: 0116 252 3335, Fax: 0116 252 2485, Mobile: (out of office hours) 07711 927821.


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    Last updated: 17 August 2001 11:11
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