Weekend Interview: To beat racism, be the best, advises former Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United star Carlton Palmer

Carlton Palmer.
Carlton Palmer.
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MENTION the ‘Rooney Rule’ to Carlton Palmer and it is clear that he does not have a lot of time for it.

Last month, all 72 clubs in the Football League agreed, from January 1, to follow that voluntary rule in an attempt to increase the number of coaches and managers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in the game.

It means that every club will now interview at least one BAME candidate for vacant managerial or first-team coaching jobs, with the Rooney Rule originally hailing from the United States where it is used in American Football.

Established in 2003, it is named after Dan Rooney, former owner of Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee.

Following an 18-month trial period, progress in the Football League will be assessed in the summer of 2019, when the organisation may take further action if too few coaches from the relevant backgrounds have been appointed.

A breakthrough, many would suggest. Although it remains to be seen how many of those BAME candidates who are interviewed actually land leading jobs.

For former Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United player Palmer – who had a stint at football management as player-manager with Stockport County in the early noughties – it is all window-dressing.

As someone who, in his playing days, got to the top of his profession by a combination of graft, willpower and a defiant ‘stuff you’ attitude – which involved sticking two fingers up to his critics and proving himself to be among the best in his field – Palmer believes that ability and a strong mindset, as opposed to the colour of a person’s skin, will always be the key characteristics when it comes to success in a chosen profession.

Aside from his views on the lack of black managers and coaches in the game, Palmer’s thoughts on many other topics, including racism in football, make for thought-provoking reading in his autobiography entitled It Is What It Is.

Regardless of whether everyone agrees with all of his views, it still makes for a compelling read, with his beliefs being refreshingly honest.

On the lack of black, Asian and ethnic minority representation in the coaching and managerial realm in football, Palmer told The Yorkshire Post: “When I first started playing football there were not a lot of black football players. There now are.

“There are not a lot of black managers now, but I am assuming that the same will evolve in time. It is there if you want to do it..I look at Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink; he got another job recently (at Northampton). Why? Because he has been successful.

“John Barnes says he cannot get jobs in football...I love John Barnes, but in all honesty, he has not been successful.

“I understand where Barnesy is coming from in that some of the other guys have not been successful and there is a merry-go-around. I get that, but be the best. Then you cannot be denied.

“If I came back to management tomorrow and wanted to get a manager’s job, I would get one, 100 per cent, because I pitch myself where it would be relative to get a job. I would not apply to get one in the Premier League or Championship, I would pitch it where it needs to be. My record in the third division of finishing eighth with Stockport County would enable me to get a job in the third division or League Two. That is fact because I finished eighth with a bunch of kids and ten of them are still playing in the league somewhere.

“It is about being the best for that job. I watched a film called Hidden Figures, an unbelievable film about three black women who were working for NASA 63 years ago. They were the top in their field in figures and accounts and broke the barrier not just for black people or women, but women everywhere.

“In NASA at the time, it was strictly men. One of the women had to go 40 minutes to the toilet and back four times a day as she had to go to the coloured toilets. They could not drink from the same tea urn as her.

“But she still was picked because she was the best. I do not stand by the fact that 63 years on, if I am going to sit in front of a chairman now and I am best for the job, then they are not going to select me.”

Palmer, who now lives in China and works as the director of sport at Wellington College in Shanghai, is similarly strident in his views regarding racism experienced by footballers in the game.

He can speak on the topic with a fair bit of experience having first encountered racism on the playing fields during his time playing in parks football in the West Midlands before sampling it on numerous occasions in his professional career.

Back in 2014 Palmer, controversially, said that players who are racially abused on the pitch should learn to “grow up and accept it”, with his viewpoint being criticised by many.

His autobiography continues on that topic in stressing that, in his view, racist comments designed to wind up individuals should not be confused with those that are made with the deliberate intent of racial hatred.

Palmer said: “I got vilified for making comments. It is very difficult when you talk about racism. I don’t belittle anybody in how they deal with racism. They can deal with racism how they want.

“What I am saying to the black players is that as a group you can affect change. If you get six, seven or eight black players now at a ground where there is racism and six, seven or eight walk off the pitch and say that they are not going to accept this, then they can affect change because that is the majority of the team.

“You affect change together, not as individuals. I look at racism in football. Has it got better because of what the Government or other groups have done? In my opinion, no.

“They might have raised more awareness, but it will only get better because more black players are playing in teams.

“(Romelu) Lukaku is scoring all the goals and Paul Pogba is the highest (British) transfer fee. Then there’s Neymar. All of these black players doing well are making it better.

“Be the best. Those in that (Hidden Figures) film had to be the best and when racism was at its worst 63 years ago they still got picked because they were the best.

“I have got four kids; my daughter has graduated as a lawyer and my second daughter has graduated doing social work and my third daughter is down in university in London and my son is studying IT and business.

“I say to them, ‘Be better’. The more black people who do well, then it makes it more easier for more black people.”

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