English football has always had a problem with the number of black people in managerial positions. There are currently just four black managers across the top four leagues out of a possible 92 positions. Whilst black players make up a significant proportion of the total across all the leagues, it appears management is a glass ceiling that is yet to be cracked, let alone smashed. Past reports on influential black figures in the game have tended to focus on those in the media and commercial side of the game, with figures such as Garth Crooks at the BBC and Chris Nathaniel, football agent at NVA Agency, where significant strides towards more equal representation appear to have been made. These gains appear to have bypassed the world of management however, for reasons we will attempt to uncover below.
Chris Houghton has had a quietly impressive start to his career in management and is currently in charge of Brighton and Hove Albion on their return to the top flight. Houghton had a successful career as a player predominantly with Spurs and went immediately into coaching following retirement, with Tottenham and later Newcastle United. Chris has since had spells as manager of Newcastle, Birmingham City, Norwich and now Brighton. Brighton currently sit mid-table and look to have avoided the threat of relegation in what is a significant achievement for the club and the manager. Despite this impressive track-record, Chris is rarely linked with moves to ‘bigger’ clubs when opportunities arise, and is frequently overlooked for managers with seemingly worse records and less experience. This has lead former player and current pundit Ian Wright to question why Houghton is not considered for top jobs, leading some to conclude that it is because black coaches don’t get the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
Houghton himself has spoken frequently on these issues as the only black manager in the English top flight and has become an enthusiastic flag bearer for the cause. Reflecting on his own time in the game, Houghton has suggested that whilst black players were often considered to be talented, they were never tipped for captaincy or management material. Whilst this lack of consideration for black people in leadership roles appears to have persisted in the world of management, Houghton is adamant that the culture will change and getting worthy black coaches into roles with top clubs will be crucial to accelerating that process. We hope that for his sake and for a generation of aspiring black coaches, this comes sooner rather than later.