As one of West Brom’s ‘Three Degrees’, Brendon Batson blazed a trail for black players in English football – now he wants to see the barriers to coaching and management eroded.
The Football League is taking steps to implement its own version of the ‘Rooney Rule’, a measure adopted by the NFL to encourage greater inclusivity of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates within coaching and other senior roles.
It is a move that Batson – who moved to The Hawthorns in 1978 and, along with team-mates Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham was dubbed one of ‘The Three Degrees’ by manager Ron Atkinson – feels is essential to ensuring a meaningful change in an environment that has stifled the progress of BAME players into the domain of coaching, including himself.
Batson, who retired with a knee injury in 1982, told Perform: “For too long we have seen that more and more black players are turning away from actually putting themselves forward because they can’t see those who they admired and people who acted as role models getting opportunities.
“I actually wrote off for several jobs. As has been the experience of many black players, and possibly other players as well, clubs didn’t even have the courtesy to reply.
“I got one interview at my old club Cambridge United but I wasn’t successful, so I turned my thoughts to something else.”
During his long association with the Professional Footballers’ Association, Batson has strived for equality in the game and is pleased to see the Football League taking a stand.
The body has proposed a voluntary recruitment code for first-team roles as part of a pilot programme, initially involving up to 10 clubs, to run from the 2016-17 season that would see clubs agree to interview at least one BAME candidate.
Its aim is to roll out the measures across its 72 member clubs with a view to increasing the level of BAME employment within these roles to a figure between 10 and 20 per cent – only six managerial roles in the Football League currently fit the bill.
Batson does not expect to see instant results, but has confidence that positive changes will result.
“If you go back and talk about success on the playing field [for black players] – that didn’t happen overnight,” the 62-year-old, awarded an OBE for services to football last year, said.
“What you had was a sort of whispering campaign that said, ‘black players can’t do this, they don’t like the cold, they’re indisciplined, they can’t tackle, they’ve got no heart’ – that didn’t stop people looking to display their talents and gradually the game couldn’t ignore those talents.
“What we want to try and do is replicate that within coaching and management.”
Proposals such as the ‘Rooney Rule’ have been met with some opposition within football, but Batson urged people to understand the purpose of the League’s measures.
“This is not about guaranteeing anyone a job,” he added. “This is about having a really transparent process, an open process for when these jobs become available. It is down to the employer who they wish to employ.
“There are people out there within the black community who’ve got the necessary skills, who’ve got the experience, who’ve got the dedication and commitment to be really great coaches.
“Everybody finds their level. What you want to do is encourage more and more people from that under-represented group to pursue their aspirations, to pursue their ambitions, to get their qualifications.
“We want to encourage more diversity within the industry.”