Media, Scottish Football, SPFL

Sweeping Statements

Good Evening.

The Clumpany drew a sharp intake of ethereal breath today when reading quotes from Alex Smith, Chairman of the Scottish Coaches’ and Managers’ Association in the Daily Record.

Smith (a former manager of St Mirren, Dundee United and Aberdeen) commented on remarks made to the BBC by ex-Hibs players Russell Latapy and Kevin Harper. Here is the BBC piece, together with some key extracts:

Black coaches ‘held back in Scotland’, say Latapy and Harper

“Two black former Scottish top-flight footballers claim the colour of their skin is holding them back from making the transition to management. Russell Latapy and Kevin Harper, who both played for Hibernian, say the lack of diversity in Scottish dugouts proves their point.”

“Latapy, who was born in Trinidad and managed his national side, has been a coach at Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Falkirk but says the path to management in the country is proving trickier. 

‘For whatever reason, young black managers are not being afforded the same opportunities as young white managers,’ said the 47-year-old. ‘As players, we play alongside each other and all we’re asking for is the same opportunity. Since John Barnes, there hasn’t been another black manager, but I have to say this: I don’t want a job because of the colour of my skin. I want a job based on what the chairman thinks I can bring to that football club.’

Harper, who is currently doing his A Licence coaching training, says he feels the same way. ‘I’ve applied for at least 10 jobs in Scotland and I’ve had two responses,’ revealed the 40-year-old. ‘I’m new into it but to only get two responses and not even get an interview, I think there’s a real issue.’

‘There might be 6% going through the coaching system, but there is 0% at the clubs,” he said. “There is definitely an issue for sure.'”

The points raised by Harper and Latapy were interesting ones – which also get raised from time-to-time in English football. However, I thought that some of the responses from those in a position of authority or influence sounded rather complacent.

Firstly, the SPFL offered a response which was as so bland that it must have come out of a PR handbook.

“We are absolutely confident that all of our member clubs judge each management and coaching application on its individual merit and appoint only the best candidates, regardless of the colour of their skin. All of our member clubs fully support the Show Racism The Red Card campaign and undertake an abundance of work promoting diversity in their communities.”

Well that’s alright then. As long as all clubs support the SRTRC campaign there can’t be any merit in the issues raised by Harper and Latapy… Let’s all just move on.

But the most striking response to their comments came from Alex Smith who was quoted by the Record in the following terms:

“ALEX SMITH has hit back at Kevin Harper and Russell Latapy and insisted there is no racism in Scottish football.
Former Hibs pair Harper and Latapy insist there is a problem in the Scottish game with black coaches getting management jobs.

But former St Mirren, Aberdeen and Dundee United boss Smith, who currently heads up the League Manager’s Association, has rejected the claims and says there is nothing stopping the duo getting jobs.

He said: ‘I don’t believe there is a problem in this country at all, I find that hard to believe. Today, more than ever, there are players coming through of different ethnicities, I think there are opportunities for everyone in Scottish football.

Russell enjoyed a long and successful spell with John Hughes, where he helped lead Inverness to the Scottish Cup, I’m sure if the right opportunity is there, Russell will make his mark in coaching. I’ve known Kevin since he was only a young lad, I’m sure if he keeps working hard getting his coaching badges then he will make an impact on the game.'”

Once I stopped guffawing at the Record’s embellishment [“there is no racism in Scottish football”], I found myself rolling my eyes at Smith’s remarks.

“I don’t believe there is a problem in this country at all” is a remarkably definitive thing to say in respect of possible discrimination, and suggests that Smith must have detailed knowledge of every single coaching appointment made in contemporary senior Scottish football!

It is worth reflecting on the fact that it is only by being so definitive that Smith is then able to assert that if the two men  keep working hard on their coaching badges, they will do well “if the right opportunity is there”.  

Woohoo for meritocracy!

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that Harper and Latapy are 100% correct in their claims, nor am I saying that Scottish football has an alarming case to answer about its coaching recruitment practices. However, I AM keen to point out that the comments of Smith (and those of the SPFL) appear so dismissive as to seem remarkably unconcerned.

I may be naive, but in relation to issues of discrimination, it would seem absolutely essential to remain constantly ‘on guard’, and to be on the look-out for opportunities to address concerns.

Surely it wouldn’t have been beyond Smith or the SPFL to say that although they don’t recognise the points raised (based on their knowledge of the game), they take all concerns seriously, and would welcome a discussion with Harper and Latapy?

It might have conveyed a reassuring impression of vigilance on their part.