The ‘Rooney Rule’ Will Not Be As Effective In English Football As In The NFL


The ‘Rooney Rule’ is set to be implemented in the UK in an attempt to encourage Football League clubs to consider employing black or ethnic minority coaches and manager. But, it won’t work with the success it has had in the NFL, although more needs to be done to get black managers into the game.

Rooney Rule: NFL Success

The NFL adopted the ‘Rooney Rule’ after its namesake Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers became chairman of the league’s diversity committee. The rule ensures that at least one ethnic minority coach must be interviewed for any head-coaching role that comes available. The Detroit Lions were fined $300,000 after not complying with this law in 2003.

Because of the Rooney Rule, 12.5% of coaches in the NFL are African-American. This shows a radical success and is representative of the diversification of the USA as a whole where 12.4% of the population are from this ethnic background.


However, the way in which NFL teams hire their head coaches is completely different to ways in which Football League teams hire their managers. In the NFL, coaches apply for the role and these applications come from either within the current team or from another team. Short-lists and interviews are then created and held before an appointment is made.

In the Football League, when a club sacks a manager they already have a clear idea of who they want to replace them. Instead of applications being received, a club will go and find their next boss. Let’s take Crystal Palace as an example. When Tony Pulis left, did the owner wait for applications for the job? No, he went out and spoke to various managers such as Tim Sherwood and Neil Warnock, before holding a face-to-face talk (not interview) to judge whether their goals are the same.

Could The Rooney Rule Work?

“Are they just going to be there to tick a box? I don’t see the point if you’re only going to be there so someone can tick a box.”

For all the teams in the Premier League and 95% of teams in the Football League, no. However, clubs in the bottom half of League Two and for leagues below it could. Hartlepool sit in last place in League Two and have no manager. Their owner will be accepting applications for the role and in this situation a black manager could get an interview and potentially get the job.

‘This is good, and that club could be a stepping stone to becoming a manager at a larger club,’ I hear you say. You may be right, but when was the last time a manager started his career at the very bottom and became a huge star at the top? It doesn’t happen very often.

Issues With The Rooney Rule

Above there is a quote. This was given by one of the only two black managers in the Football League, Carlisle manager Keith Curle. His approach to the Rooney Rule is the same as mine. Both of us want to see more ethnic minorities in all areas of the game: managers, coaches, players, referees etc. He went on to say:

"“I’ve not seen anything to suggest it [the Rooney Rule] would work in English football. If you said that for every job vacancy from the Premier League to League Two you had to have one non-white manager available for interview, is there going to be a realistic chance of them getting every job?”"

Another person who is against the ruling is Football Association consultant Brendon Batson. He too agrees that more minorities should be included in the game at every level and position but he doubts that English football is ready for the Rooney Rule.

"“I don’t think we have enough [black coaches] with the right qualification to challenge at the very top. So the first step is, can we help and support them to increase their qualifications to challenge for jobs?”"

And this perfectly sums up my opinion. For me, it is irrelevant whether the manager of my beloved team is black, white, Asian, straight, gay, male, female, mentally disabled or physically disabled. As long as they can guide my club to glory – and has the correct qualifications to meet expectations – I couldn’t care less about what they looked like or their personality.

What Are The Alternatives?

So far, I have stated why the Rooney Rule will not work, but I have also admitted that more needs to be done to bring minorities into the sport. So what can be done to improve upon the current situation.

Firstly, I would concentrate on the ground level. Lack of minority coaches, officials and others is not exclusive to professional football. Why are there no women managers in my local mens leagues? The encouragement isn’t there for any type of minorities to engage in coaching classes. Awareness needs to be raised and the FA needs to target minority areas.

For example, 13% of the Greater London population is Black-British, along with 8.9 per cent of Birmingham and 8.6 per cent of Manchester. Added to this is other minority groups, 32% of the people living in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets are Bangladeshi.

The FA should be targeting these groups and encouraging them to take coaching courses by offering free licenses to those taking part. How can you be sure that there are no good minority coaches if they don’t have the chance to prove themselves because of financial restraints?

But, there is more. There are literally thousands of professional footballers in just the top 92 clubs in England. A great proportion of these players are black, or come from other ethnic minorities. Why are these players not turning to management. The answer might come from Rooney Rule activist Jason Roberts.

The professional footballer was asked by a Twitter follower how many jobs he had applied for. His response was simple. None. He hasn’t applied for any because of the statistics behind those who have. The very fact that there are only two professional black football managers in the league system at the moment.

So, how can you encourage minority players to become managers? You have to give them the opportunity to become a coach. Incentivise those players out there to become a manager through promoting benefits. The organisation for professional players can do this on the FA’s behalf or they can work together.

What is clear is that more does need to be done to encourage all minorities to take part in the game through coaching and as far as I can tell, nothing is being done at the moment. Or at the very least, nothing high profile.