The Rooney Rule debate: Ex-Whitton United boss and former professional, has his say

Ian Brown

Ian Brown - Credit: Archant

He’s known for his regular appearances on the Football League Show, but for Hadleigh United coach Ian Brown, Leroy Rosenior’s coaching career is far more significant.

Ipswich-born Brown’s Football League career was a brief one, but he went on to become an established figure in non-league, playing for the likes of Sudbury and Whitton United.

The 49-year-old, a personal progress tutor at Suffolk One College, went on to manage Whitton, no doubt taking on board many of the things Rosenior – a coach at Bristol City at the time – taught him.

Rosenior is not the only person to have influenced Brown – the former Holywells School pupil also counts former Ipswich Town and current Needham Market coach Steve Foley as an inspiration – but their time spent in the same set-up represented an important chapter in Brown’s development.

“My first and only coach of colour was Leroy Rosenior, and it’s quite sad that I have never been coached by anyone else from a black or ethnic minority,” explains Brown, who has endorsed the proposed introduction of the Rooney Rule – a measure that currently ensures at least one candidate from a black or ethnic minority background in America receives an interview for every NFL head coach position.

Rosenior has accused football of having a ‘glass ceiling’ – a political term used to describe the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.

“What I liked about Leroy was his spirit and confidence. He was very intelligent, shrewd guy,” recalls Brown, who worked with chairman Ruel Fox and secretary, Phil Pemberton, who are both black, at Whitton United.

Most Read

“He was a good coach and, he created a pathway where nothing was going to stop him from moving forward.

“I looked up to him and he taught me a lot about perseverance and resilience.”

Brown joined his first professional club, Birmingham, in the mid-eighties – an era often associated with racism on the terraces.

The likes of Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson, Luther Blissett, John Barnes and Viv Anderson, household names by that stage, were prominent role-models in battling against such problems.

Their influence didn’t stretch to managerial and boardroom level though. Anderson spent one season in charge at Barnsley before becoming Bryan Robson’s assistant at Middlesbrough, while Barnes had indifferent spells at Celtic and Tranmere.

The late Keith Alexander was a pioneer for black managers, while the likes of Chris Powell, Chris Hughton and Paul Ince have enjoyed varying levels of success since. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Burton), meanwhile, is a relative novice.

“Some of the racist abuse in the Eighties was horrific and I believe guys like Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and John Barnes made a platform for others to follow,” said Brown.

“They were wonderful role models to me and you look now in the boardroom and at managers, it does make you wonder why people of colour haven’t made inroads. It’s a shame the game seems to have forgotten those guys.”

He added: “Jason Roberts has been quite outspoken in his views and has suggested that perhaps white chairman are not trusting black players, or people of colour.

“He has also said that it appears friends of friends are getting jobs, the same old faces.

“John Barnes once said that once you have failed you generally don’t get a second chance being a black manager. It’s difficult to know what the answer is, but there needs to be a solution-focused approach to getting people involved in administration, at boardroom level and in coaching and management.

“I managed Whitton and I was quite successful but some (opposition) managers would mistakenly come up to talk to my white assistant before realising I was the manager. It is quite subtle.

“I have developed players from youth level that have gone on to professional clubs like Ipswich and Derby, but I never had a mentor to work with. Everything was done off my own back.

“Are there enough role-models? From a Suffolk perspective, I may be wrong but I don’t know any black counterparts involved at senior level, in Suffolk, and that concerns me.

“I generally go on coaching courses and I don’t see many people of colour on the course, particularly from a rural perspective, and the answer is why?

“Are we doing enough to get people on coaching courses, is there enough encouragement? Is the FA, Suffolk FA doing enough?

A subject so delicate is bound to create controversy, and ultimately, more questions than answers.

Greg Dyke and the aforementioned Roberts have both been vocal in endorsing the controversial Rooney Rule, while other figures in football have been more cynical, fearing all it will do is tick a box.

“I would not be insulted (by the Rooney Rule) if it gave me a platform to showcase my skills and prove I was the best man for the job,” Brown added.

“If there is a better solution, let’s go with it, if it allows more black and ethnic minority candidates to have an opportunity in the game.

“It’s not just about coaching, there are so many other areas of the game that are under-represented.

“If (positive discrimination) is the only way that people can obtain jobs and be part of the community, then fair enough.”

Brown’s day-job sees him working with young students to help them achieve their goals at Suffolk One College – a role similar to his work previously as a youth coach.

“There aren’t many (black and ethnic minorities) people I would suggest hold change-making roles in football,” Brown concluded.

“I’d love to be a change-maker, to make a difference.

“I work in education and come from an area, the other side of town (Ipswich) where aspirations were low when I went to school.

“I want people to see the value of education. If I can be a role model to everyone, that will that will be fantastic.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter