I came through the hate and you can, too

LEROY ROSENIOR ON HIS FIGHT TO SUC­CEED

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

LEROY Rosenior is a pos­i­tive guy and has carved out a de­cent ca­reer in foot­ball as a player, man­ager and pun­dit, but there were mo­ments early on in his ca­reer when he won­dered if it was all worth it.

As a young black player in the rough-and­tum­ble early-80s, he was sub­jected to vile racist abuse and, not sur­pris­ingly, found it dif­fi­cult to cope with.

In the pro­logue of his ex­cel­lent au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,

It’s Only Ban­ter, he re­counts the tale of an early match in his ca­reer. He was a Ful­ham striker play­ing away from home in an evening match in front of a crowd of 30,000-plus.

Re­marks

As he chal­lenged for the ball and tried to pres­sure his mark­ers, he be­gan to hear it. The racist re­marks – ‘You black c**t, f ***** g n **** r, you black b ***** d. At first he was con­fused be­cause the hate-filled words seemed to be too close to be com­ing from the crowd, and then he re­alised who was say­ing them – the op­po­si­tion play­ers.

Another time he was play­ing at Leeds United when he and team-mate Paul Parker were ‘greeted with 5,000 or more Leeds fans with their right hands, erect to the sky, shout­ing ‘Sieg Heil’ as if not at­tend­ing a Sec­ond Di­vi­sion foot­ball match on a rainy York­shire af­ter­noon but a 1930s Nurem­berg rally. Paul and I looked at each other in dis­be­lief ’.

Now, as a worldly-wise 52-year-old sit­ting in a tran­quil café at Ful­ham FC at the launch of his book, it must seem like a life­time ago – but the mem­o­ries never fade.

Re­call­ing that first in­ci­dent, Rosenior says: “I didn’t know what it was all about, I didn’t un­der­stand. At the time I was al­most in tears when I came off that foot­ball pitch. But when I came away and I thought about it, it hard­ened me for what was to come.”

As for Leeds: “That was scary. Leeds was in­tim­i­dat­ing at the time. I came away from there think­ing ‘I’m not sure if I want to do this any more’. It had the in­tended af­fect of scar­ing the liv­ing day­lights out of me, but it never got any scarier than that.

“I was a young lad go­ing through that and when I looked at the ha­tred in those peo­ple’s eyes I didn’t un­der­stand it. There were a few peo­ple lead­ing that and oth­ers were eas­ily led. I un­der­stand that now.”

Rosenior has since spo­ken to a few of those peo­ple who racially abused him all those years ago.

“I’ve had peo­ple say to me that they are re­ally sorry and that they didn’t re­ally un­der­stand what they were do­ing,” he said. “They were at a foot­ball match and sup­port­ing their team.

“You ex­plain to them how it made me feel and it makes them think and apol­o­gise.”

Rosenior is a be­liever in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, talk­ing to peo­ple and try­ing to build con­nec­tions. His late fa­ther Wil­lie taught him valu­able lessons as he grew up in Brix­ton and it’s clear his sta­ble fam­ily life played a big part in his de­vel­op­ment.

His ca­reer took in three spells at his first club Ful­ham, in­clud­ing a loan, plus stints with QPR, West Ham, Bris­tol City and Charl­ton (loan). Although a knee in­jury blighted his progress, he was still a reg­u­lar goalscorer, pow­er­ful in the air.

Af­ter his pro­fes­sional days came to an end, he was player-man­ager of Glouces­ter City and had a short time in the hot­seat at Merthyr Tyd­fil be­fore get­ting his Foot­ball League chance as a boss with Torquay United in 2002.

He led the Gulls to pro­mo­tion to League One in 2004 – no mean feat on a lim­ited bud­get – but was un­able to keep them in the third tier, and later had an ill-fated spell as Brent­ford boss in 2006. Bizarrely, he was then the man­ager of Torquay United for 10 MIN­UTES in 2007 as a takeover took place im­me­di­ately af­ter he had been ap­pointed man­ager!

Chance

While black play­ers have greatly in­creased in num­ber over the last few decades, the same can’t be said for black man­agers. In­deed, there are cur­rently only three Black, Asian and Mi­nor­ity Eth­nic man­agers (BAME) in the EFL – Chris Hughton (Brighton), Keith Curle (Carlisle) and Mar­cus Big­not (Grimsby).

And Rosenior is adamant ac­tion needs to be taken to give black man­agers a chance to break through.

“I’m very aware of the fig­ures but there’s no point just be­ing con­cerned about it,” he said. “You have to do some­thing pos­i­tive about it. I be­lieve in the Rooney Rule (a pol­icy in the USA’s Na­tional Foot­ball League that re­quires teams to in­ter­view mi­nor­ity can­di­dates for head coach­ing and se­nior foot­ball op­er­a­tion jobs), a lot of peo­ple don’t, but I be­lieve we need to do some­thing to get more peo­ple in front of the de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

“If we did that then

we’d find that we’d get peo­ple ap­pointed in dif­fer­ent jobs, not just the 90-odd jobs in the Premier League and Foot­ball League but in com­mu­nity pro­grammes, in acad­e­mies. Slowly then they would fil­ter through. We need to change at­ti­tudes at the bot­tom.

“And at the top lev­els, some peo­ple carry prej­u­dices around – whether they are con­scious prej­u­dices or not.

“When I was play­ing they never saw black play­ers as cap­tains or lead­ers. That’s changed. Now they’ve got to start see­ing black and eth­nic mi­nor­ity peo­ple as be­ing able to man­age other peo­ple.

At­ti­tudes

“We need to change at­ti­tudes at both ends and then hope­fully meet in the mid­dle. Then we won’t be talk­ing about the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

The Rooney Rule (named af­ter Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and the chair­man of the NFL’s diver­sity com­mit­tee) had some im­pact af­ter its in­tro­duc­tion in 2003, es­pe­cially in its early years when the num­ber of African Amer­i­can coaches in­creased to 22 per cent from six per cent prior to the rule.

Last sum­mer, the EFL ap­proved pro­pos­als to in­tro­duce a Rooney Rule for acad­emy jobs in Eng­land, while ten clubs vol­un­tar­ily ex­tended those to first-team roles. Let’s see if that makes a dif­fer­ence here…

Yet Rosenior has moved on to other chal­lenges. A decade ago, he put man­age­ment on the back­burner to move into the me­dia and it’s a de­ci­sion he’s happy with.

“I wanted to have a go at some­thing else, a me­dia ca­reer, and I truly be­lieve that when you try to do some­thing you have to give it 100 per cent,” he said. “I made a con­scious de­ci­sion to give it a cou­ple of years.

“I don’t think you can call foot­ball man­age­ment a ca­reer. There’s no ca­reer path as such. You get lucky, you don’t get lucky, you’re in the right place at the right time or you’re not.

“I wanted to do some­thing af­ter foot­ball where I would be judged on how I did and work­ing in tele­vi­sion you are good or you are not good. For­tu­nately some peo­ple think I’m de­cent. I love what I do, but I’d love to get back into the game at some point.”

While there are some weighty is­sues to pon­der, Rosenior’s book isn’t all se­ri­ous. There are lots of tales and sto­ries to en­ter­tain, in­clud­ing his short-lived time as a player and man­ager of Sierra Leone, the coun­try of his par­ents.

And he is keen to stress that he has no bit­ter­ness af­ter his roller­coaster ca­reer.

“Over­all, I had a won­der­ful time as a player,” he said. “I was for­tu­nate with the clubs that I played for. It’s nice to be able to go back to those clubs and hold my head up and talk about the old days.

“Peo­ple have re­ally fond mem­o­ries of when you played, even though I didn’t play as much as I would have liked. I had a great time, I re­ally did. I was re­ally proud to rep­re­sent those foot­ball clubs and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Rosenior is also proud of son Liam, 32, cur­rently play­ing for Brighton.

“He’s had a good ca­reer but, more im­por­tantly, he’s a good per­son,” he said. “I’m glad he’s en­joyed his foot­ball. He’s in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion and he re­alises that.

“I’ve seen foot­ball spoil a lot of peo­ple, but it hasn’t spoilt him at all. I hope he takes that for­ward into his next ca­reer.” It’s Only Ban­ter – The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Leroy Rosenior, pub­lished by Pitch Pub­lish­ing, Price: £16.99

John Lyons talks to Leroy Rosenior about his life in

foot­ball...

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

ON THE BURST: Ful­ham’s Leroy Rosenior gets away from Chelsea’s John Bum­stead and, inset, manag­ing Brent­ford

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