Exclusive – The PFA’s Gordon Taylor on Asian’s in Football

Exclusive - The PFA

In an exclusive interview, the principal football administrator speaks to Mohammed Bhana about the modern game and equality in football.

Gordon Taylor Interview

Since he was appointed full-time chief executive in 1981, Gordon Taylor
has revolutionized the world’s longest established professional sports
organisation -The Professional Footballers Association.

Born in 1944 in Ashton, under Lyne, Lancashire, Taylor played over 250
games for Bolton Wanderers and scored more than 50 goals before being
transferred to Birmingham City in 1970. He went over to the USA and played one season in the American League in 1977, before returning to play for Blackburn Rovers and finally Bury.

A fully qualified FA coach, Taylor was tipped by many to enter the
coaching world after hanging up his boots. However, the opportunity to assist fellow players was something he could not turn down, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I take a seat in his plush office, Gordon explains how he is personally trying to help two young Muslims who dream of becoming professional footballers. He shows me the e-mails that have been exchanged. “I’ve asked scouts at Hull and Bolton to take a look at them, though one may need a little bit of extra coaching,” says Taylor.

As Gordon clears his desk, I take a seat and flick through a book by
Charlie Buchan who was one of the founding fathers of the Football Writers Association. As a member of the association myself, I happily look through the book before marveling at Taylor’s football memorabilia.

Whilst absorbing the splendor of the office – I realise just how football has changed over the years. Nowadays, the game is at the very centre of an entertainment culture.

Young men from working-class families now live an index of thrilling
possibilities, surrounded by a team of advisers, accountants, image
consultants and lawyers, offering them constant advice.

But what happens when you have everything you can possibly want, what are the dangers and the privileges?

Taylor cautions the general perception that footballers are fortunate, too highly paid and arrogant. He believes footballers are some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“Footballers certainly get hangers-on. They need to be careful as they are targets for newspaper stings and people wanting celebrity status,” says Taylor.

“They are never as confident as they appear to be. When I meet footballers off the pitch, even the Joey Barton’s and Roy Keane’s of this world, who have a reputation for being aggressive, are in-fact very mild mannered. How many people know that players made over 10,000 visits to the likes of schools and hospitals last year?”
The transformation of the top English clubs into groups of diverse
multinational squads has not gone unnoticed. Taylor believes football, on the pitch, is a model of tolerant inclusiveness.

However football is not as ‘multicultural’ as it should be – with regards to coaching, professional staff, directors and administrators; Taylor believes the issue can be addressed by setting a number of targets and for diversity executives to monitor figures in an effective and efficient manner.

“When clubs draw up shortlists for jobs, they need to make sure that
every shortlist is much more inclusive and reflective of the population in the particular area. The Asian community has an appetite for successful business. The finance director at the Premier League, Javed Khan, is an example of an Asian who is a senior administrator in football.

“At the PFA we have a number of employees from many backgrounds. On our
management committee we have as many Afro Caribbean lads as white lads. I do try to set a standard when we are short listing staff; we make sure our equality audit is proportionate and representative – by mentoring and monitoring those who have impressed in order to get them to a sufficient standard. Not even our worst enemy could say we haven’t worked hard on equality issues.”

When asked about the lack of professional Asian and Muslim players –
Taylor sits back in his seat, looks me straight in the eyes and gives an answer in a no-nonsense yet straight from the hip manner.

“That remains an area I’m not satisfied with. I’ve always felt it a shame that we couldn’t recruit more former players to become referees, if they don’t make it or get injured. In the same way, we’ve struggled to get the Asian and Muslim communities involved in football. We’re not reflecting on the percentages in society as a whole and certainly in the towns and cities where there is a fair size.

“We’ve impressed upon clubs to particularly look to include black players who have qualified as coaches and managers on their short lists for interviews. Whilst you can’t force clubs to recruit Asian players, I know they are always pleased to tell me if they have Asian players in their academies, and a young Muslim from Blackburn is now doing very well as an assistant referee in the Premier League – Mo Matadar.”

Taylor feels the publicity given to the very high salaries footballers
earn, may help overcome many parents who would prefer their son to become a doctor, solicitor or an accountant, to a footballer. The PFA employs over 250 people in key areas such as education and training for post-football careers.

“One of the best things we did was to get a non contributory pension
scheme so players can get a lump sum when they retire or change career to see them through those difficult days and to re-train them. It is nice to get thank-you letters from players we have re-trained. They are now commercial managers, physiotherapists, lawyers and football coaches.”

Taylor maintains football is very much a family game. He explains how
behaviour at certain football grounds has improved dramatically by simply attracting more women and children from a range of backgrounds.

“The fact is – if more women are present it generally improves the
behaviour amongst the men. I’m very conscious about the image of the game. We have defeated hooliganism and provided financial support for organizations such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card. The PFA and its members encouraged community involvement when no one else did, in the terrible hooligan days of the 80’s.”

Taylor’s mission is to give football a bigger social responsibility in the face of non football issues. Football and sport can get to places where politicians can never get to. How inspirational could footballers be for the next generation?

The Lancastrian is willing to accept anyone into his association –
regardless of colour, religion or nationality. Whilst I may have talked
about a ‘football revolution’ it is definitely the likes of Taylor who
started the revolution long before I was born.

How could one begrudge a man whose assistant when he ran an FA coaching
course was non-other than former England manager, Terry Venables? The
likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Tom Finney, Sir Bobby Robson, Garth Crooks and many other legends he counts as his friends know the true extent of his ability, yet he possesses such humility.

A message for Taylor’s critics – underestimate him at your peril!

Interview by Mohammad Bhana – www.mobhana.com

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