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'The Football Black List is encouraging the next generation'

GAME CHANGING: Lord Ouseley delivers his acceptance speech at the Football Black List 10th anniversary celebration event

BEFORE I set off to celebrate this year’s Football Black List I took the trouble to have a look at who made it on to the prestigious roll call the first time when it was established by Leon Mann (who once worked with us at Kick It Out) and Rodney Hinds (of this very newspaper) in 2008.

As I read the list of the 30 most influential black people in football from 10 years ago, I remember thinking how groundbreaking and important this initiative was and, like all good ideas, you are really glad someone thought of it.

There were only two then-current players (Rio Ferdinand and Chris Powell) but Rodney made it clear it wasn’t about earnings or fame or status, it was about influence.

Influence is sometimes hard to define but we know it when we see it. Or when we feel it.

Jason Rockett’s name was there that year. At the time he was the only black chief executive in professional football – at Sheffield United.
Chris Nathaniel’s name featured too. He was described back then as a “young agent” by the BBC, now he’s described as a “super agent” for his work and business connections with Jay-Z, Usain Bolt and Samuel Eto’o among others.

The great and much-missed Keith Alexander was rightly on that 2008 list too.

When he died at the ridiculously young age of 53 a couple of years later, he was one of only two black managers among the 92 at the time. Keith was at Macclesfield while Paul Ince was at MK Dons. If anyone ever dared ask me why a list like this was important, there’s just one reason right there.

Keith’s name of course lives on among his family and friends and anyone else who was lucky enough to have known him but also on the Football Black List.

One of the most prestigious accolades given out is the Keith Alexander Award, which recognises outstanding contribution to the game. Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson were this year’s recipients and it was an example to me of how the work and the lessons of one generation can help – and encourage the next.

This can be seen very close to home for me in the 30 Ones To Watch list, also awarded on the night in memory of another departed legend, Ugo Ehiogu.


TRIBUTE: The late Ugo Ehiogu’s family on stage

When I read all those names I wondered how many of them will be on the full list over the next decade. My colleague at Kick It Out, Tajean Hutton is already there – he's been Chairman of AFC Wembley since 2014 and has played a huge part in getting kids away from crime and into football.

I asked him what the evening meant to him. He said: “Every black person in the football industry is making history. It is important that their efforts are documented, highlighted and celebrated not for the individual, but to be used as a reference point of motivation for future generations.”

My guess is that as Tajean says, many of the Ones to Watch will join him on the “main” list - mostly, of course, through their own diligence and hard work but I also like to think that all those who came before will help too.

Crystal Davis is on the Ones to Watch list too. At Kick It Out we’ve been able to chart her progress as she works on our “Raise Your Game” initiative, which connects the football industry to those who want to join it.

She said: “It is more than simply having my name on wall. Four years ago when I decided to study sports journalism at university I came extremely close to saying ‘this isn’t for me’. I felt that sadness because I needed someone to look up to, I needed to see a face that looked like me, I needed to hear a voice that sounded like me.”

Thankfully, there were role models and people to help Crystal and she’s achieved a lot – writing for The Voice, working with Kick It Out and starting her own YouTube channel, Tallawah TV.

“Thanks to the pioneers who came before me, for they instilled the belief I needed. Being acknowledged also means, maybe one day I’ll be a name for the next generation to look up to,” she said.

Maamun Hajmahmoud is young, talented, black and working alongside Crystal and Tajean at Kick It Out and he was also at the Football Black List celebration event.

“The inter-generational appreciation of the Black List is what makes the event so special. The list itself obviously acts as a point of reference for many young black people who are trying to make their way in the game. The fact that people from a younger age group are being recognised for their achievement goes to show the fruits of the labour of those who have come before them who’ve battled long for that recognition.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

And yes, while of course I was proud to go up on that stage and get my award, it is looking at the potential of Maamun, Tajean and Crystal – and all the other Maamuns, Tajeans and Crystals out there- which gives me the greatest feeling of optimism.

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