As a player in an era when Black footballers were only just beginning to break down barriers, you couldn’t really miss him. But as a coach, Ricky Hill says he’s “invisible”.
His credentials, he feels, should be enough to get him noticed. A key man in Luton Town’s 80s heyday, he played over 500 times for the club, winning the League Cup along the way.
Hill won three England caps and has an overseas managerial CV that includes national titles and coaching accolades. Nonetheless, opportunities at home have been thin on the ground.
“I feel quite proud of what I’ve achieved,” Hill tells Sky Sports News.
“I’ve got three coach of the year awards, won two professional leagues, two in America, one in Trinidad. I’ve coached Sheffield Wednesday. I’ve coached Tottenham U19. I feel my body of work is something of reasonable quality. Having said that, I’ve come back with all those accolades, so to speak, but yet still I’m kind of invisible within the UK.”
Hill’s tale has a familiar ring to it among Black footballers of his generation. Those that pushed down barriers in their playing days have found those barriers to be more robust when it comes to management roles.
Hill is a familiar tale among Black footballers of his generation. Those that pushed down barriers in their playing days have found those barriers to be more robust when it comes to management roles.
Currently, there are just six black or mixed heritage managers across England’s four professional leagues. John Barnes, Dwight Yorke and Sol Campbell among others have spoken of their frustrations at the lack of opportunities.
“The second fight is for equality, as I suggest it is, we haven’t been able to penetrate and infiltrate that system,” says Hill.
“Questions still persist over whether we can manage, whether we can articulate, whether we can organise a team, whether we can lead from the front, whether we can be the face of the organisation. That’s something that unless you are given the opportunity, you cannot allay those rumours and fears.”
In the 30 years since playing his last game in English football, Ricky’s only opportunity to dispel the myths came at his old club, Luton at the start of the 2000/01 season.
He barely got his feet under the table. He was sacked after winning just two of 17 games, a change that made little difference as Luton were relegated from the old Second Division.
“I went back as the manager in 2000, took over a club that was in decline at that stage, had been in administration for three-and-a-half years. The soul had been ripped out of the club, but I was given just four months in that post. So that’s the sad part of my journey in that respect.”
There has been no second chance in the English game. Hill watched from the sidelines while former team-mates forged lasting managerial careers.
“Someone like Danny Wilson that’s had a 1,000 games as a manager, I take my hat off to him,” Hill says.
“Iain Dowie has had a number of opportunities and the list goes on and on. And obviously, one of my great friends Brian Horton has done great in 2000 games, which is wonderful.
“For me, personally as an individual, I would have liked to have thought in my own self that I could emulate what they have done and what they have achieved.”
Within the game, there has been an acknowledgment of the lack of opportunities for Black managers, though Hill is sceptical of some of the policies implemented to create change.
“There has been an awful lot of intent over the last 30 years since I stopped playing,” he says. “It has always been intent.”
Hill says his attempts to introduce a version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule back in 2003 came to nothing at the time and although the FA have now introduced a new voluntary code designed to increase diversity at all levels including management. Hill remains unconvinced.
“Anything that’s voluntary is not really going to make that much of a difference in my opinion because it gives the organisation or the clubs the opportunity to circumvent it,” he says.
What are the FA doing?
The FA have highlighted several equality, diversity and inclusion plans including In Pursuit of Progress which they say “sets clear and ambitious targets to drive meaningful change within the organisation and across the game” for players, officials, coaches and positions governing English football.
Last October, they launched the Football Leadership Diversity Code with the backing of the Premier League. Over 40 clubs so far have signed up to the code although around half of EFL clubs are yet to adopt it.
Its aim is to tackle inequality across senior leadership positions, broader team operations and coaching roles. The FA also plan a version for grassroots football and the National League System for spring.
The FA point to initiatives across England teams such as the Elite Coach Placement Programme for coaches from under-represented groups to work with England national teams “to build a bigger and more diverse coaching talent pipeline for the future”. Sol Campbell, Kieron Dyer, Terry Connor and Paul Nevin have all completed the programme.
Last month, the FA announced Rachel Yankey, Fara Williams, Mary Phillip and Coreen Brown would start season-long coaching placements with England’s women’s development teams at St George’s Park.
English football’s governing body also say that for every national team vacancy at least one BAME candidate is interviewed, where a suitably qualified BAME candidate applied.
‘Rooney Rule needs carrots or sticks’
Sports law expert Professor N. Jeremi Duru has written extensively about the Rooney Rule, and has visited the UK several times to discuss the concept with football’s stakeholders.
He told Sky Sports News: “It took some time [for it] to gain traction. It’s only over the last few years we’ve begun to see traction first in the EFL and now the FA with the code.
“My view is the Rooney Rule is a good thing. It should never be the only thing an entity uses when it comes to opportunities in sport. I view it as being most effective when there are either carrots or sticks – penalties or incentives that are part and parcel of the rule.
“I get more concerned when it’s truly a voluntary rule. History has shown that when we are trying to battle something as deeply ingrained as systemic racism, voluntariness often isn’t enough.”
Now aged 61, Hill accepts that his chances of another crack at management are fading.
“I’m a realist,” he says. “I understand that there are new people coming into the game every week. Every year people retire and that’s another batch that wants to have the opportunity.”
But as the title of his soon-to-be-released book “Love of the Game” suggests, his passion for football remains undiminished. Despite the knockbacks, the hope remains.
“I dreamt of having a similar career as a manager that I had as a player. It hasn’t happened to date, but my dream hasn’t stopped.”
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Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.