A columnist for The Voice, Britain’s leading black newspaper, Leon enjoys sharing his thoughts on a range of subjects.

Premier League Predictions

I nearly didn’t write this post… But tradition is tradition. So here goes! My Premier League table predictions.

Top dog scrap

  1. Manchester City: The new blood at the back was much needed. The purchases up top add serious depth going forward. However, the success of the season will come down to the influence of the old guard… Kompany, Touré and Aguero to lead City to the title.
  2. Tottenham: Strength of squad to let Poch’s side down again. What Danny Rose says is true, they are missing two or three top players to push them on. Just a consequence of trying to do things the ‘right way’ and build the club for the future. Sustainable Spurs… second.
  3. Chelsea: Success relies on Morata hitting the ground running if Costa is off, as expected. Conte’s crew will be strong, so I could well be wrong.
  4. Manchester United: I like Lukaku and think he’ll do well. But believe it’ll take another season for United to return to anywhere near the force of Fergie’s time at the helm.
  5. Arsenal: Not just because I’m a Spurs fan, honest. Think there could be a fair bit of disruption before 1st September – so will take the Gunners a while to get firing.
  6. Liverpool: The Coutinho Barca fun and games is bound to have an impact. I do like some of the signings, Salah in particular, but in a massively competitive Premier League I think they may fall short.
  7. Everton: They have a super tough start to the season, but it will serve them well come in the long run. The return of the Yan (Bolasie) will offer a huge boost… sooner the better for Koeman.

Relegation

18. Burnley: Michael Keane is a massive loss for Burnley, but then again they have a top manager and finished 6 points clear of the drop last season. They’ll fight until the last week, but ultimately fall short.

19. Swansea: No Gylfi, no survival… and I suspect he’s on his bike. Having said this, I did think the loss of Ashley Williams last season would mean they went down.

20. Huddersfield Town: The step up from the Championship to the Premier League is super, super tough. Huddersfield fall short but will be back again.

*Disclaimer: I may well delete this post if these predictions get embarrassing* 

Football Black List Celebration Film

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 28: (L-R) Jason Roberts, Leon Mann, Richard Scudamore, Andy Cole, Jonathan Joseph and Rodney Hinds attend the Football Black List 2017 at Village Underground on March 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Premier League)

The Football Black List celebration film has been released today – looking back at a brilliant evening.

For more information on the initiative, founded by Leon Mann and Voice of Sport Editor Rodney Hinds, please click here.

 

Goalscoring Return With Football Beyond Borders

I was proud to take part in the #FBBCup at Dulwich Hamlet Football Club on Sunday. A brilliant community  event raising funds for the Football Beyond Borders charity.

YouTubers, former professional footballers, journalists and community heroes made up the two teams.

As you can see I still have the natural goalscoring instinct, if not the athletic footballer physique of my 20’s! Hahahahaha!!! (Note to self: Increase the intensity of those workouts!!!)

 

Aaron Lennon News Indicates That Much More Support Is Needed

Mental health issues in society have always been a taboo subject – and in sport, from what I’ve observed and been told by professional athletes, it is 100 times worse.

The news that Everton’s Aaron Lennon had been detained under the mental health act last week sent shock waves through the football industry. The 30-year-old was taken to hospital for assessment after police were called following reports of “concern for the welfare of a man”. His club has said he is now ”receiving care and treatment for a stress-related illness”.

For me, this was the realisation of what many professional sportspeople had forewarned me about. They had told me in detail about the rollercoaster of huge highs and lows that an athlete faces. They explained how it felt to have their lives judged as a success or failure based on their last performance. And vitally, they made it crystal clear that sports people showing any signs of mental “weakness” – would risk having their career taken away.

Of course, we do not know the details of what caused Lennon’s illness or what triggered the events that saw him detained. But as I read the news, I also thought about the sports people who will be suffering in silence that are too scared to come forward and seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

My friends Leon McKenzie and Jason Brown, both former Premier League footballers, have suffered from depression. They are people I admire hugely for speaking about their own experiences, as a way of encouraging others to come forward and get help. Stan Collymore, Jack Green and Clarke Carlisle are other leading lights in this area.

The response to Lennon’s illness has been hearteningly positive – with huge support on social media – but for Collymore in 1999, he was left isolated and told to stop complaining when his battle with depression was made public. We should be thankful for the progress made in this respect.

The Professional Footballers Association are also doing some fantastic work lead by Michael Bennett, their Head of Player Welfare. The player association has a network of counsellors up and down the country working with footballers – and Bennett is always on call should urgent care be required.

But despite the good work going on – so much more support is needed across sport. No one should have to suffer mental health issues alone, and in an industry that spends so much time on physical preparation it is clearly vital that more investment is needed in emotional support and wellbeing.

Football is not short of money at the moment – TV deals have brought in billions of pounds – so there can be no excuse for not acting now. And across the other sports they must simply find the resources as a matter of urgency to address insufficient support.

Finally, I hope everyone reading this thinks about how they look after their own mental health. Let’s crush the taboo once and for all.

For more information on getting help and support with mental health issues from MIND please click here.

Great Night At The PFA Awards 2017

Leon Mann during the Professional Footballers’ Association Awards 2017 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London (Credit: Barrington Coombs)

I am a lucky man. Not only did I get to interview all the winners at this year’s PFA Awards 2017 – but I also got to interview David Beckham and Kelly Smith, who picked up special awards for their contributions to the game.

The player association have told me the views went into the millions… so I’m delighted with the nights work.

All the interviews were filmed and produced by my production company.

Take a butchers…!

What I Learned From Germaine And Ugo

In Jamaica with Germaine and Darren Chin

Last week I found myself feeling numb and winded after the news that GB Olympic silver medalist Germaine Mason and former England defender Ugo Ehiogu had died.

Germaine was a friend. I interviewed him for the BBC in Kingston in 2009 and we instantly hit it off. He took great pride and pleasure in introducing me to the athletics community on the island. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Asafa Powell… they loved him dearly. He was hugely popular both in Jamaica and the UK.

Looking back, it was largely because of him that I was able to establish the contacts that would see me go on to make two successful documentaries for the BBC on Usain. I was a friend of Germaine and, such was the high esteem he was held, this meant I was embraced by the athletes.

We actually rarely discussed athletics outside of our interviews – he was more interested in knowing about the football world. Germaine was a big Arsenal man. But when we last met, he did tip an Antiguan sprinter as the next big star.

Reading the news of his death – caused by a motorbike accident – has still not sunk in. The last status on his WhatsApp reads: Grateful. And I’m grateful my job brought me together with this great guy.

Ugo at the Football Black List 2017 (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Premier League)

On Friday, we lost Ugo. I can’t claim to have been a friend, as our paths didn’t cross much, but on the occasions they did what struck me was his willingness to listen. He didn’t give much away with what he said – instead, what I learned was he let his actions do the talking. Ugo was a top coach and was always there for the community.

I last saw Ugo at the Football Black List celebration in March, where he picked up an award. As a highly respected coach at Tottenham Hotspur, we heralded him as a star manager in the future. Asked what he would be doing in five years his reply was humble: “Doing what I love – coaching and trying to be a better coach”.

His last tweet, sent the day after the event, spoke volumes of the man:

“Gave a homeless girl £10 last night in Dalston. She didn’t ask or beg. Random impulsive act from me. Not gona lie. Felt good. #dosomethingkind”

Ugo and Germaine will be sorely missed – they were humble and kind. Let us learn from them.

Pioneers And Progress

The Football Black List celebration, supported by the Premier League, made a big noise last month – while helping unearth a pioneer and celebrate another who had been forgotten. I couldn’t be prouder to be a co-founder alongside the Voice of Sport editor, Rodney Hinds.

What was once ‘just’ a list is now a progressive movement – and the honest truth is this was always part of the vision, but nine years ago it felt like an aspiration that would take decades to achieve. But on the 28th March at Village Underground, London we hit the heights of our initial ambitions.

300 guests, international media coverage, Premier League players in attendance, a high profile celebration of the greatest black footballers in the UK and championing our leaders in roles off the pitch. Wonderful, just wonderful.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 28: The Football Black List Celebration 2017 at Village Underground on March 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Premier League)

And the journey to delivering this incredible event brought me together with Tony Collins, the very first black manager in British football, who has received very little recognition to date. Now 91, but still bright and sharp, Collins still watches games regularly – but says football these days is no comparison to when he was playing and in the dug out managing. Disagree? Well, Collins knows his stuff and can back his chat – taking 4th Division Rochdale to a League Cup Final in 1962.

Yes, that’s right – he took a 4th Division side to a League Cup Final, but sadly never got another managerial role despite numerous applications. Collins insists it was nothing to do with his colour – but has no explanation for the lack of opportunities.

Handing Collins the Keith Alexander award, for his outstanding contribution to the game, I found myself welling up. What an honour it was to help recognise him.

The Football Black List celebration can also take some credit for helping unearth the first black female footballer in Britain – as the Guardian’s Anna Kessel discovered a lady called Emma Clarke. She was a black woman playing games in the 1890’s. Carrie Boustead was thought to be the first before Kessel’s article revealed this was a case of mistaken identity by Stuart Gibbs, an artist with a strong interest in the history of women’s football.

So much was achieved by the event and initiative. The ambition from here must be to grow the Football Black List further. Who knows what, or who else, we may find.

Black Women In Football Breaking Down Barriers

FIFA General Secretary, Fatma Samoura, is one of the most powerful people in football

Do you know who the most powerful black person is in English football? It’s not Rio Ferdinand, Didier Drogba or Ian Wright. Nor is it John Barnes or Thierry Henry. It’s a black woman by the name of Dame Heather Rabbatts who sits on The FA’s board.

And the most powerful black person in world football is arguably FIFA’s General Secretary, Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura – another hugely impressive woman.

At the Football Black List celebration we will highlight black women making waves in the industry.

Joining Dame Rabbatts on the 2016 list is Marcia Willis Stewart, the lead solicitor for the 76 families represented at the Hillsborough inquest, Samantha Johnson, TRT World’s sports correspondent, and Rachel Yankey OBE, the England legend turned broadcaster.

Multi- talented footballers Eniola Aluko and Alex Scott MBE, both highly respected in the sports media, football coach, Helen Nkwocha, and Arsenal in the Community worker, Celia Facey, complete the black female movers and shakers to be celebrated.

There are more encouraging signs. In the initiative’s Ones to Watch section four of the 10 listed are women, with broadcasters Mimi Fawaz and Jeanette Kwakye becoming increasingly visible in the sports media, while Hayley Bennett is tipped as a future senior administrator and Christina Oshodi’s great work continues to make a big impact at grassroots level.

On the face of it you could be led to believe that black women are well represented across the game – given the success of Rabbatts, Samoura and those on the 2016 list. But on the eve of the Football Black List celebration, I found myself looking back through the names honoured by the initiative since 2008 – and was disturbed by the lack of women.

Here are the stats. The first list published nine years ago had just two women on it from the 30 celebrated. Pretty abysmal. But more encouragingly, in 2016 we had eight women in the 30 listed.

The overall picture, however, is most concerning – with just 36 of the 285 spots across all the Football Black Lists going to women.

So why is this? Well, the under representation of women in the football industry is an issue full stop. And we know that black people are massively under represented across the sport, away playing. Marry the two issues together and the result is worrying to say the least. If you are black and female – it can be super tough to succeed.

When you consider the barriers black women face, it makes the achievements of the women on the lists even more remarkable.

And this is why the Football Black List celebration is really important – as I hope by highlighting these incredible women we will encourage many more to follow in their footsteps, smashing through the barriers of exclusion. Let’s not wait for this to get better with time. It’s time to act with urgency.

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The Football Black List celebration, supported by The Premier League, takes place ion the 28 March in London.

D Word2 Guide On Diversity For The Sports Media Launched

Leon Mann presents the D Word 2 Guide on diversity in the sports media

A guide designed to help the sports media become more diverse has been launched by the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS).

The D Word2 Guide offers expert guidance on how to address under-representation across broadcast, written and online media in sport.

Research conducted by BCOMS last year found just one woman was sent to the Euros across 51 roles by British newspapers. Across 456 roles, just eight went to black journalists who had not previously played professional sport. Only six of the 456 roles went to BAME women.

The content of the guide is based on contributions from the highly successful D Word2 Conference, hosted by BT Sport last October.

To launch the guide, top influencers from the sports media formed a panel to discuss diversity in the industry, reflect on the positive achievements of diverse sports journalists and explore the opportunities that outlets such as YouTube offer the next generation.

Guardian head of sport Owen Gibson, sports journalist and recent host of 2016 GLO CAF awards Mimi Fawaz, UK Sports Partners Manager at YouTube, Dan Pheysey, and the UK’s first black sports editor of a national daily newspaper Kadeem Simmonds from the Morning Star, made up the panel. Channel 4 news sports reporter Jordan Jarrett-Bryan hosted the launch.

The panel discuss diversity in the sports media at D Word 2 Guide launch

BCOMS founder Leon Mann, who presented the guide to those gathered at Waterhouse Square in London, said:

“The lack of diversity in the sports media right now is unacceptable, and we need greater commitment and conviction from decision makers to change this.

“This guide brings together the ideas discussed and debated at the conference, and serves as a list of action points for the industry. What we need now is to turn words into action and positive outcomes.”

You can download the D Word 2 Guide here.

 

Football Industry Says It Wants To Be More Diverse. Let’s Make It Happen!

Who were your role models growing up? Many of mine were black footballers. I was in love with the game and there were enough black and mixed race stars excelling on the big stage to make me believe that following in their footsteps was somehow achievable.

Statistically the chances of me becoming a top level professional footballer were at best very slim – but because of a connection through a shared identity, I seriously felt I could do it. And we can see the fruits of that dynamic on the pitch today. More than 30% of players are black or mixed race, compared to the same groups making up around 5% of the UK population.

But my hope – and mission – is to ensure that when young people from the black community think about a future in football, they see a range of options in front of them – on and off the pitch.

This is what the Football Black List is all about. Highlighting achievers from the boardroom to the boot room and beyond. Sending a message to young people from all communities that they are welcome and encouraged to join the football industry at all levels.

The facts beyond the pitch at the moment underline the challenge ahead.

No CEOs, No Chairmen and just two Directors of Football across 92 professional clubs paints a depressing state of affairs – but also makes shining a light on the leaders we do have all the more important.

Dame Heather Rabbatts is on The FA Board, Bobby Barnes is the President of the European division of FIFPro – the World Player Union, and Chris Hughton is flying high again in the EFL Championship with Brighton – as one of just three black managers in football.

These are the role models our young people, with a strong interest in sport, need to know more about.

I only became aware of the very few black senior decision makers in the industry after I had got a job in football. I had gone through University knowing more about black players in League Two than those sitting around the decision making tables.

The Football Black List is all about addressing this through celebrating individuals and creating a space for reflection. The industry says it wants to be more diverse off the pitch. Let’s make it happen.

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The Football Black List celebration, supported by the Premier League, takes place this month.

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