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

Thank You Cyrille

Thank you – are the most fitting words to begin this column. Thank you Cyrille Regis for opening so many doors for so many people.

As a footballer, Cyrille was a pioneer. He was our black superhero stepping out onto the pitch week in, week out – scoring great goals for the fans, entertaining us with his skill, grafting for his team… Yet, he regularly faced horrific racist abuse but refused to let it stop him cracking on with his job. It was the ultimate act of defiance against racism on the biggest stage. The perfect protest that challenged the ridiculous notion that black people were not worthy of equal treatment – on the football pitch or in society.

He, alongside fellow pioneers including his West Brom team mates Brendon Batson and the late Laurie Cunningham, opened the doors for the uber stars of today. If these men had walked away and not proudly stood against racism you can forget the likes of John Barnes, Ian Wright, Andy Cole and Rio Ferdinand getting a look in – and we would still be feeling that knock on effect today.

One in three footballers across the 92 professional clubs in England is black. Every one of them has benefitted from Cyrille’s stance. The game is also all the better – and wealthier – for the involvement of black players, so he has undeniably touched every part of football.

As a man, Cyrille was a gentleman. He was from the old school. Immaculately turned out at all times, polite, respectful, attentive and humble.

I am so, so pleased we got to show our appreciation for Cyrille at the Football Black List celebration in November last year – where he received the Keith Alexander award for his outstanding contribution to the game and black communities.

As it is such a highly respected award we don’t tend to tell the recipient that they will be receiving it and leave it as a surprise. So up until the announcement was made on the stage he had no idea he was being awarded. As Cyrille walked up onto the stage he received a rousing round of applause and we had our chance to thank him for all he had done. It was a special moment.

I am still struggling to believe that he has passed away as he was a picture of health up on stage that evening. It was the talk of the room… ‘Wow! Cyrille looks like he could still play!!’, one friend remarked. I even went as far as asking Cyrille what his secret was. I can remember his answer as if it were yesterday. He leaned into me, lowered his voice and said, “Weights – do the weights!”, and then offered a knowing smile.

I will never forget Cyrille the pioneer and the man. His strength lives on in everyone touched by his legacy. We now owe it to him to keep pushing on to make football and society better for the generations that follow us.

This column first appeared in The Voice Newspaper

Let’s Open Our Ears And Minds To The Rooney Rule 

Jeremi Duru (middle) speaks at SPTT event in London.

One of the key men behind the National Football League’s Rooney Rule is in London this week – and I am excited. 

Jeremi Duru will address people gathered at the Sports People’s Think Tank report launch, in association with FARE and Loughborough University, into the numbers of BAME coaches in elite level football.

The Rooney Rule is an NFL policy that requires their 32 teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It was brought in to address the low numbers of black coaches in the league as a proactive measure.

Given there were only two black coaches out of 32 in the NFL when the rule was introduced in 2003 and today there are seven, with a high of nine in 2011, you would have to conclude that the measure has worked.

Today in English football we have just four black managers across 92 professional clubs, despite the fact that one in three players are black. To get to the point, we are crying out for something to help change this.

For many, including myself, the event with Duru will present a rare and unique opportunity to explore whether a Rooney Rule equivalent could work outside of the NFL, with a genuine expert on the forward thinking measure.

Of course, the English Football League (EFL) have already taken a leap of faith with the application of their own recruitment code. Last year, the EFL made it mandatory at academy level for their 72 clubs to interview at least one BAME candidate for vacant roles, where coaches with the required qualifications had applied. And the good news is, that while it is still relatively early in the process, the initial stats demonstrate some positivity as out of 76 openings 11 went to BAME coaches.

The challenge for the EFL now is to make the measure mandatory at first team level. This also applies to the Premier League, at academy and first team level, who have so far taken alternative approaches to addressing under-representation in coaching and management.

I have been involved the discussion on the lack of black coaches and managers for some time now and have to give credit to the EFL for at least giving a version of the Rooney Rule a go.

I will be listening keenly to Duru when he speaks and hope the entire football family will have their ears and minds open too.

This column first appeared in The Voice Newspaper.

Ugo Ehiogu Remembered At Football Black List Celebration

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 08: Ugo Ehiogu award at The Black Football List Celebration on November 8, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images for Premier League)

Ugo Ehiogu was remembered at the Football Black List Celebration on November 8. Footballers, managers, senior administrators and those working in the community came together to pay tribute to the former soccer star.

Supported by the Premier League, the unique gathering celebrated the contributions of people from African and Caribbean backgrounds – a group that is under-represented away from
the pitch.

In March the Football Black List presented Ehiogu with a One to Watch award – it was his last public appearance before tragically passing away just a few weeks later.

To pay special tribute to the former Aston Villa and England defender, the One to Watch category was named after him. His family were present on the night to hand out the awards.

While more than 25 per cent of professional players in the UK are black, there are just four managers across the 92 clubs, and no chairpersons or chief executives. The worrying lack of representation is common in all areas of the sport. To help address this the Football Black List shines a light on those who are inspiring the next generation to consider other roles in the game.

Award categories included coaching and management, administration, media, commercial, community and practitioners. There were special awards – named in honour of the late Keith Alexander – given to outstanding individuals for their work in football.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 08: Richard Scudamore, Leon Mann and Rodney Hinds at The Black Football List Celebration on November 8, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images for Premier League) 

Leon Mann, co-founder of the Football Black List, said: “Ugo is sorely missed by so many and we felt it was appropriate to name an award category after him to ensure that he remains with us at each and every Football Black List Celebration.

“The initiative is gaining more and more support each year and we are delighted the Premier League are once again supporting the celebration. We all want to see more diversity across all areas of the game – to be more representative of society and the game we all love. The Football Black List can play a role in helping the industry achieve this.”

Premier League executive chairman, Richard Scudamore, added: “Ugo made a significant contribution to the Premier League. He was an outstanding footballer for Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and other clubs and more recently a highly regarded academy coach at Tottenham Hotspur. Ugo was a great person who used his profile to support charities and inspire positive change in the sport and beyond.”

Time To Celebrate… And Progress

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 28: attends the Football Black List 2016 at Village Underground on March 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Premier League)

A well respected former footballer – who I admire greatly – challenged me with a very valid question earlier this year. In a very direct, but polite, email he asked: “What exactly are we celebrating at the Football Black List?”

It was a good point. The black community has no chief executive or chairperson across 92 professional clubs – and a measly four managers (Chris Hughton, Keith Curle, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Nuno Espirito Santo). All of this sits very uncomfortably against the huge achievements of the community on the field – where one in three professional players are black.

The situation in the football media is just as bad with mass under representation of the black community across written journalism, and only a tiny sprinkling of opportunities in broadcasting for those who haven’t played the game at the highest level. Don’t believe me? Have a look at who is covering the weekend fixtures – away from The Voice Newspaper coverage – and you’ll struggle to find much black representation.

But it is because of this depressing situation that I believe the Football Black List is needed more than ever – as it is the context of the celebration that makes it far more meaningful than a back-patting awards night.

The evening holds up those flying the flag – underlining that achieving, against all the odds, is possible. It’s a message that is vital if we want the next generation of diverse communities to push forward to change the demographic of the industry and it’s leadership. The principle is simple – see success, be success.

It is also key that if we are going to instil a belief that there is a way into the football industry, that there is also an acceptance of the historic inequality of opportunity and it is addressed with action to remedy an ugly past.

There have been some innovative solutions attempted in recent years. In coaching and management the English Football League have introduced a positive action recruitment code across their 72 clubs’ academies – it is also voluntary at first team level. Those in the know report encouraging signs… So should every club be adopting this as a mandatory measure for all coaching appointments? And why stop there – maybe it should be applied across all positions in the football industry? From the boardrooms to the dug outs and media tribunes.

And the great thing about the Football Black List celebration is while it brings people together to recognise and applaud achievements, the initiative also creates a space for important conversations, reflection and learnings to take place.

So I hope the initiative and event can help focus minds. After the disastrous handling of the Eniola Aluko case – clearly this is paramount. The recent inclusion of Arsenal women’s Danielle Carter and the PFA’s Iffy Anoura on The FA council suggest a move in the right direction. Something we should celebrate – while charting out how we can continue to progress.

The Football Black List celebration – on 8 November – is supported by the Premier League.

This column first appeared in The Voice Newspaper.

Delivering YB3 Kicks Cup… A Proud Moment

I am so happy and proud of my team right now – after delivering an outstanding YB3 Kicks Cup for our client Yannick Bolasie.

The Everton and DR Congo star came up with an innovative concept with his elite performance coach, Rayan Wilson, from Back 2 Action – then we were tasked with bringing that vision to life and involving community teams across the country.

Through our great contacts we got the Premier League involved and delivered a fantastic day. I urge you to have a look at the film that my production company made on the day… It underlines what is possible when players have an idea and get us involved to make it happen.

Yaya Gets Behind FARE Action Weeks

Yaya and I talk lots about how to address racism in football – he’s incredibly passionate about ensuring young people don’t have to experience the abuse he has. So he was more than happy to lend his support to the FARE #FootballPeople action weeks.

Check out the film my production company made for Yaya’s YouTube channel to support FARE…


My Dream Visit To Tel Aviv

I had heard lots about Israel but never been – so when client Nick Blackman joined the country’s giants, Maccabi Tel Aviv, I was eager to get on the plane. The trip did not disappoint…

Nick played a blinder in the game I went to watch and scored an absolutely blinder! In the days after the game he showed me around his new home and I was impressed.

Check out the film my production company made on Nick’s start to life in Tel Aviv…

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.


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.




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