The list of black and ethnic minority managers in English football may be a short one but their history stretches back even beyond the last century. When Arthur Wharton joined the Lancashire League side Stalybridge Rovers in 1895, the Gold Coast-born goalkeeper who had become the first black professional player a decade earlier took his first steps into coaching while continuing to play.
“They were known as Wharton’s Brigade because he was very much in charge,” says Phil Vasili, author of Colouring Over the White Line: the history of black footballers in Britain. “He even helped them to sign Herbert Chapman before falling out with the owners and moving to Ashton North End.”
Chapman went on to win a combined four league titles with Huddersfield and Arsenal and is regarded as one of the most influential coaches in history, but it wasn’t until June 1959 that a Football League club appointed the first BAME manager. Frank Soo, the son of a Chinese father and English mother, was born in Buxton and brought up in Liverpool, going on to make almost 200 appearances for Stoke and representing England during the second world war.
His managerial career began in Finland and took in spells with St Albans City, Padova and the Norway national team before he was named as the Scunthorpe United manager. He earned praise from the future England manager Alf Ramsey having guided them to 15th place in the Second Division but resigned at the end of the season and returned to Scandinavia.
Two months later Tony Collins – who never met his African father and was brought up by his white mother in London – became the first black manager in Football League history when he succeeded Jack Marshall at Rochdale of the Fourth Division.
“We are aware that some eyebrows will be raised because of his colour but that made no difference and we sincerely hope it will make no difference in his career as a manager,” read the statement from the club chairman Freddie Ratcliffe at the time.
Within two years Collins had led Rochdale to the final of the 1962 League Cup, where they lost against Norwich over two legs. He is still the only black British manager to have reached a major final and lasted for seven years before becoming a celebrated scout for Leeds and Don Revie, among numerous others. But while English football had to wait three more decades for another black manager, there was another coach with Asian heritage who made a significant contribution in the intervening years.
Sammy Chung was a striker who played for Reading, Norwich and Watford before working as an assistant manager to Bill McGarry – one of Ramsey’s successors at Ipswich. Having helped them to promotion in 1968, he also spent time in Scandinavia before returning to McGarry’s side at Wolves and helping guide them to victory in the 1974 League Cup. Chung was appointed manager in 1976, when McGarry was fired after Wolves were relegated, and they returned to the First Division as champions in his first season but was later sacked after a poor start to the 1978-79 campaign.
When Edwin Stein took over from Barry Fry at Barnet in April 1993 – just beating Lincoln’s Keith Alexander – almost 15 years had passed since the previous BAME manager in English football, with the South Africa-born former winger and son of an anti-apartheid activist helping the north London club to achieve promotion to the third tier for the first time in their history.
Stein left to link up with Fry again at Southend the following season and has admitted feeling “uncomfortable” when he attended the end-of-season managers’ meeting at the Savoy because he was the only black representative.
Alexander went on to manage Lincoln, Peterborough and Macclesfield before his death in 2010, two years after Paul Ince, with Blackburn, became the first British-born black man to manage a Premier League club. He is one of nine black managers in the history of the competition.