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Interviews

Stuart Douglas: I wanted the job on merit – the fact I’m Black has no relevance

Our Physiotherapist talks candidly about an important issue

22 June 2020

AFC Wimbledon is striving to play its part in tackling racism after the outrage caused by George Floyd’s death and we talked to our long-serving Physiotherapist Stuart Douglas about how this battle can be won.

The club has a diverse team of staff and Stuart Douglas joined us seven years ago as Physiotherapist, the former Luton Town player becoming a respected member of the backroom team in his second career.

With Stuart having had such a long career in football – he made his debut for the Hatters in 1996 after progressing through the youth system – the 42-year-old has plenty of experience in the game.

Stuart recalled being subjected to racism just once in his career, but that is one too many, and below is a Q&A with our Physiotherapist about this important issue.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of racial abuse during your time in football?

“Times were very different when I played. It wasn’t very easy to be a player, regardless of your skin colour. When you are playing with your comrades and peers you are all a team. Within the team structure, I would say that racism wasn’t an issue for me. We would play Blacks versus Whites, or Whites versus the rest of the world. We used to do those type of things and it wasn’t frowned upon. Did I ever see that as an issue with my team-mates? ‘No, because we were a team and we went to war together’. I knew that the people in my team had my back and at the time I never felt that it was done with any discriminatory or racial intentions. In all honesty, I saw it as an opportunity for the Black players to show unity. On reflection, this shouldn’t have happened and it’s clearly wrong, but it did.

“The problems could sometimes arise at away games and maybe certain fans would say certain things. I never had anything about the colour of my skin shouted at me, but because I have dreadlocks I would get called ‘Pineapple Head’ or Whoopi Goldberg. I found it quite amusing, to be honest. If I didn’t have dreadlocks, maybe I would have been targeted for more racism. In their eyes, maybe my stand-out feature would have been the colour of my skin. Comments about my hair didn’t really affect me and I think when you are a professional player you learn to get on with it. I didn’t have any openly obvious racial abuse directed at me as a player. It was more about my hair, rather than my skin, and maybe that’s why I didn’t get targeted by supporters. However, the abuse that I received because of my hair certainly had subtle racial undertones. Would a white player with dreadlocks be called a f**king Whoopi Goldberg c**t?! Just because the word ‘Black’ is changed to a name doesn’t make it right.

“I remember a racist incident that I experienced at an away game. An opponent called me a Black something or other and I just said ‘we can deal with this at half-time, if that’s what you want?’ It kicked off a little bit at half-time and it was dealt with there and then. We didn’t have the channels to report racism like we do now so we would stand up for ourselves, but that’s the only incident I can remember that was about the colour of my skin.”

Have any of the teams you’ve been involved with, or players you’ve worked with, been targeted for racial abuse?

“We had a situation with Lyle Taylor when he played for us. After an incident at a game Lyle went to the PFA and expressed his concerns, he experienced racism first-hand. I played the majority of my career at Luton Town and our team was very multicultural. Luton as a town is also very multicultural, so I didn’t really experience racism during my playing days.”

You are something of a rarity in your current position as there are not many Black Physiotherapists in the professional game. In recent years the FA has brought in the ruling that clubs must interview a BAME candidate who applies for senior coaching positions. What do you think of the ‘Rooney Rule’ and this idea?

“I didn’t want to get the job because of my skin colour. I wanted to get the job on merit – because of my drive, determination, hard work and credentials as a Physiotherapist. The fact that I’m Black has no relevance. I didn’t want to get the job to fill a quota or tick boxes. As Head Physiotherapist at AFC Wimbledon I have been deemed good enough to fulfil that role. I was given the opportunity because I’m good at what I do. If I am the only Black Head Physio in professional football, that’s great, and it’s something I would be proud of, but I don’t know. Mark Stein used to be a Physiotherapist at Crawley Town and there are Black Physiotherapists in professional football, but I don’t know how many of those are head of departments at clubs.  I started in Physiotherapy because I love medicine and football. After my playing days it seemed like the perfect progression and the perfect transition from one to the other. My motivation is because it’s something I’m passionate about.

“The issue for Black coaches is about whether there is the opportunity to get in front of the people who make the decisions. Are there the opportunities to put their cases forward for the jobs? Fortunately for me, when I sent my application into AFC Wimbledon there was no box that I had to tick to state my ethnicity. Why do I have to state that? Why do I have to tick a box? My application, including a CV, was sent in and it was considered that I was the best person for the job. I don’t know if it’s that easy for everyone. If you are good enough for the job, it shouldn’t matter what race you are. All that matters is your CV is good enough to warrant a chance to get in front of the decision-makers.

“I genuinely believe there are very good Black coaches. Will Antwi, who played here at Wimbledon, is coaching England Under-17s, and Jason Euell, who also played for Wimbledon, is a well-regarded coach at Charlton. I know Chris Powell well and he currently works in the England set-up with Gareth Southgate - I respect what Chris has achieved. Chris Ramsey is also still involved as a coach at QPR.

“We live in a society where there has always been a hierarchy. There are two key questions that need to be asked. Are Black coaches being given the opportunity to interview for top coaching jobs? If the answer is ‘yes’, then is there an unconscious bias against Black coaches? If the answer to the first question is ‘no’, we have to rectify that and change things for the better. The Rooney Rule will address this. If they are given the chance and get an interview, but there’s an unconscious bias, that also has to be rectified. Those are the questions that need to be answered because there are not many Black coaches that work at the pinnacle of the game and fewer Black managers.”

Once a year each club in the EFL hosts a Kick It Out day. Should football be doing more to spread awareness?

“Any awareness of racism and how it affects those who are subjected to it is a good thing. My concern is that a club stages this kind of event and it’s forgotten about once it’s over. Racism is ingrained in people, it’s not something that has happened overnight or in the last decade. It has happened due to issues over hundreds of years, events that have led us to this point. It’s not something you can change overnight. We have to continuously use platforms, initiatives, and ways to promote that racism is wrong. It serves no purpose anywhere, in any industry or walk of life, but unfortunately there are racists out there. No one is born a racist and it’s something that is taught or learnt through watching others, and the abuse of others. Now people are probably more conscious of racism and the sheer fact that we are opening up discussions about it is a step forward. If you can talk about something, it can be dealt with. If you can’t talk about it, or you bury your head in the sand, nothing will change. The fact we are having this conversation is a good thing. Initiatives such as Kick It Out days are all positive steps, but we need to extend these type of events. We should try to use other methods to get the message across.”

Our Academy Manager Michael Hamilton mentioned the diversity in AFC Wimbledon’s academy and players from different cultures talking about their own backgrounds. Do you think this is a good idea?

“Yes, because I think that education is the key. Even with schooling in this country you only learn the history that this country wants you to know. You don’t learn about slavery, and oppression against Black people, which goes deeper than wearing a Kick It Out T-shirt. It has to be addressed from the roots. That doesn’t mean you have to change the whole syllabus for history, but maybe there should be a month when teachers say, ‘we are going to learn about this culture’. To make a decision you need all the information at your disposal. If you are only being taught one thing, your decision-making will be based on that. I think we need to broaden our education. As parents and teachers we have a duty. I have been home schooling since the Covid-19 crisis started and I had a bit more time to teach my children what I feel will benefit them when they grow up to be adults. Once the pandemic is over parents should continue to do that.

“If you are anti-racism I think you should express those views to those that you can influence in life. If I can do that with players or fellow members of staff I will do that. If we can add our own influence to events including Kick It Out, or other initiatives, that’s a good thing. Everyone should think that racism is wrong. It’s not a healthy option to have if you think otherwise. So many non-Black people are standing together to say that racism is wrong, whatever way you look at it. There’s a movement now to make sure that people are aware of this. It’s not going to change overnight, but we are trying to move in the right direction.”

Did George Floyd’s death show how far we’ve still got to go in the battle against racism?

“I think it has acted as a catalyst for change because racism is something that has gone on for a long time. The images were sickening and it should never have happened. It’s fortunate that we now have mobile phones to record racist incidents like this, otherwise we wouldn’t even have known. It’s almost like an awakening. People are now understanding the injustices of what has gone on for years. All people from different races and backgrounds are standing together and saying, ‘no, this is wrong and something has to be done about it’. Ultimately, injustice is wrong and people are united in saying that it cannot continue.”

What can football clubs like ours do about racism?

It has to start at a level higher than our own. It needs to be at the boardroom level of all national governing bodies. How many Black people sit on the boards of The Football Association, The Lawn Tennis Association, The England and Wales Cricket Board, Rugby Football Union, Swim England, British Cycling, England Golf, or UK Sport? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked it was 0! For me, this needs to be addressed if we really want to see lasting and worthy change.

"As for AFC Wimbledon, I think that we’re a diverse club. I’ve always felt that AFC Wimbledon are doing enough to combat racism. We have a lot of Black players in the team and Black staff. The club and its fanbase are very open and welcoming. It’s very multicultural and AFC Wimbledon is a fan-owned club and the supporters, who are amazing, have always stuck together. It doesn’t matter if you are Black, White, or any other race, volunteers will come together to pick snow off the pitch in winter. The fans have had to put their own money in towards initiatives so that the club can return to Plough Lane. Everyone pulls together. This club is probably the closest club you will get with regards to the togetherness of supporters and how it is run. I don’t see a need for the club to do more, apart from continuing to spread awareness. Michael Hamilton will tell you that the academy teams from Under-7s to Under-18s are very diverse with players from all different backgrounds. A lot of other clubs could look at us and say, ‘what do Wimbledon do and how can we emulate that?’ We should be proud of what we have at our club.”


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