October marks Black History Month and as we continue to celebrate this key event in the football calendar, we spoke to Tooting & Mitcham United’s joint-manager Cornelius Nwadialor.
Following on our interview with Ashley Bosah, the other half of Tooting & Mitcham’s management team, we sat down with Cornelius and asked him to reflect on his experience as young black coach in the grassroots game and gauge his thoughts on the issues which still prevail for BAME individuals in football.
Cornelius has been at the helm with fellow joint-manager Ashley Bosah since June 2018. Together, the two led The Terrors to last season’s Specsavers Surrey Senior Cup Final. They are making headway in the Isthmian League South Central Divison this season, and at the time of writing sit joint-top of the table.
Why is it you coach?
“When I finished playing, I went on to set up my own business and do other things which didn’t have anything to do with football. But there just wasn’t any satisfaction for me. So I wanted to come back into football and I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t play. There’s loads of different areas you can go into but I’ve always liked coaching kids and developing players even when I was playing.
I went and did my Level 1, started to coach kids under six [years-old] and enjoyed that. Went up and did my Level 2, started to coach older kids and I just found that I really started to enjoy it again.”
Which courses have you done to support your coaching experience?
“I’ve done all the different types of courses. From the disability courses down to all my youth badges.
I think The FA have really stepped it up with their youth courses. They’ve now gone out around the world and looked at how other [countries’] FAs are doing things. I think they’ve now come back and added to what they’re doing – making it a more inclusive process now. I’m enjoying The FA courses”
Do you think there’s an underrepresentation of BAME coaches in football? How well do you think BAME players are supported in the game currently?
“I would like to say it’s improving from when I started. When I went into the journey and explained to my mentor and a few coaches who have been in the game for a long time, they said it was going to be very difficult. And I found that very upsetting because I thought people were going to be judging you on based on your ability to do your job, not the colour of your skin or [your sex].
But I’m a very determined person, I still tried to go for it anyway. But what I found through the journey was that a lot of people who were in front of me complained about the same thing. [They] complained about being overlooked for somebody else [who] was suited for the role. I found that in every area I’ve been in. When I was doing development football, when I’ve worked at pro clubs, I’ve heard the same things coming through the academies - that it’s been very difficult for others; physios, people who do other things at the clubs – to get to that next level. And a lot of them did feel that it had something to with their sex or their colour.
I feel with the new scheme that The FA is trying, giving at least people of colour or different sexes the opportunity to be interviewed, that’s a step. But I do generally feel that it’s a society thing, not just in football.
Can you talk us through your journey in coaching?
I started with grassroots coaches who had been in the game for 20 years at that level. I think it’s so important to learn from a grassroots level because you’re coming up with kids when they start their journey, you’re learning as a coach.
I went from there into non-league football. From there I got the opportunity to coach at AFC Wimbledon. They brought me in to do some skills sessions and that went on for around 6 months. I [then] got the opportunity to go and work at Chelsea doing their Foundation sessions. It was really positive at Chelsea because every single week [the development/Foundation coaches would] have a day specifically for you. You’d go out and you’d shadow one of the academy coaches and sometimes you were even able to go and watch the first team train. So that helped me a lot. I think from that period I knew it was going to take me a long time to get where I wanted to get to. Because I didn’t have a name, I didn’t have the experience, I hadn’t played professional football. I saw a lot of ex-pro players coming in and going in front of people at my level.
So that’s when I said to myself, okay I’ll come down to a non-league team like Tooting & Mitcham that will give me the opportunity to make [my] name. I started off here doing the U18s, then the U21s. [Ashley and I] were quite successful so we moved onto the U23s. Did that, won the league and got a lot of success, got a lot of players off the street to come and play football. And for us success isn’t just about getting people playing football but doing [other things] like apprenticeships through us. A lot of them went off to university, college or playing football at some sort of level. Just doing something with themselves. It was really successful over the last three years. And then [we] got the opportunity to take over the first team because we had so much success with the youth.
Do you think there is a clear pathway for BAME players to get into coaching?
Yeah, I would say that. Because at the end of the day there’s a clear pathway for everyone to get into it. The way The FA has set it up now [means] you’re still going to do your courses like anybody else and when a job role comes up you should now have the opportunity to at least get interviewed. It doesn’t say you’re going to get the job. Because I don’t think anyone would want to just be pushed through for a job because of their sex or colour. I think there is a pathway and that now in clubs you’re seeing more cultures of colour or sex getting opportunities. Here at Tooting our coaching staff is completely mixed – getting people in who are going to do the job.
I think it is something which players look at now and think okay, when I finish football there is that opportunity for me. I just think that it is disheartening when you look at the amount of black or Asian players that are going to be out on the field today and you’re wondering why that can’t be replicated off the field.
What advice would you give to those looking to get involved in coaching?
I would say don’t let what’s out there stop you. For me, I just went for it. I made sure I had all my qualifications, I made sure I had all the experience. Then there’s no excuse. Then it’s literally “is this person sitting next to me better than me?”
That’s why [when I started my on my coaching pathway] I said to myself I’m going to get my qualifications, I’m going to even get extra that another coach wouldn’t have. I went and did my degree for three years [because] I wanted to learn and be more advanced than the next person. Secondly, when I came to Tooting even when I wasn’t manager I used to follow the first team everywhere, learning. Even when they went far [for away games] I would travel with them, just learning [and] seeing what the people in front of me were doing. So if I did go for a job, they would say “okay he has got experience sitting on a bench, he has got experience being around, he has got experience coaching and learning”, to have all the necessary weapons.”
What are you thoughts on the issues of racism which still exist in the game?
“For me I think two things; I think education – a lot of people are not educated. In life you’ve got people who are in areas where obviously they don’t see people of colour or seeing women doing a lot of things. [And then] I think society; there are still a lot of areas [and] individuals that you could say are backwards. It’s society and education. That’s the two main things. I think when we start educating people, that’s how it’s going to get better.
Do you think social media platforms need to be doing more to prevent racist abuse online?
100%. There was a solution one of the pro players suggested. Instead of making it so easy to make an account, you should make it very difficult. To give you one example, when you’re going to set up [an] account you should use your passport details or your driving licence. Something that’s connected to you. So at least if someone is using your name, it’ll be alerted straight away. And at least if someone is being racist or being abusive […] that person can be prosecuted. It’s not going to stop it but it will reduce it.
I feel like with social media it’s like someone walking up to somebody and [saying something abusive] to them and getting away with it. Whereas in society you can’t actually do that, [on] social media it’s easy.”
Black History Month runs from 1st to 31st October and celebrates the enormous contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society.