It has been a busy month here at Surrey FA as we’ve been out and about speaking to BAME members of our football community from different areas across the game and asking them about their experience in the game.
As part of our series celebrating Black History Month, we’ve already spoken with coaches and referees. This week we spoke with Surrey FA’s Vice Chair Soye Briggs about his experiences in football, his involvement in the governance side of the game and the issues of racism which still permeate in society and sport.
When did you first get involved in football?
“I first got involved with football at school, I used to play for the County. In later years I played in the Mitcham & District League for Southwark Tigers. I then started to work for Fulham FC Foundation to set up their Social Inclusion Department and run programmes like their Kicks - which is a sports-based inclusion programme, and other initiatives run through the Premier League Charitable fund.
That was my first introduction into the football world. Before that I was into Youth Work, using sport to deliver FA Level 1 courses with Millwall in Southwark which was back into 2001/2002.”
How did you become involved in the governance side of football?
“While I was at Fulham [Foundation] I engaged with the local County FA which was Surrey. I think my first piece was a workshop around working with at risk young people using sport as a tool to engage young people.
I then sat on the Race Religion Sub Group and enjoyed that period, realising there was a lot of work to done around Equality & Inclusion in football. I subsequently became the Chair of the group and began to help strategise how we could meet inclusion targets across the County. That was my first taste of the admin and governance piece in terms of football.
As a result of that I was recommended to go On the Board programme which is run through the PFA and the FA, which is about getting professionals and ex-professional players onto more boards becoming directors and having more of an influence in the board room. That was very challenging, I’d done that with, may he rest in peace, Ugo Ehiogu who was one of the candidates/members of that cohort, Chris Houghton ex -Brighton manager [Brighton & Hove Albion], Troy Townsend at Kick It Out, Rachel Yankey and a number of other players in the game, managers that have been in the game, to understand corporate governance and governance structures and processes and how to do that in terms of good governance and high-quality governance. It was designed to diversify the board room.
That gave a different view of governance in football and gave it from a position of being [from] BAME background what I may face in terms of challenges at that level if I was to get an opportunity.
Subsequently after that Surrey came knocking for me to apply as a board member. I was absolutely chuffed to be honest. I took up the challenge and I was the first BAME member/trustee at the time.”
Who were your role models? Why are they so important in football?
“I think my role models growing up really were the players I used to see - so the first one that comes to mind for my own reasons is John Barnes but then you have Cyril Regis, Vince Hilaire, Viv Anderson. Those kind of guys were the guys breaking through into the game. I didn’t understand some of the dynamics that were going on when I was watching on Match of the Day. Particularly Cyril and those guys Watford and some of the discrimination and the negative impact that the crowd was having on them at that time, I didn’t fully understand it as a kid but now I can make that link back to those guys who were trailblazers at the time. They were the guys that paved the way and now we have the England National Team which is 50% BAME. I remember the days Viv Anderson walked out on that pitch for the first time. It’s come a long way in that regard.
In terms of governance, to be honest there wasn’t enough role models around and I think being a part of a cohort on the board programme brought me into contact with people like Chris Houghton and so on which you can say are role models in what they do but it seems like we were all on the same journey so we have to recognise that we become the role models for the next generation coming up and through in terms of governance. For me the moral piece is to pave the way for others and to dispel perceptions and stereotypes that people may have consciously or unconsciously about BAME individuals and what they’re about.”
What advice would you give to BAME individuals aspiring to get involved in football governance?
“I would say know why you’re going into it, be clear as to why you’re going into it as it should be a personal preference that you have a love for the game and a love to make a difference in the game first as an individual.
Then the second piece becomes the piece about being BAME, from a different type of background from what is traditionally a game which hasn’t had that level of representation. From that second piece comes a responsibility to represent BAME communities in the right way so that people can understand, you can break down the ignorance and the perceptions.
You can only do that from the inside out really, you need to be in it to influence change rather than trying to do that from the outside in.
Get a support network which can give you balanced views on things and that you can bounce ideas or even challenges and barriers so have a solid network around you.”
Have you experienced discrimination in football?
“Yes is a straight answer to that. Whilst playing particularly. But in the governance side it’s about unconscious bias and genuine ignorance, it’s not vindictive. We live in a society [where] we’ve had issues around race for decades. We all know where it stems from, it’s a global issue. It’s about power and control.
I think the first thing is about acceptance of that. Accept that there is an issue and it’s going to permeate through different professions and different industries including football. The most that I’ve experienced was whilst collecting data for equality. There was one occasion where [I] was getting responses from supporters to equalities issues and some of those responses I got back sent a chill down my spine in terms of the attitude, views and opinions of some supporters. It really hit home that we’re only scratching the surface here, that this is more of a societal issue. It’s not necessarily a football issue, it’s about how people are raised [and] what ideologies they have around that.
When you can understand that and understand the game has been around over 100 years then it’s going to be embedded. We’re not going to get to the root of this overnight. I think sometimes there’s an expectation that football should shift very quickly but you’ve got to remember that change takes time. If you’ve had 100 years of doing things a particular way then it may actually take 100 years to undo that way of things, not 5 or 10. Don’t expect too much too soon.”
Do you think that the football community is doing enough to support those who experience discrimination?
“I think they’re doing more now than they ever have. So the answer to that is that they’re doing what they feel they can do but there is more that can be done. If you are asking me, “Is there more that they can do?” – well then I have to look back ten years and then look back another ten years at the state of the game in terms of equality then. And if I’m looking in that context then they’re trying [but] they can do more.
These aren’t small machines; these are huge organisations with big media and comms machines behind them. Huge sponsorship deals and a lot of money floating around the game. From that perspective I think there’s more that could be done by the football community. We have things like Kick it Out days and months of action. Fine – but is that really having the impact that we want? Is it bringing in more coaches to the game? Is it bringing more BAME managers into the game? Is it bringing more people into the governance of the game? I’m not sure. But it is highlighting the issue.
I think practical things like the On the Board-type programme, which specifically targets BAME communities to train them up to be able to hold their own in the boardroom, is the way to go. If you look at things like what’s happened to the England squad recently, what they had to go through […] I would suggest you could get all of the players involved too. They’re role models to millions of young people. If you ran a season campaign around that, […] specifically targeted at changing the face of football governance, there are opportunities within that for BAME individuals to be involved.
Let’s not forget the power of players themselves coming together in a union to say, “We are all on the same page here”. I’m talking about players talking the same language as the pundits, so everybody’s aligned. Because everybody’s got something to say at the moment [but] what we need is a unified, strategic approach to this where a consistent message is going out from governance through to the playing of the game.”
Soye is a member of Surrey FA’s Board and also of our Inclusion Advisory Group, helping to ensure the organisation operates in a manner which is inclusive for all members of our diverse community. If you would like to lend your voice to the group, please contact info@SurreyFA.com.