Hi, well welcome to our conversation today. Now it's been a tumultuous few weeks, hasn't it? Significant questions of race and racism have emerged. Underlying questions have exploded in our consciousness. At Christians in Sport we didn't just want to dive in as soon as possible, we stopped, we reflected, we thought, and we wondered what was the first conversation we might have to consider the issues as they apply within sport? In this case, within professional football particularly. In a moment I'll introduce you to the two guests who we asked to discuss it with us today, but I need to warn you that of the two guests, one of them, Bruce Dyer is possibly the busiest man in the world. And so we got Bruce sitting in his car for the conversation, but with a few minutes to go in our conversation, our three way conversation, we hear all sorts of noises in his car and we can use something shaking.
It looks like a door's opening. Then we realize what it is. It's his wife. She's been shopping. She's trying to get in, but the door's locked because he's in a conversation with us and it's raining outside. So you can look forward to that because it'd be quite a moment in the conversation. Okay, so you know what you need to know now. Time to have a listen to this really, really important conversation.
For the last week, couple of weeks. I think it's been a time of pretty serious reflection for so many of us. As we listen, maybe listen more closely than ever we have. Let me be personal, more closely I think, than I have after all these years to black colleagues and friends in society in general, but definitely in football. And you're hearing that voice. We may unpack that in a way that probably I haven't heard it before. The depth of it. We'll come back to that.
The point of this conversation is that Christians in Sport, which is, the podcast exists to reach the world of sport for Christ. So the specific focus today is how to counter racism in professional football. For some of you that won't be wide enough, I get that, but that's why I've got the two guests that I have because they really will know what to say about that because I've got two men, Christian men deeply involved in the sport. And get this, between them, they've played more or less a thousand games of professional football, a thousand games between them. So they know the crack. You can see them right in front of me. Let me introduce them. Bruce Dyer played nearly 500 league games, scoring 119 goals over 15 years. Played under 21s for England. Was the first 1 million pound teenager moving from Watford where he started to Crystal Palace. His clubs that leagues, Bruce, we'd be here for half an hour. Barnsley, Stoke, Sheffield United, Doncaster, Chesterfield, York, but no chance we can talk about all of them.
We might pick up on some of this. He's a founder of Love Life UK, which is a substantial prison ministry helping people all over this country in prison to recalibrate their lives and very recently, last couple of years has become the pastor of Life Church in Barnsley. He's got a son at the Barnsley Academy. And that's going to become important, I think in a minute for us.
The other man in our conversation, you can see is Bobby Hassell. He's now the Academy Manager at Barnsley. But himself played, we've got to say 500 because 499 is just not good enough. 500, 499 games in an 18 year career. Big numbers at two clubs, eight years at Mansfield, just under 200 games. 300 games at Barnsley and one season in India. So, well traveled, huge amount of professional football matches. Started in Academy recruitment in 2015 with Barnsley. Now head of the Academy.
Gentlemen, that's a long introduction. Thank you so much for joining in this conversation with us at a significant time. Bruce, I'm going to come to you first and I'm not coming here because it's a simple and pop seer and cheap way to start the conversation. But with so many games in your belt, it's such a range in the highest level, right across the football league spectrum, how has the challenge of racism changed in your lifetime within football?
It's changing, in this respect it's changed massively, but then it hasn't changed. It has changed in a sense that when I first started, people are more vocal with how they fought and their views. And so I remember as a young player making my debut, not in my debut, I was playing against West Bromwich and a really well known player called me a black C***. And I remember looking around thinking, what did you just say? And so early on in my career, people were more vocal and were a bit more blunt how they felt, where as, time has gone on, I think some people's attitudes haven't changed, but then they just can't be as vocal as they would want to because obviously because of the equality and just how the game's gone. And so there's been a lot of good changes, phenomenal changes, which have been really good, but there's still no, without the shadow of a doubt there is underlining issues, as we know, are becoming more and more evident.
And it's the subtlety of those things. I invited you two to come because you're pals, you've worked together at Barnsley and there's a subtlety to those things that I'd quite like us to try and pull out by talking to you both. Bobby, let me pick up on that with you then. When did this issue become something apparent to you or important to you in your career? After your career? What's the nuance of that?
Well, in turns of racism, from a young age, growing up, playing at grassroots football, and then going into the professional game, being a white person, obviously around white players I heard a lot of racism. The difference for myself, I was brought up in a multicultural school. My best friend at the time was a black and Asian guy. So I seen a lot of different cultures growing up, which I took into the football environment. And I was able to integrate with, whether it was a black player coming to the dressing room or white, but I did hear a lot of racist comments from white fellow teammates and connotations towards black players, which I had to address as I played, whether it was on the pitch or in the dressing room.
They classed it as banter, but obviously it wasn't banter. It was deeply offensive to people that have heard it. So it's always been an issue as Bruce has alluded to. I don't think it's ever gone away. I just think I choose, I've always been about people keeping their mouth shut. And then all of a sudden in the last few years, it seems to have reared its head again for some reason, not just in Europe, but in the English game as well.
Just can I pick up on that with both of you? That this is one of the things that may surprise some people, right? As an older guy than both of you, I can remember the late seventies when whole crowds would be chanting explicitly racist things at players, Cyrille Regis' era. Obviously, for example, but both of you are saying the underlying issues haven't left and Bobby you're saying you think that's become more above the water line again. Bobby, can you converse on that?
I believe so. In the last two or three years, for some reason, me and Bruce, have spoke about this regular since we've met each other and become really close friends. And we spoke a couple of years ago that it was just starting to air its head again. I could hear things being at games as a scout, going to different environments. I remember Barnsley being at a playoff. And there was a racist comment behind me by a fan towards one of our players, which we ended up nearly in a fight. The steward who was didn't address him, didn't throw him out. And I had to move from where I was sitting. And from that time on, I've heard it at quite a few clubs that I've been to.
You've mentioned a couple of times, Bruce, perhaps you could pick up on this for us. You two have become pretty close. Your Christian faiths obviously must've brought you together. Just give us a bit of background on that. How did you get to know each other, actually? Were you playing together?
So the Barnsley chaplain, Peter Amos, used to do Bible study at the club. And so, Peter was instrumental in Bobby coming to faith. And so we used to meet at the ground and have a group. From doing the Bible study, me and Bobby becoming friends. And then going back probably about, I think it's nine years, I really saw it in my heart. The Lord say to me to begin praying with Bobby. And then when I spoke to Bobby, the Lord spoke to Bobby and says, "You need to start praying with Bruce." And over the last nine years, we've built a really, really solid prayer foundation as friends and as brothers in the Lord that I call Bobby my Jonathan and I'm sure I'm Bobby's Jonathan too.
The Bible talks about, there's a friend that sticks closer than a brother. And I really see Bobby as that person 100%. We have a very, very special bond that I'm so grateful to God for. I think it's very profound for such a time as now. And with all the things that we're seeing and hearing that we have a black guy and a white guy that are like brothers from another mother. I call him, he's my brother from another mother. So it's a real blessing.
Well, certainly for chaplaincy, for those who may not know and many will, as they're listening to this. So many premier league and football league EFL clubs have got chaplains. And my goodness, there are some good men around like Peter Amos, who have been huge benefactors of presence in the lives of clubs like Barnsley. He's a very top man. Bobby, pick up there for us then. Let's hone in a bit now.
In the time then you've worked together and spent time together. You've prayed together. You've been very deliberate in your approach to dealing with the kind of issues we're touching on here in your role as head of Academy. And just to clarify this, because this really matters I think, I said to Bobby, "I'd love to talk to you about this." And I wanted to make sure that the club didn't mind because you represent your club and they were only too pleased that you'd be on this, in this conversation talking about the work that's been going on. So start talking into how you've tried to address the challenges of racism.
I think it was more about bringing diversity into our Academy. When I first took over, I noticed there was only one black player from nines to up to the eighteens within the building. We had no black coaches or BAME candidate coaches within the building as well. And I remember watching, I think it was an under 13 game when I sat next to Bruce. And I remember saying to him, "There's no black players in the building in terms of the Academy." And I've been used to playing with obviously a lot of black players in professional football and even in the Barnsley dressing room. And I didn't understand why there wasn't any within the Academy. It was not to do with racism. I must point that fact, that demographically Barnsley is 99% British white people within the community and with a ruling that we have in terms of recruiting, they have to be within 45 minutes to an hour and a half within the radius of the club.
At the time, there was no recruitment at the football club. So I could kind of understand why there wasn't many black players within the Academy, but within the space of the year, myself and Brian Young, we went out and specifically looked to recruit in good players. And I was trying to get more diversity into the Academy. We ended up bringing in probably between 10 and 15 mixed race and black players at the 18s and 23 groups and in the younger age groups. And I think currently there'll probably be around 20 to 25 in the Academy that are black players.
And along with that, I felt it was vastly important that we introduced BAME candidate coaches that culturally will understand the black player and the environment that they've come from and the background that they've come from than a white coach. And that's the reality. A lot of our coaches didn't understand the black players that we brought in from the inner cities of London, for instance, or the inner cities of Chapel Town, which is a black community in Leeds. So I was able to bring in black coaches from the inner city and Leeds as well to come into the environment and educate our coaches on how to deal with the cultural differences that there will be within the white community and the black community.
Interesting for me hearing this Bruce, because I'm hearing keywords and it's a bit more sophisticated than my ignorant approach initially. There's something about inclusion. There's something about cultural experience. I hear Bobby talking about actually getting the culture. I start with a negative term, racism. Bobby changes it to something far more positive. Is that fair, Bruce?
Yeah, I mean, I must say so. My son, who's an under 15 at Barnsley. He was at Barnsley from the age of six. And so he was obviously, he was more or less the only black kid there. And so I've seen the transformation and the progress in terms of diversity. And I really do agree with Bobby and I give even the utmost respect for just even having the mentality to even understand, to recognize diversity, equality is important. And to try and position staff that can help address those issues because I do believe that. I think of the apostle Paul in the Bible, he said this, he said, "I became all things to all people that I might be more for Christ." And so Paul was really intentional about understanding culture and he made it his goal to understand culture, environments, atmospheres, what people believe in, who they are, their background. So he could build relationships with them to win them to Christ. And I think in the natural, that's so important.
I got asked that question by pastor last week. What could we do? What could a white pastor do of a church? Give me some advice, Bruce. And I said, "Well, the apostle Paul is a great example. He was intentional in trying to understand culture and people's backgrounds and their differences. And he wasn't partial. He understood the power of love." And I think that in this season now is so profound. Yeah, we're Christians and we love the Bible and we want to preach the gospel, but what a principle to use in business. Come on, be intentional to understanding culture and people's background. And Bobby's done that. Hats off.
And so he's my good friend, but that had nothing to do with our friendship. That was just him as a coach, Academy manager, as a recruitment man at Barnsley saying, "Listen, we need some more diversity here." And seeing people for who they are, not the color of their skin, but talent is talent. And I think it's been, I think it's so profound, especially, especially for the position that we're in now. It's like, wow, Oh my gosh. This broadcast is going to speak to so many people. I really do believe that.
Yeah. Bobby, let's start to draw our ideas in because we want to give people a chance to, I wanted people to have a chance to listen to you two in a very specific context and not generalize. Bobby, where do you go from here? What would be a next stage of the development of this ability to understand different cultural backgrounds, make people feel they belong, get the right coaching balance? For you as a football club, what comes next? And then perhaps I can ask you one more question before I go to Bruce. What would you be saying to people inside the game who are listening to us now? I know you're a humble guy, but what would you be saying to those of us inside professional football? As some of us become more aware than we've ever been of the importance of getting this right now.
Address the first question there, Graham. Education is going to be massively important in terms of building bridges between cultural backgrounds. The human being will always, always go to their own kind. I think if you look from Genesis all the way through in scripture, these are the cultural issues all the way through. And Bruce will back this up now and you've been an ex player. If you go into a dressing room usually what you'll find is the black players will integrate with themselves, the foreign players will integrate with themselves and then the white players will integrate with themselves. So I think that has to be some breakdown in that. And that comes from a philosophy within the football club, a concentrated effort to do that.
I still now look out of my window over our academies club and I see black players walking out together, I see white players walking out together, whether that's an unintentional thing there. I think it's just the human nature that people are attracted to their own kind as such and where they feel comfortable. So there needs to be some major breakdown in that. And that again, that's a cultural thing of being brought up in that environment. So first and foremost, it needs to be some cultural kind of education within football, within industries.
And then going onto your second point, Graham, the only people that can change the racist connotations within whether it's football or other industries, it's the rich white man. Generally they tend to own the businesses, it's them that are CEOs. It's them that are educated and you can't discriminate against people born into riches, born into that environment where they get that education. But there needs to be ... The only change that can happen with the AFL and the premier league, the FA and all the different bodies is again, I'm talking about the white community here and the people that operate in them positions, they need to have a concentrated effort in terms of recruiting.
There's lots of ex black players, lots, but they're not in positions of authority within the football industry. Why is that? I'd like to know because I don't know. There's a lot of really good educated black ex players I know, highly qualified. Pro-license, got master's degrees, can't get jobs. Can't get in the industry. And I want, I had asked the question why that is because they apply for jobs all the time. And I know from a recruitment aspect, when we get CVs in and we're looking at certain qualifications and criteria, the guys are out there. The people in the authority positions need to answer the question why there isn't more diversity in the Premier League, executive boardrooms, all come down the landing in each football club and each governing body.
Thanks Bobby. Bruce, let's round this off. What's got your attention from listening to this because we haven't scheduled quite how we're going to ask questions and what we're going to say. We've asked you both to join us. As you look back over the scope of your career, listening to Bobby, you've got a number of clubs, hundreds, and hundreds of games at the highest level. How do you see the future now in the light of what's been going on and the conversation we've just been in? How do you see the next two years panning out in English football?
I think there will be change. I think with everything that's happening, without a shadow of a doubt there's going to be changes. But, I mean, the other day, John Bostock who plays for Notts Forest, did an Instagram and he spoke some really powerful, powerful words. And to make it simple, he said that basically, racism's never going to go because we believe as Christians because of the issue of sin, that there are issues of sin where it don't matter who you are, there's always issues at the heart that we all have to address. And so some of those issues will be racism and the solution to these problems can only come through the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because we believe as Christians, that the message of the cross is a message of love.
And the Bible gives us a clear message of what love looks like. Love is kind. Love is patient. Love doesn't think no evil. Love does to others as what you'd want them to do to yourself. And so I do believe there's going to be some significant changes, but unless Christ becomes Lord in an individual's heart and people encounter the love of God, we're always going to have these underlining issues. And in its seasons, it's like a seed. When a seed is planted, it waters and it grows. And in its seasons I do believe it will always rear its ugly head, but for me, it's to try by the grace of God, as Bobby said, education's important. The Bible says my people perish because of a lack of knowledge.
I do believe some people's actually ignorance and just a lack of understanding and education is so important. And so I really do believe that education is important. I really do believe that it's important in this next season that as Christians and not just Christians, as business people that just learning to become all things to all people that we might engage. And we'll have more people for our businesses, for Christ. I think these are principles that in this coming period we're in are going to be crucial to seeing change, which I do believe we will see. But If the truth be told, I don't believe it will ever leave us until Christ returns and gives every single person who belongs to him, a new heart, a new body, and a new mind.
Gents, thank you very much, indeed. I know you're both very busy men. Bruce, you must be nonstop. Pastoring a church in the middle of the COVID crisis. Bobby told me, as you were just coming into the call, he said, "He's unbelievable. He's on the go all the time." So, when a man has to jump into his car last minute to get it done. He did it. He's a busy man. But it's a pleasure to have you on chatting with us. You've been a huge ambassador in the world of sport and way beyond for many years. Great having you with us, Bruce. And Bobby, top man. We honor your work and what you're pulling off and the jobs you're getting done and we wish you well.
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