October marks Black History Month, a time where we get to celebrate and recognise the black heroes across the County involved in all levels of the game.
We are proud to use the power of football to help tell the stories of iconic black figures in Lincolnshire, and shine a light on their stories like never before. The first inspirational figure within Lincolnshire's footballing community that we've spoken to is Charlotte Akester. Charlotte is a coach at Stamford AFC Women, the Vice Chair of the National Youth Council, and also is part of the ECFA Committee and Lincolnshire FA Inclusion Advisory Group (IAG). She also is the former Football Development Assistant of Lincolnshire FA.
Charlotte has a huge involvement in grassroots football, using her passion and insatiable drive to make a real difference in the game, and works tirelessly to ensure the game is truly for all. Her story is inspirational, but it hasn't come without challenges along the way - some that can't be imagined unless you've been in the situation yourself. Charlotte has spoken to us about the importance of representation, and the impact that having someone to look up to had on her - as well as her thoughts on racism in football, unfortunately being on the receiving end of this herself.
Read Charlotte's full interview here...
In your eyes, how important is Black History Month in both society and football?
To recognise, to celebrate, to educate – the importance of Black History Month (BHM) to both society and football is monumental. In school, Black History didn’t extend much past Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the USA in the 60’s. It often ignores or erases the achievements and positive history of black people, especially in the UK.
Black History Month helps recognise, celebrate and educate other on the influence of Black Individuals have had on both society and football, alongside highlighting the disparities black people have faced and still face today. If I told you less than 25 black women have represented the lionesses, would that surprise you? As of Lauren James' debut in 2022, only 23 Black women have represented the lionesses out of 227 players since 1993.
BHM allows us to celebrate those players and their achievements, but highlights the lack of accessibility to elite football environments for black women. Black History Month is key in remembering the journey football has been on but highlighting the road it must take to become truly inclusive and accessible.
Role models are so important for inspiring the next generation, so can you tell us who yours were when growing up?
Staying in line with Black History Months theme this year ‘Saluting our sisters’, Hope Powell was the big one for me growing up! As an aspiring coach, she changed coaching for women in general but also a representative of the black community - it wasn’t something I saw very often. Similar to Hope Powell, Alex Scott is a huge role model. Less so on the pitch (seen as she’s an ex-arsenal player), but as she has transitioned into her media career - it has had a huge impact on me.
Both Scott and Powell have been unapologetically themselves throughout their careers, not ashamed of their backgrounds and who they are, and where they come from. This massively changed how I saw myself, and how I believed I’d fit into society and football. Currently I’m loving Lauren James – firstly, absolute baller! Secondly, it's refreshing seeing young black women playing football as themselves unapologetically - flair, skill, talent - she’s inspiring the next generation.
How would you describe the impact that having black coaches, players, etc. can have from grassroots football all the way to elite level?
Representation is Key! To believe it you have to see it!
Having black people represented at all levels of the game in all roles is only beneficial for football, and keeping people engaged in the game at all ages. Football is a sport for all, can teach so many life lessons, build and strengthen communities and work to build skills which benefit individuals and societies future.
Racism is still a problem, certainly in elite level men's football. We also see it on social media with Wes Foderingham and Destiny Udogie being the latest high-profile targets. Have you faced any challenges as a young black woman? And if so, what do you think needs to be done to deal with these challenges that you've faced and the wider issues in football?
It’s difficult to say how football can deal with racism - Harsher punishments? Longer Bans? Bigger Fines? All things often discussed, but often the racism I have faced isn’t always the ‘big stuff’.
Racism isn’t just racial slurs, and inappropriate gestures. It’s the bias - the "do you belong in this room?", the "your lot aren’t reliable". The undercover racism, the little things that wear you down and make you feel uncomfortable of being in the space.
Partly, the answer is education and educating people on their bias and the impact of their words. But part of the solution is not being scared of the word ‘Racism’. At the end of the day, when a racist comment is made regardless of intent, or how nice the person is in their day-to-day life - the comment, action, gesture or online rant was racist and should be dealt with as what is.
It's been reported recently about the lack of black coaches and managers within English football, which appears to be a problem. As someone who is a coach at Stamford AFC, how does football tackle that issue?
Is the environment inclusive? Or are inappropriate jokes still made in the changing rooms? Are Black people treated the same at the highest level? Or are they questioned, and scrutinised more than their white counterparts? Are Black people made to feel welcome? Or are they asked where are you really from?
Often money is thrown at black people for bursaries for courses, but money isn’t always the problem. The environment plays a huge role - if you don’t feel confident or valued you are more likely to leave. Ensuring that the environment is inclusive and Black coaches have access to the same opportunities and networks are key.
For more information on Black History Month, click here
For more information on how to get into coaching, click here
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