Earlier this year, Nottingham Forest boss Chris Hughton spoke with great honesty and candour about suffering racial abuse during his playing days.
That was 30 or 40 years ago now. Has anything changed in the intervening decades? Is there any less discrimination? Have things improved?
“No,” he responded. “I never fall into that situation where I think, because some positive things are being done that has changed how we see racism.”
Hughton’s words particularly carry great weight as society and football continues to grapple with such a scourge.
Almost 12 months ago, the Championship was preparing to make its return following an enforced suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When it did – along with the wider sporting community – there was an acknowledgment of a need to consider the bigger picture.
In the three months without a game, between March 6 and June 20 for the Reds, the world spun on its axis. Covid-19 wreaked havoc. And the murder of George Floyd, on May 25, sparked widespread protests against racism, both in the United States and here, in the United Kingdom.
Nothing was as it was before. Life was different. People wanted change.
Football needed to reflect that. Not least when it came to a problem which many of its own participants had been on the receiving end of. A conversation had begun.
Sheffield United and Aston Villa became the first teams to take a knee before a match when the Premier League resumed last June.
Others followed suit.
When Forest took on Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in their first game back, they did the same.
It sent a powerful anti-racism message.
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As with the majority of sides, the Reds continued with the gesture in the remaining games after the restart in 2020 and throughout the 2020/21 campaign.
Not everyone in the dressing room has agreed with taking a knee, though.
Lyle Taylor stopped doing so, with the support of Hughton, and has been vocal about the reasoning behind his decision.
He has hit out against Black Lives Matter the group, which was founded in 2013 after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead but the man charged with his murder was acquitted.
Black Lives Matter bills itself as an organisation to fight white supremacy and racial injustice, but Taylor believes it has become a business.
“My support for what it is that we’re trying to achieve is absolute, but I do not support Black Live Matter as an institution or organisation,” he said back in January.
“I would request anyone looks into Black Lives Matter, to look into what that organisation does and what they stand for, because it’s scandalous that the world and the world’s media has got behind Black Lives Matter.
“Not the message, of course black lives matter. Standing behind Black Lives Matter and all the institutions that have done that – the BBC, Sky, all of them saying Black Lives Matter – it’s not a good idea because of what the organisation stands for.
“The message overall is 100 percent important, don’t get me wrong on that.
“In terms of black lives actually mattering and black people being killed by police more frequently, that’s not a good thing.
“Black lives do matter, but you’ll never hear me say Black Lives Matter again in reference to that company.”
Admitting he had been criticised for his stance, the striker added: “The message has been diluted beyond belief. If we stopped this three months ago it was diluted.
“It’s gone past the point. What’s really happening?
“Every week I see a player has been racially abused. What are Twitter and Instagram actually doing to stop these people being able to make fake accounts and abuse black people?
“What about how long it takes to tackle it, too (when you have a complaint).
“There’s channels we have to go down to do it the right way though, otherwise we end up with martial law and civil unrest. It is what it is.”
Right-back Cyrus Christie, too, opted to remain standing towards the end of the season.
Taking a knee has not been without controversy. Forest’s Championship rivals QPR and Brentford both changed their stance during the season, deciding not to continue with the gesture.
Whatever the debate around it, though, it has helped to bring racism – and how to tackle it – into the spotlight.
It has had a lasting impact.
The Reds remain committed to trying to address the issue. They are committed to promoting diversity.
They were one of the founding signatories of the Football Leadership Diversity Code, launched last October by the Football Association.
The Code asks clubs to hit specific targets in coaching positions as well as senior management roles, with the aim to drive diversity and inclusion across English football.
Hughton said at the time: “It’s about change. The game has an enthusiasm to change, but the only way that can happen is by implementing the correct structures for change.
“I really hope that whatever period of time it is, be it a year’s time, two years’ time, whatever, we can look at this code and say, ‘yes, it has made a difference’.”
He added: “I’m proud to be manager of Forest.
“The pleasing factor is there’s an acceptance that the game needs to be more diverse.
“The only way it can happen is by putting structures in place to allow it to happen.
“There are so many people who have accepted we don’t have enough diversity, particularly in senior management positions at clubs.
What can football do to help tackle racism? Have your say in the comments below
“Structures have to be put in place for that to change.
“People have accepted there needs to be change, and there needs to be structures in place for that to happen.”
As part of the Code, clubs have to commit to making 15 percent of new executive positions available to people from minority backgrounds.
There will also be targets for gender diversity with a plan for 30 percent of new appointments in senior leadership positions to be female candidates.
At men’s professional clubs 25 percent of new hires will be black, Asian or of mixed heritage.
Shortlists for interview will need to have at least one male and one female black, Asian or of mixed-heritage candidate, if applicants meeting the job specifications apply.
The code focuses on increasing equality of opportunity with hiring targets – rather than quotas – to encourage recruitment from across society, with hiring based on merit.
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Hughton is one of a small number of BAME managers currently employed in English football. That was the case when Sabri Lamouchi was in charge at the City Ground before him, too.
Tackling racism is a cause important to the 62-year-old, not least because of his own personal experiences. He is committed to continuing to discuss the matter, with his role as a member of the League Managers’ Association executive board playing a key part in that. He is active in promoting inclusivity.
He and Forest also threw their weight behind the social media boycott which took place in April, to protest against online abuse.
“Social media platforms are offering an outlet for abhorrent abuse and it has to stop,” chairman Nicholas Randall QC said.
“We fully support the efforts of the UK football authorities in seeking urgent solutions from social media companies, from significantly enhanced user verification through to preventative real-time message monitoring and blocking.
“Legislation is also clearly required and we look forward to the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill addressing this very serious problem which is blighting modern society.”
So, back to that question at the start – has anything changed? And if not, why? What needs to happen?
The club are working on future projects to help promote diversity. Meanwhile, Hughton is clear that everyone has to play their part, but so too do the authorities, particularly when it comes to what happens online.
“I don’t think it’s enough, but it’s a step. If that leads to some change, then that has to be a good thing,” the Reds boss said of the social media boycott. “If it doesn’t, then bigger steps need to be taken.
“For me, what the game is doing now is right and it’s appropriate, because it’s a daily occurrence now. But ultimately, I think it has to be about government.
“This is something that affects the whole country, not just football. It’s not just about football, it’s about life.
“Ultimately, it will have to be about government putting procedures in place that will make it far better than what it is at the moment.”
He added: “I think there is still a long way to go.
“There are lots of efforts from different organisations who are trying to change that. The representation I see on television programmes and adverts is certainly improving, which has to be a good thing.
“But ultimately, we all need to do more.”