The challenge of making society more inclusive is something I’ve always been aware of and passionate about changing for the better.
As a young boy, my father was a football player and then manager, and I saw first-hand the challenges he went through just to be accepted for who he is – a black person trying to earn a living in the game that he loves.
I remember during this time just how much I looked up to footballers and how much of a voice they had – and still have today. If you go to a school and ask children who their heroes or role models are, the majority would name footballers.
I understand that I have been fortunate to live a privileged life to date, making my way in football for various clubs, representing England U21s and now as a first-team coach at Derby County.
Looking back at my experiences as a child and during my career to date, I recognise the positive impact that the voices of current and former professional footballers can have on wider society.
This is why I first showed interest in joining the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board [IAB], and why I am honoured to now be a part of it.
Although football has made some positive steps in recent years, there is clear recognition that there is much more to be done to make the game more diverse and inclusive.
The IAB shares my desire of moving football, and in turn wider society, in a direction where there are no pre-conceptions of people because of the way they look, how they dress, their gender, religion, race, sexuality or anything else. Prejudicing people in any walk of life is extremely damaging.
My perception of the current state of football is the same as my perception of society – it can be better – and I hope to bring further consciousness to the unconscious bias and prejudice that we all have.
Football is the industry I’ve been involved in for my whole life and the only way to make a tangible difference is to continue to challenge prejudices and open up opportunities.
So many people in this country and around the world love football, so it must be used as a vehicle to instigate positive messages and action. That’s why I’m delighted to be part of something which can change the way we see each other within football and wider society.
My ambition is to help football to lead the way in ensuring people are spoken about because they are the right people for their job and aren’t defined by anything else.
Football having a dedicated focus on diversity and inclusion is so important to the wider game at all levels. I’ve already seen first-hand the sheer difference in thinking across the IAB itself, with people coming together from both within and outside of football, which is crucial to help move ideas forward and to create lasting change.
For me, the biggest part of being a coach is showing empathy and creating strong connections with players and those around you. This is key to achieving better outcomes and I believe in getting as many people into our game with that empathy to help create stronger and more inclusive environments.
I was told by BAME people within football that it wouldn’t be possible for myself – a young, black person – to become a first-team coach in the elite game.
So I want to use my position both as a coach, and now as a member of the IAB, to hopefully inspire others, and particularly encourage the youth in society, by showing that we are all in this together and that there is a real desire to create lasting, impactful, positive change for all.