Marlow FC boss Mark Bartley on racial profiling in football and why now is the time to take a stand

Last season Marlow FC saw Charlie Samuel and Kelvin Bossman sent off as they crashed out of the FA Trophy at Sholing, while manager Mark Bartley was also sent from the dug out during the tempestuous tie.

Then, in a 3-0 home win over promotion chasers Westfield, Devontae Romeo and Kameron English were dismissed following innocuous challenges that merited yellow cards at best.

This is not uncommon for the Blues, who have one of the worst disciplinary records in the Isthmian League South Central Division. It’s a record that beggars belief, but to Bartley and many others who’ve been watching on, these decisions just don’t make sense.

Yes, they’re a robust, physical side, but why do they pick up more red and yellow cards than virtually every other side in the division?

Bartley is finding it increasingly difficult to shake the feeling that something doesn’t quite add up, and, in his experience as a 41-year-old black man, when something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually down to one thing. Racial profiling.

“It’s hard to explain to people but I’m trying to give you the benefit of 41 years of seeing these situations that just don’t add up,” he said.

“Against Sholing we had two players sent off. Charlie Samuel got punched and put his hand back towards the player and was then sent off. Kelvin Bossman then comes under a challenge and we thought it would be a free kick to us. There’s a red card and their bench is flying up to complain but it’s Kelvin who’s been sent off.

“I made it clear to the FA after the game that there had been a racial element in terms of what had happened to us in that game, but, do you know what, they never called me in or suspended me for being sent from the dug out that day. They didn’t do it because they didn't want to ask the question.

“They already knew what had happened.”

The issue of racism is in the forefront of people’s minds at present because of the shocking death in police custody of George Floyd and the many other incidents which highlight the great inequalities that still exist for BAME (Black and Ethnic Minorities) groups in society. The way white and black people are perceived, spoken about, judged and treated is deeply unbalanced and the Black Lives Movement is seeing millions of people around the world come together in the hope they can start to address this.

For the first time in decades it feels like there’s genuine hope people’s attitudes on race can be challenged and changed for the better.

As a black manager Bartley has experienced these issues first hand over many years. He believes that some officials come to manage his side with a pre-conceived idea of what they’ll have to face from his players, and those beliefs are cloaked by racism.

Sometimes the discrimination isn’t even disguised or hidden. Last season Marlow's Ronanyne Marsh-Brown was allegedly racially abused by an FC Romania player, but, despite filing a report for the FA on the matter - which saw tempers fray and Marlow players shed tears at the injustice - no punishment was forthcoming.

“To me I see it. I know exactly what’s going on with some of these referees,” he said. “I know what it’s like when a referee turns up for a game and they’ve got that thing in their mind.

“You’re sitting there thinking ‘how the hell did he pull a red card out there?’ He’s pulled a red card because he’s decided on his journey in to Marlow that ‘anything from them and I’ll stamp down on it because they’re mouthy’. We’re no more mouthy than other teams, but my players have to be respectful and thankful because who are we to challenge their authority?

“These officials need to learn how to manage people, particularly in the multicultural world we live in, and you can’t do that if you don’t understand the people you’re managing.

“Because of George Floyd and because of the other incidents, society is deciding to take a stand. And it’s not just black people, it’s allies from all ethnicities, standing shoulder to shoulder and walking forward.”

Bartley has raised these issues with the FA on numerous occasions but, as yet, no action has been taken. The Premier League has been quick to take a stance, and players taking the knee this past week has been a powerful symbol in the movement to raise awareness and change attitudes.

According to Bartley we all have a part to play. He says it’s time for people to challenge everyday racism when they see it, whether it’s from friends, colleagues or family. The media also has a role to play. Too often black players labelled ‘fast’ or ‘physical’, but not ‘intelligent’.

He feels this stereotypical language seeps into the consciousness and prevents those same players from being employed as coaches and managers further down the line.

Bartley said: “I think everyone needs to confront or address these issues now because if you don’t it just spirals.

“And if it goes unchallenged then people will stop thinking about it.

“When you challenge someone they might not take it in at that moment, but on reflection they might think back on it and at least you’re into an element of dialogue and can try to educate someone.

“I see it in management all the time. People will have a view on me or a view on the way my team plays. Yes, we’re physically uncompromising, but if you look at the last five seasons in step four there aren’t many managers with a better defensive record than me. And if you go back to some of the best defensive teams in professional football, for example George Graham’s Arsenal, he was called a great disciplinarian and his team were well drilled. Well, why aren’t my team considered well drilled? Why aren’t my team considered to be tactically aware.

“Some of it is what we digest from the media. There are no tactically aware or great black managers in the game. None. The closest you get is the guy at Wolves (Nuno Espirito Santo).

“They’ll say he’s done a great job but they won’t talk about the way he’s tactically set the team up to nullify the opposition. Black players are always described by their physicality. Ask anyone about Marlow and they’ll say it’s going to be a tough game and physically they won’t pull out of tackles.

“But they won’t mention other words like intelligence or guile. Devontae Romeo is clearly a very intelligent player but no one ever highlights that. And you read across football into other walks of life on the basis that you’re never being respected as intelligent.

“The way I’m perceived is aggressive, not passionate, I’m aggressive. You get other managers who are passionate, they ‘kick every ball with their team’, but not me, I’m called aggressive.

“I can be a Marmite manager. I’m forthright on some matters but there will be some who say that I ‘get out of my box’. The undertone is ‘why is he that way inclined?’ And their view is that I should play a lesser role or be a more conforming manager. No one ever gives me that credit, even when I’ve tactically outmanoeuvred them.”

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