PFA chief Gordon Taylor discusses the sport's race controversies and talks about solutions
Bart Chan, Voice Writer
IT IS not easy to be at the top, especially when people who you have tried to help turn around and use Twitter to call for your resignation while comparing you to "a fat, festering old king. Too drunk on power."
The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive, Gordon Taylor, has probably been called worse during his 67 years, and he brushes off such harsh words, telling The Voice: "I'm afraid, you can't be chairman or chief executive of the PFA and not be prepared to have broad shoulders and thick skin," before adding, "if you want to take Joey Barton's [outspoken former Premier League player] comments seriously that's up to you."
What Taylor claims he is taking seriously is racism in football. The furore surrounding the issue has placed the PFA under pressure to act, put the role of the organisation's boss under further scrutiny, and generated much criticism, personal - like Barton's - and systemic, such as the views expressed by the Society of Black Lawyers' (SBL) Peter Herbert, who branded the PFA's recent 'Six Point Plan' (SPP) "a knee-jerk reaction."
Naturally, Taylor would beg to differ. "The SPP was anything but a knee-jerk reaction, it was an articulation of evidence we've given to the select committee on racism in the game," he argues. "Myself and Paul Elliott spoke to the committee on the record," he adds to further illustrate the work he has been doing with the Government, whose report concluded "significant problems" of racism remain "both on and off the pitch".
The racial controversy of the last year was partly fuelled by inadequacies of institutional processes, says Taylor. "We've known the frustration of the players; a massive problem was the delay [of the John Terry case] coming on top of the Patrice Evra - Luis Suarez situation.
"With Anton [Ferdinand] and John [Terry], a massive problem it was once the Crown Prosecution Service asked the PFA to delay their proceedings and then agreed to delay their own, it caused the incident to be dealt with over far too long a period of time.
"That caused a festering of things and problems," adds the PFA chief, who lists "handshakes, England selection [and] England management" as part of the fallout - it is somewhat easy to forget former England manager, Fabio Capello, quit the Three Lions because of the PFA going over his head to strip Terry of the captaincy because of the racial slur allegations.
Taylor is adamant football authorities can do more, especially in regards to time. "Football has got to have the confidence to deal with these issues quickly."
He is aware of the power of words and condemns language used by Suarez, who called Evra "negrito", and Terry, who admitted using a racial slur to Ferdinand. "No matter what context," Taylor insists, "it is not acceptable and something we've got to look to eradicate by a system of deterrents, and also education.
"In the future, the PFA needs to be prepared not to wait for the CPS, and an example would be what happened in cricket with the spot betting [scandal], the cricket authorities dealt with that in spite of it being a criminal case as well."
The responsibility of determining the type and extent of deterrents does not rest with the PFA, says Taylor, who is keen to remind that his union is more influential than holding executive power. Some would label it sitting on the fence, but Taylor says his body must, "to some extent, adopt a neutral position" in order to support its players, both accused and alleged victims.
Nevertheless, the former Bolton winger, who made 258 appearances for the Trotters between 1962-1970, maintains reprimands from the PFA and its independent regulatory commission is "one of the problems we've needed to address".
One of the solutions, touted by the likes of Iffy Onuora who works within the PFA's coaching management, is that the disciplinary panels require members who have experienced racism first-hand to be of real value. "We do put forward names, that doesn't say those names have to be accepted," says Taylor, "but I do feel if you're dealing with racism issues, you definitely need people on there who are experienced in that field."
Nonetheless, Taylor believes the PFA is better equipped to hand out punishments than the courts. "One of the reasons why football has got to deal with these issues is because even in the criminal court they can't suspend a player for games, and financially I think the maximum [fine] is about £2,000, compared to what the PFA can put forward which is into the hundreds of thousands." A logic that goes someway to hold its own with Herbert's demand to make racism "unaffordable".
However, what Taylor is not willing to support, contrary to the desires of SBL, is the formation of a black players union. "I think a black players' union could be damaging to the strength of the PFA," he says.
"I am trying to learn from the black players and ex-players, and the way we've involved them within the running of the PFA. We have a black chairman [Clarke Carlisle], trustees, management committee members - it is important they are part of the process and feel part of the process, because I feel if we are to beat racism we need to do it all together."
The comparison of the creation of a union for black police officers is not lost on Taylor, yet he counters it by pointing out the police force in the 70s and today's PFA are entirely different animals. "It was done at a time when the police were considered institutionally racist, and I'd certainly challenge anyone who said the PFA was that. I'd be most offended, and I'd have a lot of ammunition to use against that."
The PFA boss, who says he wants to stay in his job "as long as I'm wanted", does want to see more black managers, and he knows how this is possible. "There needs to be an English form of the 'Rooney Rule'" - an American NFL affirmative action rule which requires all clubs to interview at least one minority candidate for a managerial vacancy.
"It's about making sure they [black managers] get an opportunity. We're not saying they have to be employed, but from the experience and advice we've had from America, it's about making sure they're on the radar, so there's not just an ad-hoc method of recruitment," he says.
The implementation of the Rooney Rule appears to be high up on Taylor's to-do list, not just at a professional-level, but a personal one too. "The PFA acknowledges the great contribution black players have made on the playing field, but I'll only be happy when it is easily acknowledged of there being a similarly great contribution in coaching and management.
"That is a target we've got to achieve sooner rather than later, and that's why I hope that people like (Chris) Hughton and (Chris) Powell can be the role models to give confidence to other black players to follow in their paths."
The avoidance of potential division is also a path Taylor wants to tread; he wants to emphasise a spirit of unity. "The PFA is not just about Gordon Taylor, the PFA is about its players.
"I want all players, black and white, current and past, to be part of that process and to feel a part of that process, so when we achieve success they're a part of that success."