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What the Crystal Palace vacancy tells us about the need for the Rooney Rule

December 29, 2014

Neil Warnock has been booted out of Selhurst Park, just four months into his appointment as manager of newly promoted Crystal Palace. I cannot remember why Tony Pulis left but his vacuum was filled incredibly quickly.

Warnock was approached. As with most football appointments at this level, I would speculate that it was a case of opening up an address book a looking for a face that fits.

A former manager, with a frame that makes a tracksuit look like house clothes, the sight of him in front of the MOTD screens was nothing but familiar. Warnock’s face did, indeed, fit.

Neil Warnock

Neil Warnock

These are not the qualities that should make the person specification for a top flight job. Let’s see how his credentials stacked up (from Wikipedia)


P W D L Win %
Sheffield United 2 December 1999 15 May 2007 388 165 100 123 42.53
Crystal Palace 11 October 2007 2 March 2010 129 47 39 43 36.43
Queens Park Rangers 2 March 2010 8 January 2012 84 33 27 24 39.29
Leeds United 18 February 2012 1 April 2013 63 23 15 25 36.51
Crystal Palace 27 August 2014 27 December 2014 17 3 6 8 17.65


Sacked from his two previous appointments, he left Leeds United in 2013, five points from the relegation zone of The Championship. His performance follows a distinctive pattern; decent starts which he struggles to consolidate.

But Crystal Palace needed a manager, and they had his number.

They have Alan Pardew’s too. Chris Hougton’s reward for dragging Newcastle from the Championship in 2012 was to be replaced by the likeable Cockney (in a deal done with Mike Ashley in a casino). To be fair, despite some rocky patches, Pardew has done quite well. Newcastle are inconsistent, but the ingredients are there.

Even so, the way Crystal Palace have gone about dealing with the departure of Tony Pulis wreaks of the establishment, old boys club nonsense that holds back young black managers. Warnock’s and Pardew’s potential appointment is largely based on name and reputation; there is nothing outstanding about these candidates yet other options can’t seem to compete with these men for the attention of eager Chairmen.

Football clubs are not for experimentation. Clubs are businesses measured by victories, profit and loss and people shouldn’t be appointed to tick equality and diversity boxes. I understand this. However, most discrimination, in the real world and in football, is not intended or born of outright racism. It is born from habit. It is the shortlist of the first names that come to mind with no consultation outside of the board room. It is the affinity bias that clouds judgement when a chairman interviews someone he played golf with last week. It’s the prioritisation of ‘experience’ over all else. One has to ask; if ‘experience’ is such a virtue, why is sacking so commonplace? If the small pool of Premiership and Championship managers have one thing in common, it’s experience.

I do not know whether Chris Houghton, Chris Powell, Paul Ince, John Barnes or any other black manager with badges would be good for Crystal Palace. But I do know that an interview is an excellent way for Steve Parish to find out.

Football clubs can’t be trusted to change their habits voluntarily. The sooner the FA introduces the Rooney Rule, the better.


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