Andy Preece: Chorley boss on being a black football manager reaching 750 games

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Chorley manager Andy Preece arrives slightly late for our afternoon chat at Victory Park.

He has been planning the evening’s training session and you don’t get much spare time when you are in charge of a part-time National League North club. Even less when you are trying to guide them into the play-offs and there are only a couple of regular season games to go.

Results have not gone well for the Lancashire club in the days since we spoke, but they go into the final weekend a point off the top seven. A play-off spot would be a satisfying way to celebrate Preece’s 750 games as a manager.

It is a journey he is proud of – following a playing career taking in Wrexham, Stockport County, Blackpool, Bury and a short spell in the Premier League with Crystal Palace.

As a manager, there is less glamour to be found in places like Northwich and Chorley. He spent four years in the Welsh League at Airbus UK, where he earned the distinction of becoming the first black English manager to both qualify a team for European football and then take them into the competition.

But, Preece, 56, has stuck at it since he was appointed player-manager at Bury in the autumn of 1999, on the recommendation of Neil Warnock.

“People say ‘do you feel lucky at getting the opportunity’,” he says. “Why should I feel lucky?

“I have managed for more than 750 games and have a 40% win ratio. I have been at clubs who have been struggling due to their financial situation. It is not luck. It is hard work and determination. I have taken jobs other people didn’t want.”

That tally of games is impressive. Even more so in an industry that statistics show simply does not afford black managers the opportunities given to their white counterparts.

’24 years and statistics haven’t changed’

Andy Preece
Chorley’s Andy Preece became Bury player-manager in 1999

At the start of the 1999-2000 season, there was one black Premier League manager, Ruud Gullit, who resigned as Newcastle boss in the August.

Patrick Vieira’s exit at Crystal Palace in April means there are now no current black Premier League managers.

In the Football League – with struggling Reading sacking Paul Ince earlier this month – there is only Vincent Kompany at Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday’s Darren Moore and Liam Rosenior at Hull City.

“When I started out [at Bury] in 1999 I was one of five or six black managers,” says Preece. “It is 2023 and I am probably one of less than five or six black managers. That is 24 years. Nothing seems to have changed.

“What has changed is that there are a lot more black players on the pitch; 43% of players are black and 40% have the Pro Licence [the coaching qualification]. But we are seeing 4% in managerial jobs. There is something still not right.”

Preece is placing a lot of faith in the Black Footballers Partnership to challenge statistics and push for change.

Co-founded by former Derby and Jamaica player Michael Johnson, BFP commissioned two reports, in 2022 and 2023, that show no real improvement in management opportunities given to black candidates.

It says the Football Association’s ‘Football Leadership Diversity Code’ paints a “partial and unusually rosy” picture of the present situation.

As someone who has spent a quarter of a century at the sharp end of management, Preece feels it is only through BFP that the true reality can be understood.

Ask Preece if his skin colour has been an impediment to his career, and he accepts that is the reality.

“There is no hiding from it,” he says. “It is sad for me and, in 2023, it is ridiculous we are talking about things like this. But we have to. The data is backing it up.

“But I do feel there is a bit of hope now. We have to have a voice. If we don’t talk about it and challenge things, they are not going to change.”

Preece refuses to dwell on what opportunities he might have missed out on, stating simply: “My skin colour is not going to change. I am proud of who I am.”

Preece’s ‘Cantona’ moment

Andy Preece scores the winning goal for Stockport in a 1994 FA Cup tie
Andy Preece scores the winning goal for Stockport in a 1994 FA Cup tie

But he has been the victim of racism, which nearly led to his own ‘Eric Cantona moment’ towards the end of his playing days when he jumped into the crowd during a reserve game for Blackpool against Leicester to confront a supporter who had taken exception to the colour of his skin.

“It was constant and for the last 20 minutes I was just thinking about him and why he was abusing me,” he says.

“Something snapped at the end of the game. I ran and confronted him. There weren’t many fans there so I could see him. When I got there, I thought ‘what are you doing?’. The lad started windmilling. Fortunately we got pulled apart and nothing really happened. But it was a difficult moment.”

Although Preece was charged by the FA, a number of eye witnesses provided evidence on his behalf, so he avoided a significant suspension.

“The Blackpool fans who wrote those letters, that was pretty special for me. That made me realise people will support you and if you feel that you need to speak out about something, don’t be afraid to,” Preece recalls.

In a separate incident as a manager, Preece asked the game to be stopped and for a fan to be removed for racially abusing him. When stewards moved the fan to another part of the ground, Preece stopped the game again until the supporter was evicted.

“I felt I had a voice and I would be believed,” says Preece. “It is a positive thing that the game has moved on to a point where you don’t feel as though you have to take things into your own hands. There are mechanisms where you can be heard.”

Some still don’t see black people as leaders

Because of his own background as a mainly lower-league player, Preece naturally looks outside the high-profile Premier League role models and further down the pyramid for the “very uncomfortable” underlying reasons why he sees so few black faces opposing him in the dug-out.

“Unfortunately, it is that unconscious bias we talk about. People still don’t see black people as leaders. It is so frustrating and difficult to talk about and it does make you angry,” he says.

“There are so many black captains in the EFL. They are leaders. They can take on manager’s jobs.

“There are a lot of black players in League One and Two who are more than capable of taking coaching or management jobs. When you look at the data, what chance have they got? I am sure a lot turn away and think ‘I am not bothering, it is not worth it’.

“At the top level, you see certain players that don’t get opportunities, that have had great careers at the top level, who are internationals, they want to manage, they want to coach, they have done their badges but they have seen they are good enough to work in academies or Under-21 teams, but as far as being the actual leader of a football club, they are not. Why? We are still asking that question. There are some answers but they are very uncomfortable.

“If there is a reason for optimism it is because I do feel there is a bit of hope now. Through the Black Footballers Partnership, we have a voice. That is the important thing. There has to be a voice for change.”

Preece’s advice to other would-be managers is to “believe you can change things” even if the opportunity is “challenging” as he has found several times in his career.

“Believe in yourself and your ability. Sometimes you have to be humble enough. Believe that people will look at you for what you do and what you know.”

Preece relishes his role. And after reaching 750 games as a manager, is now looking at making it to 1,000.

“I have had so many great experiences and am so lucky to be involved with something that I love,” he says.

“My passion for the game has never changed. If I didn’t love what I did, there is no way I would have lasted this long.”

And with that, Preece is off to talk with his part-time players who have been filtering in during our chat, each of them greeted with a smile and a positive word or two.

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