Graham Taylor, the England football manager in the early 1990s, has become embroiled in a row over whether some of his bosses at the Football Association told him to limit the number of black players he selected. Emy Onuora makes the allegation that Taylor admitted this was the case in a book about racism in sport, called Pitch Black.
Onuora cites an alleged conversation between Taylor and an Richie Moran, an anti-racism campaigner. The key words are part of a quote from Taylor in which he says “…I was told in no uncertain terms not to pick too many players for the national side.”
Taylor has responded angrily but rather incoherently – it is hard to say whether this was a result of his anger, his natural incoherence or he was trying to be evasive.
He remembers the event but has “no memory of a conversation about black players.” Asked if he could have had a conversation with FA members about limiting the number of black players, he says;”That is one of the things you are never going to forget. I’m so annoyed about it. They’ve gone ahead – as I understand it what I’ve said to them privately has just got out.
“Or what I’m accused of saying to the them privately, which I deny and can’t remember it, they’ve gone out publicly and said it and yet they’re saying themselves it was said to them privately.”
Using words such as having “no memory of a conversation” doesn’t help. If you cant remember the conversation, how can you remember what you said.
As to whether he was instructed not to pick too many black players, he say he would have remembered if it if he had been told that, which is just about credible.
But he then confuses the matter still further by saying that the conversation, which he says did not take place, should not have been repeated as it was private.
He is at his least convincing here – after years of managing England and league teams, he would surely have known that you speak unattributably or on the record. Any story told to an anti-racism campaigner about racism at the FA was bound to reach a public audience at some stage – it could never have remained private.
The irony of this saga is that Taylor comes out of the story in the book extremely well. His record as manager shows that his selections were made purely on ability, irrespective of creed or colour. If there was pressure, he clearly ignored it.
Nor would it be surprising if some in the FA held the view attributed to them – it was common practive at that time to count up the number of black players in the England team; and I often heard suggestions that there should not be too many black players in the team – views that rightly today we regard as totally unacceptable. It would hardly be a surprise if a couple of senior FA members took Taylor to one side and expressed that view to him.
So what should I conclude. It is relatively easy to spot when lawyers, PR people or executives with media training are trying to be evasive.They usually charge huge fees for using obvious and predictable techniques that wont fool anyone.
It is much harder assessing comments made by real people, particularly those like Taylor whose analysis, while always good, never has much clarity of expression.
With his response, Taylor has made himself appear at best incoherent in explaining himself and at worst opened himself up to accusations that he has something to hide.
I suspect that we have not heard the last on this subject.
Until we get more information, I leave you to make up your own minds