Danielle Carter interview: Arsenal and England striker intent on 'leaving a legacy' for other black footballers

Arsenal striker Carter contributes to the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board as an FA Council member - Arsenal FC
Arsenal striker Carter contributes to the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board as an FA Council member - Arsenal FC

Arsenal’s Danielle Carter is wrestling with the term ‘white privilege’. She exhales. “I’m not too sure how I would explain it.” She pauses, clicking her tongue, and the voice recorder goes silent for seven seconds. “It’s probably a case of... opportunity. For some reason, it seems to be that white privilege is where they don’t necessarily have to work as hard as, maybe, a black player or a black person.

"I think it’s kind of like a level playing field. I’ve got an image in my head - I think there was one circulating on social media at one stage - about equal opportunity, which doesn’t necessarily mean starting at the same line. It’s like having the equal opportunity to see over the fence the same way the next person does.”

Carter, 24, is softly-spoken and picks her words carefully. It has been a tough year. She estimates she is “halfway through” rehabilitation after a knee operation four months ago, for an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in May. She had hoped to make the World Cup squad and admits seeing those dreams dashed has been “very tough”.

“I try not to think too much about what I’m missing out on - it’s more a case of what’s to come,” she says. “I’m still young. I can still make something of it.”

Meanwhile, Carter has been working towards a different goal, one of “leaving a legacy” for other black footballers. The fascination with football governance began when she spent six months completing a PFA-funded board member course, alongside former England coach Hope Powell and Quinton Fortune, once of Manchester United.

“I’m quite happy to be that voice, to get my foot in the door and speak to the right people,” Carter says. “Hopefully younger people coming through won’t have as many issues or struggles. It will be a smoother road.”

Carter contributes to the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board as an FA Council member, having been appointed two days before the FA appeared in Parliament over their handling of the Eni Aluko scandal. Does she feel the organisation has learned its lesson? “I think it’s difficult to say, until something else happens, whether they’ve learned from it or not,” says Carter. “That’s not for me to say. I’m not making those decisions. There was a lot of media attention around it. I would like to think that coverage would mean things would get dealt with in a different way 100% if anything was to come up again.”

Hope Powell recalled some of her earliest meetings with the FA as “tough. I was female and black. The decision-makers? White. Male. And middle-class.” Carter tries to make them see the world from her perspective. “It’s definitely difficult. It’s different eras, different cultures. The way they’ve grown up and the areas they’ve grown up in were male-dominated. Football is a man’s sport, in their opinion. The majority of the people on the Council are middle-aged white guys”.

Carter says the Council is “slowly but surely” becoming more diverse, but “it’s not just a case of, overnight, you’re going to change the whole dynamic of football. Hopefully that diversity will reflect in appointments, in board positions.”

Carter’s fight is not confined to the boardroom. Analysis completed in 2016 from BCOMS, the Black Collective of Media in Sport, found that 1.75 per cent of sports journalists were black. There are four black managers - Chris Hughton, Nuno Espírito Santo, Darren Moore and Chris Powell - in the 92. The FA now have to interview at least one BAME candidate for future roles within in the England set-up, provided applicants meet minimum recruitment criteria.

The 24-year-old is recovering from a serious knee injury sustained in July - Credit: ARSENAL FC
The 24-year-old is recovering from a serious knee injury sustained in July Credit: ARSENAL FC

What would Carter say to those who would accuse the FA of tokenism? “If they can’t see there’s obviously something missing, and there’s a reason why there’s very few black managers around, I would say they’re obviously missing the bigger picture,” she says. “I don’t see it as tokenism. If you were to ask any black coach who’s getting these opportunities, that’s probably the first thing they’d say - they don’t want it to be a tokenism thing. They don’t want to just be a tick box; they want to be there through merit.

"But for some of them, they need that extra push to get them on a level playing field. It’s probably that unconscious bias that no one really speaks about. It’s just trying to change that outlook with the people who are making the decisions.

“There’s the football BlackList. Many people could say, ‘What if we had a white list?’ But they’re missing the point that there’s people in the game who aren’t getting recognised, for whatever reason. Someone’s taken it upon themselves to actually celebrate them.”

Carter is keen to stress the fight for equality does not lie solely with minorities. “There’s a lot of intelligent, smart people [on the FA Inclusion Board] who can see the bigger picture, who are white,” she concludes. “It’s not just a case of, black people are trying to implement change. If you’re in the know and you understand it, you can see there is a problem. I’m not here to advocate that I want strictly black staff - it’s literally for the change to come from whoever. Whoever has the right mentality, whoever can see the bigger picture. Whoever is wanting change.”