Sidebar

18
Wed, Oct
49 New Articles

Russell Latapy
Typography

Eighteen years since he made Scotland his home Russell Latapy can count the unsavoury incidents on one hand. Racism has been a rare and unusual cold caller.

'The only thing I really remember was at a particular football ground here in Glasgow,' he tells Sportsmail in a west end cafe. 'I won't say which.

'I was playing for Hibs and there was an older guy belting out racist comments in the stand.'

AC Milan's Kevin Prince-Boateng took an uncompromising approach to this kind of thing, storming off the pitch and forcing the abandonment of a friendly two years ago. Latapy preferred a less demonstrative approach.

'I scored a double that day and used it as motivation to help us to win promotion,' he says chuckling.

A Google search reveals just one other reported race incident towards the end of his playing career. Ironically, the match involved Hibs – where he enjoyed iconic status – whilst he was player coach of Falkirk. A group of five supporters were questioned by police for crude racial discrimination. Latapy strains to remember the incident in question.

'Whatever people said to me didn't get to me,' he shrugs. 'I was only ever doing my job.'

The issue is pertinent now for one reason. Assistant to John Hughes at Inverness for 18 months the 46-year-old left after the Scottish Cup victory in May. The plan now is to strike out on his own. To become the first black manager in Scottish football since John Barnes and his short-lived, nine month tenure at Celtic.

Born in Laventille, Port-of-Spain, a district of Trinidad, Latapy's CV boasts experience as a number two at Falkirk and in the Highlands. There was also a challenging apprenticeship in charge of his national team under the auspices of Trinidad's 'special advisor' Jack Warner.

Warner and FIFA President Sepp Blatter have been quick to deflect accusing in the British press by playing the racism card. Discredited figures, their claims are easy to dismiss. Fifteen years since Barnes suffered ignominy at Parkhead, however, Latapy regards the dearth of black managers in Scottish and English football as conspicuous.

'In Scotland you have four divisions with 42 clubs,' he points out.In the English league there are four divisions and the conference as well.

'They have over 100 clubs down there. So that's approximately 150 managers across the UK. But you can count on the fingers of one hand how many of them are black. One hand.'

The statistics are damning. Of the 230 clubs which make up the seven tiers of English football below the Premiership level only 14 – or 6.5 per cent of the total - have black managers. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales there are none. This despite 14 per cent of the UK population being of ethnic origin.

Asked what this says about British football in 2015 – or his own prospects of becoming a manager - Latapy opts to drink from a glass half full.

'It's like everything else. Things change. I see a process of change now.

'You see Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink doing a good job at Burton. Chris Ramsay suffered a relegation at QPR, but they gave him the responsibility to take the team forward.

'We've seen others like Chris Powell, Chris Hughton and Paul Ince. So it is changing. In England at least. And I would like to be part of that process of change up here in Scotland.'

The only man to have managed in Scotland's top flight, the Barnes / Celtic experience ended desperately badly. Since then Barnes has managed Tranmere Rovers in 2009 after a spell with the Jamaica national team. But last year he complained bitterly that black managers rarely enjoy the second chances granted to their white counterparts.

'I don't remember too much about what happened at Celtic for Barnes,' says Latapy.

'You never know if a first job is right for you, that's the problem. You can't pick and choose. If Celtic comes along and offers you the chance that's the kind of job you can't say no to.

'But you need the opportunity to give it a go.'

A former Rangers player Latapy harbours no expectations of a call from Parkhead any time soon. He did talk to Alloa chairman Mike Mulraney, but decided to stay at Inverness.

'I trust Scottish football to give me a fair chance at management. I believe eventually it will happen.

'One of the issues in the past was that a lot of the black players who played the game never took coaching badges.

'They just didn't believe they would get the opportunity. But there are a lot of black ex-players now as qualified as anyone else. I am one of them.

’It's only a matter of time before someone comes on the scene and makes a statement. Listen, I don't know if I think 'I'll be the first successful black manager in Scotland.'

'I just think I want an opportunity to show what I can do. I think positive all the time. Why can't it be me? I think about the game. About what I can do.

'Whatever race or nationality you are I don't believe jobs should be allocated based on the colour of your skin.'

Or, he hopes, on past reputations. One of the great mavericks of the Scottish scene, a diminutive conjurer who also played for Rangers, Falkirk and Dundee United, he blew the chance to play for Hibs in the 2001 Scottish Cup Final when he was caught behind the wheel of a car in Edinburgh intoxicated. Dwight Yorke, his best friend, countryman and a renowned Manchester United striker in his day, was by his side.

'I always enjoyed my life,' Latapy says now with rueful understatement. I enjoyed a night out. I still do. But your wants and your needs change as you get a bit older.

'Dwight Yorke is still my friend but he's a bit older now as well.'

Where Yorke was once more likely to hook Latapy up with female admirers he introduced him eight years ago to a more enduring and passionate relationship. With golf.

'Dwight and I prefer a glass of wine and a nice meal now and arrange a round of golf instead of hitting the town,' he claims. 'It's normal for us to be up at 7am for 18 holes.

'We don't find fun the way we used to these days.'

At Inverness Latapy would take to the Dundonald Links at 7am for 18 holes before training. His handicap was pared down to six and this week he returned to Portugal to play some rounds in warmer climes.

'It's too late for me to play professionally,' he admits, regret in the voice. 'But I entered the Inverness amateur open recently and made the cut.

'Golf is a game for gentlemen. You have to be honest and trust others. It teaches you about discipline, decision making and life.'

He has three children and a home in Portugal – where he won trophies with Sporting Lisbon and Boavista – but his preference is to find a stable environment in England or Scotland.

He was his own man once. Assistant coach to Columbian Francisco Maturana he took the national team reins in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign.

'I basically worked for two years without getting paid,' he recalls with a shake of the head. 'There comes a time when you have to say, 'enough.' The more I pressured them for my money the more excuses they made.'

The funding for the Trinidadian association came from the government. The cash dried up when Warner, a politician, businessman and football fixer, aligned himself with the opposition.

'The official name for Jack Warner's post at the time was ‘Special Advisor', Latapy laughs. 'A quick synopsis of how it worked was this. He made all the decisions and other people signed the contracts.

'I knew exactly what I was getting into. But how many people in my situation would say no to Jack Warner? I'm not going to walk away from a chance of my first job – especially if it's managing my national team.

’But the main benefactors of the national team were the Trinidadian government. And Jack Warner decided to go into politics and stood for a rival party. I was caught in the middle.'

Capped over 100 times for his country Latapy has countless Warner anecdotes, but prefers to let sleeping dogs lie. He yearns to return to Trinidad one day to, 'clean up the game' – his words. But his first love now is Scotland and its iconic, sweeping fairways,

'I have been here for a long time now, around 18 years all in. I know the Scottish game, the Scottish people. The reality is that if I want to make my mark as coach it will have to happen in Europe.

'I was fortunate enough to have an interview with the chairman of Alloa and felt that went well. I thought the job was there for me. But I just felt it wasn't the right time to leave Inverness. It's a different situation six months later.

'Maybe now I would take an opportunity like that if it came along. But first someone has to give me the chance.'