Why life working for a football club might not always be what it seems

By Tony Attwood

You might recall the case of Dr Eva Carneiro who made a very public claim of constructive dismissal against Chelsea in 2015 and also claimed discrimination by Jose Mourinho.  That case, in which Dr Carneiro claimed she regularly had to endure sexually explicit comments from her colleagues, suggested there was something terribly wrong with the employment culture within Chelsea FC, although of course we were never given the full details of what was going on behind the scenes.   

It was a case that also suggested (to me at least, from reading between the lines) that such behaviour might well be commonplace in other clubs, although of course in that case the only details we got were those revealed in court in relation to Chelsea).

At the end of that case, Chelsea said it apologised “unreservedly” to the former first-team doctor for the distress caused and it also emerged that Chelsea had, in the words of the BBC “offered Dr Carneiro £1.2m to settle her claims, which she had rejected.”

Among other claims, Dr Carneiro stated that Mr Mourinho shouted the Portuguese phrase “filha da puta” at her, (“daughter of a whore”) as she ran on to the pitch to treat Eden Hazard and later ‘publicly criticised both Dr Carneiro and first-team physio Jon Fearn for being “impulsive and naive”,’ after which she was demoted. 

Chelsea later “apologised unreservedly to her and her family for the distress caused.”   The FA, in considering Chelsea’s situation then ruled on 30 September 2015 that the abusive language used by Mourinho did not constitute “discriminatory language,” and thus backed itself out of any involvement in the case.

Of course, it was always possible to explain away the whole episode as being the fault of Mourinho alone, but now new evidence has emerged of deeper, and it might be argued more appalling, working practices at Chelsea over the years.   

For according to an excellently researched and indeed very detailed report in the New York Times, the club’s marketing department has had a bullying culture at its heart for some time.with staff seemingly quite often being humiliated in front of colleagues.  As a result, it is said, members of staff could disappear from the club “for weeks, or sometimes months, of medical leave. At least 10 staff members — from a department that employs about 50 people — had left the club altogether, one employee said” before “in early January, a well-liked former staff member killed himself.”

Of course, it is not known why this terrible event happened, but the newspaper report suggests the gentleman in question was considered by many to be a good friend rather than some sort of outsider.

Although a review of working practices at the club was then undertaken, it is claimed by the NY Times that “few staff members had confidence in the process” because the review “would be overseen by the executive who [other staff] felt was to blame for the worst of its problems.”

The New York Times also states that all those it interviewed “painted a picture of a dysfunctional workplace environment at Chelsea marked by unhappiness, intimidation and fear.”

Chelsea have subsequently made a statement that the new board in place since the removal of Mr Abramovich’s control of the club, have appointed “an external review team to investigate the allegations that have been made under previous ownership” and expressed its strong belief in a working environment in which employees are trusted and feel safe.

But the NY Times also adds that when Chelsea announced a review of working practices the club made “no acknowledgement that the review was related to his death or any specific complaint.”  They report that some staff expressed concerns about working practices at the club but “little seemed to change beyond a churn of employees that had become so common that it was an open secret among recruiters who sometimes directed candidates toward open positions at Chelsea.”

The New York Times report adds that Chelsea lost many other members of staff through this period but that the new owners have replaced or are replacing the old regime.

Of course what we don’t know, and the New York Times’ very detailed article does not set out to cover this, what the situation is like within other clubs, and whether bullying is endemic within football in the UK. 

The Daily Mail did run an article of “almost bullying” in American women’s football.  And the FA does have an anti-bullying policy for football clubs online which can be downloaded by typing into the search engine “Anti-Bullying Policy for Football Clubs – The FA”.  Bullying UK has a good article on the bullying of children in football.  And Family Lives has an article on bullying in sports clubs.

But it does seem that the issue of bullying within football clubs is one that is not being fully investigated in the UK.  Maybe that is because there is no issue, but given the level of bullying I have seen in various workplaces in England, I find that very, very hard to believe.

The report was compiled by Tariq Panja who is co-author of “Footballʼs Secret Trade,” an exposé of what really happens in football transfers and it gives details of support in the USA for people who are contemplating suicide.  If you are in the UK and are suffering from such thoughts, then you may wish to note the availability of the Samaritans – (phone 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org).

You will also find information at www.thecalmzone.net (the Campaign Against Living Miserably – CALM) whom you can call on 0800 58 58 58 between 5pm and midnight.

Author’s footnote: I have myself suffered from significant mental health issues in the past, but thanks to excellent medical support in the UK have been able to come through and live what has subsequently turned out to be a rather enjoyable life, and indeed being able to live with the various insults thrown my way as a result of running Untold Arsenal.  I would (and indeed do) urge anyone who suffers from any mental health difficulties to seek help immediately, rather than trying to simply get by and perhaps not admit there is a problem.  The benefits of seeking help can be extraordinary.


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