London – October marks Black History Month in the UK.
Black History Month gives everybody the chance to share, celebrate, and understand the impact of black heritage and culture.
It is important to discuss and share those that are changing the narrative.
Earlier this year in August, Akil Howson became the first black, Asian, or of mixed heritage to be a permanent referee official in England’s top flight in 15 years since Uriah Rennie.
The Bulrushes spoke to Howson to hear how his love for football got him to where he is today.
Since a very young age, Akil wanted to become a professional football player.
“When it came to football, my skill set said different. My mum maybe realised that from 14 and booked me onto a referee course behind my back and made sure I took that course,” recalled Akil.
However, it was hard for Howson to stay motivated throughout his journey.
He said, “Within the early grassroots days, I simply enjoyed the fact I could get paid as a young teenager.
“In recent years, the closer to the top I’ve gotten and the older I’ve gotten, the harder it has been to stay motivated year after year.”
Nonetheless, Akil tells us about the new pathway within referring that changed his outlook to a more positive one.
“The PGMOL created a pathway within refereeing called the Elite Refereeing Development Programme, which gave me a new sense of belief that has ultimately gotten me here, combined with transferable life skills I gained that have really helped shape me as a person.”
On his biggest inspiration, he said: “My mum. A black female who was also a referee before me.
“She is the reason I took the course; she is the reason I wanted to go through the promotion levels.
“Seeing how proud she was when I walked out at Wembley and other big games makes it all worthwhile.”
Akil told The Bulrushes what Black History Month means to him.
“It is a chance to celebrate black success. Understand black history and inspire black achievers,” Akil said.
“I think more knowledge on the month is needed, especially amongst peers, to showcase the struggles black people sometimes find in breaking down barriers.”
On changes he would like to see in his field, especially referring, Howson said: “It is just belief and recruitment; few set out to be referees, but it’s honestly a great career.
“The thought of the abuse every weekend doesn’t appeal to many people, but once people see how rewarding it can be, recruitment should follow.
“I mentioned the ERDP which is funded by the Premier League, in order to accelerate high-performing match officials through the ladder to the top and help increase diversity at the top levels, with some of my colleagues from a diverse background already progressing.
“The FA has also created a similar scheme for grassroots football with more emphasis on coaching, which in turn will create a stronger pool of diverse match officials.”
Finally, Howson shares a message for young black men and women.
“My message is and always has been that you’re superheroes.
“I was over the moon when Stormzy put it in a song because I’m able to listen to it daily.
“We know there are times we will have to work harder.
“We know there are times we will be overlooked or face extra adversity but be ready for it and have no regrets.
“We are special; we can be whatever we want to be, and we don’t have to fall into a stereotype other people put on us.
“We can break down barriers, showing those same people how amazing we are at our craft and as a person.”
The BBC reports that Black History Month gives everyone the opportunity to share, celebrate, and understand the impact of black heritage and culture.
People from African and Caribbean backgrounds have been a fundamental part of British history for centuries.
However, campaigners believe their contribution to society has often been overlooked or distorted.