This October is Black History Month, the theme of which this year is 'Proud to Be', with black people throughout the United Kingdom being invited to share what they are proud of about themselves, their history and their achievements.
At Southampton Football Club, we have been speaking to some of our very own staff members, who are sharing the stories of their own journeys into sport, with the hope this can inspire more black people to consider and pursue a career in football.
Our latest colleague to feature is Dan Mason, Saints Community Champion...
Tell us about your journey and how you go into your position now?
When I left college after completing my BTEC Sport and my NVQ Level 2 in Football Coaching, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure which route I wanted to go down. I started working in retail sales for a couple of years, however I soon realised the 9-5 sales job wasn’t for me. I’m an energetic person who loves sport, so being behind a desk was all wrong for me. I decided to leave and go to university at the age of 22.
Alongside my university course, studying Sports Coaching & Development, I started working part-time as a youth worker in Newtown. Following this, I started at Saints Foundation as a Casual Community Engagement Worker, picking up hours when I could. I was enjoying the fact I was working with so many different people and learning new things every day. I noticed my work with Saints Foundation was picking up more and more and I was being offered additional hours, meaning I must have been doing something right!
As I finished my degree, I knew I was passionate about the work I was doing with Saints Foundation and there was a Community Champion position I was interested in and had been told I would be perfect for it by colleagues. I am my harshest critic and didn’t believe in myself to be successful in the role or that I would be good enough academically to compete with other candidates.
I remained in my casual role for another year, to gain more experience. In the summer of 2020, another opportunity came about for a Community Champion, which I applied for. I grew in confidence each time I made it through each step of the process. I was eventually offered the job and, apart from my football career, it's the proudest day of my life! Fifteen months later here I am, still loving every minute of it.
Tell us about your current role?
My role is a Community Champion based in Cantell School, Southampton. My role is to mentor and guide pupils into the correct path, through building relationships with them and being an adult figure in their life that they can talk to about anything.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have that kind of support at home. I work with a wide range of pupils who have behavioural problems, low support from home, mental health concerns to name a few. I would say I bring a friendly face and laid-back atmosphere to the classroom, which helps to distinguish me from the teachers. We use sport as a tool to break down barriers with the pupils, balanced with classroom-based activities and games for those who aren’t into sport.
Which part of your current role do you enjoy the most?
The part I enjoy most is seeing the pupils come out of their shell and be themselves around me; you get to see their true personality. I enjoy being a supportive figure that they want to come to when they are having an off-day and I can try help brighten the day up for them. I enjoy the fact it's not just about sport and we work on the pupils' future and try to guide them for the next steps in life. If I can change their lives for the better, even if it’s by just one per cent, I will be happy, as progress is progress no matter how long it takes.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Or someone looking to follow in similar footsteps?
My advice to someone wanting to follow in similar footsteps is to always believe you are good enough and never doubt yourself. If you’ve put in the hard graft, there is no reason you can’t push on and get the job you want. I never believed in myself, and it slowed down where I wanted to be in life by a few years, but I found what I really was passionate about, and I got there in the end. I wouldn’t change my journey for anything because it's got me to where I am now.
As part of Black History month, we are exploring 2021’s theme ‘Proud to be’ – what is your proudest moment to date? Both career wise and personal life?
I’m proud to break the stereotype of young black males growing up in St Mary's having a bad name and turning to a life of crime. I’ve managed to become a role model for the area and show the next generation there is more to growing up in deprived areas than turning to crime, and that you can achieve great things if you put your mind to it.
I am also proud to have a degree, to be a well-known non-league footballer for Sholing FC; scoring over 235 goals (and counting) as well working for Southampton Football Club and Saints Foundation representing BAME coaches. There is a lot for me to be proud of and plenty more to achieve, this is just the start.
Why would you say diversity is important to businesses?
For me, it's important because when you see someone who you can relate to being successful in the field of work you want to get into it gives you a boost that if they have done it why can’t I too. It's inspirational to see someone like you doing well.
When you see a business that doesn’t have anyone like you working for them, you do start to wonder why? I feel this has an impact on young BAME coaches who would like to get involved but don’t see anyone like them in that business so they feel they wouldn’t be worthy of a job there.