Made an MBE for services to football and diversity in sport in 2017, Queens Park Rangers academy coach Manisha Tailor hopes to pave the way for more women from diverse backgrounds to work as coaches.
Tailor feels it is “ludicrous” there are not more south Asian women working in the English game and hopes more people can “challenge their unconscious biases” to help bring about positive change in the industry.
The 4ft 9in – “and a half” – coach, who works as foundation phase lead at the Championship outfit, says she is often mistaken for a physio by opposing teams, but feels perceptions are starting to change.
A former primary school deputy headteacher, who began studying for her A licence badge in June, Tailor is understood to be the only south Asian woman in such a role at one of England’s top 92 men’s clubs.
“I’m lucky that I’ve got people around me and I’ve got great mentors in and outside of QPR, who are nurturing my development and helping me along the way,” she told BBC Sport.
“It is ludicrous that I’m the only south Asian female in the role that I’m in, in 92 clubs, and the only south Asian person in the role I’m in, because there are others who have a similar background to me who are equally qualified.
“People that know me well know that I’m small – I’m 4ft 9in and a half and the half is really important when you’re not five foot! That in itself comes with its own perceptions and challenges.
“QPR having faith and belief in me was a big thing. Change takes time and hopefully I can help pave the way for others.”
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Tailor’s path to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium has been varied and not without challenges.
Three decades ago, aged nine, she was went on trial to Barnet with a friend and was offered a place in their youth set-up, but her family said they could not take her to training while her brother played cricket for Middlesex.
“That was pretty much that,” Tailor recalled. “My mum said ‘Oh, there’s no one to take you on the weekend, how are you going to get to training?’ As a nine-year-old you’re upset for a little while but you get on with life.
“It was only later on in my life that I started to realise, wow, there are not actually not many opportunities for girls.
“Visibility is really important and I think we have visibility now, but when I was nine, for my mum, there was a real lack of visibility. Had my mum maybe seen Asian players or seen other Asian young girls like myself who wanted to play too, would her decision have been different?”
It is Tailor’s love for her twin brother that has inspired much of her work, as she now campaigns around mental health.
Traumatised by bullies earlier in his life – suffering which Tailor’s family understand contributed to his illness – her brother began suffering from hallucinations and his mental health worsened.
“My life experiences, particularly with my brother, have helped me to be resilient,” she said.
Twenty two years on from her brother’s initial illness, Tailor is still helping others, delivering educational programmes and campaigns around mental health through the work of her company, Swaggarlicious.
And just as she has dedicated large parts of her life to helping others, she knows how much others have helped her career too.
In particular, she says she would not be where she is now without the support of QPR’s technical director and former manager, Chris Ramsey.
“I had a great mentor in Chris,” Tailor said. “You need people of influence, people of power, who are the decision makers, to allow people like myself and others these opportunities.
“Having people like Chris Ramsey, and Les Ferdinand [director of football] and our owners, I’m in a great environment, because there are very few women within the type of role that I do.”
Away from her work at QPR, Tailor directs her own company, Swaggarlicious, which provides educational programmes around diversity, inclusion and mental health
Looking to the future, Tailor’s hopes focus on trying to open doors for others.
“What I always say is, ‘challenge your own unconscious biases’, because they do exist and they influence your thoughts, actions and behaviours,” she said.
“I’m willing to challenge mine. I accept that this is an environment that I’ve chosen to be in, but that doesn’t mean to say that I should be treated any differently to somebody else.
“I need to learn the environment better and I need to help navigate my way through this environment to help create some change, because season after season, things have got better, because that change is happening.
“What I am very much about is avoiding this blame culture. Acknowledge some of your unconscious biases and let’s do something about it, and the more we can do that, I think that that can hopefully pave the way for others.
“Change takes time. I’m willing to be patient, develop and push to improve because I think that’s important that we do that especially so that we can open doors for other people.”