On Sept. 24, 2009, Jason Euell was racially abused during a League Cup match between Blackpool and Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. He wasn't even playing.
Euell was sat alongside his fellow substitutes in the Blackpool dugout when Robert Mason, then 47 years old, targeted him from the stands with a stream of unprintable vitriol. Euell reacted with understandable anger and had to be restrained by his manager, Ian Holloway. Staffordshire Police arrested Mason and he was subsequently handed a football banning order for racially aggravated threatening behaviour.
"My issue wasn't with the person who said it, it was with the people around them," Euell said. "One of the comments was, 'Well, he's not a regular Stoke fan.' And I just thought, 'That doesn't make it any different.' The fact is, he is sat in the middle of you guys, he said what he's said and it is the steward who sat in front of you who went upstairs to report it while you kept your mouths shut.
"The response of those around him, who either didn't want to hear it or didn't want to get involved ... and sometimes that is just as bad because they are complicit.
"If you'd told me in 2009 the conversation about race would be like it is today, I wouldn't have thought we'd be talking about it to the extent and ferocity that we are now."
Euell spoke to ESPN during the recent international break when in his role coaching England's under 20's and shortly before he became assistant caretaker manager at League One side Charlton following the dismissal of Nigel Adkins. Both are relatively recent developments in a post-playing career that he hopes will take him into management. It is an indictment of football in 2021 that the climb still appears tougher than it should be for someone who has spent almost a decade learning his trade after a 17-year playing career predominantly spent in the Premier League through spells at Wimbledon, Charlton Athletic and Middlesbrough.
A talented and versatile forward over a 17-year career primarily spent in the Premier League, Euell hung up his boots in 2012 having scored 98 goals in 493 appearances, born in Lambeth and playing four times for England's Under-21s before switching allegiances through his father's lineage to make three senior international appearances for Jamaica. Since retiring, he has spent almost a decade working on becoming a coach, yet a significant obstacle still stands in his way. In 2021, there are only seven Black managers working at the 92 professional clubs in England. Patrick Vieira became only the 10th Black manager to work in the Premier League since its inception in 1992, out of more than 240 men given a chance.
Euell is a beneficiary of the Elite Coach Placement Programme, set up in 2017 and jointly funded by the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Association to create more opportunities for coaches from under-represented groups. Participants were embedded with coaching teams at various levels -- including Tottenham Hotspur assistant coach and former England international Chris Powell joining the England men's senior squad -- while Euell begun work with England's under-18s before moving to the U20s in 2019.
"We are still having to put schemes together to try and create more opportunities for diverse candidates, which we shouldn't have to," he explained.
"It should be the norm. Also, it is the mindset and the understanding of others of giving the opportunities. Why is there a difference? We need to continue those conversations, but on the other hand why are we still having them? It should be a normal thing that we are looking at the small amount of diversity we have on the side of the pitch, or even in boardrooms for that matter.
"It is still very s--- out there in the way things are happening and things that are still being allowed to happen. That's the disgusting part of it: that it is being allowed to happen.
The 2009 incident was not Euell's first encounter with racism. He was just 18 when abused while playing for Wimbledon at Bolton's old Burnden Park stadium during the club's infamous "Crazy Gang" era, a period he subsequently described as "the school of hard knocks." It happened again in 2006 when 23-year-old fan David Harton was given a three-year banning order and a £120 fine for abusing Euell while playing for Middlesbrough against Liverpool.
While defending Harton, solicitor David Scourfield argued: "My client was disappointed at the lack of effort from the 'Boro players. Having watched the game on television myself, I have to agree with his sentiments."
The conversation around race has advanced since, but it is often hard to tell just how far.
"When we talk about the way things are evolving and social media is a big part of that, that's where people's voices are now," said Euell. "That's where it is people that are either sitting behind computers or controlling the platforms who are allowing them to put them out there. Yes, there are people who want to put it out there but there are people who can prevent that from happening.
"That's one of the big issues. People are not doing enough in certain industries to prevent, eradicate and educate. There still seems to be this idea it'll take a certain event for companies to act."
The subject of race again came to the fore at the end of this summer, during which the England team were not universally praised for taking a knee during their Euro 2020 matches, even provoking criticism from some conservative MPs.
"Why that's being questioned, I don't know," said Euell. "Maybe the divide that's in the country at the moment, people not wanting to listen to the reasons why it is being done. I don't know how clearer it can be said. For those who still want to object to it, that's the conversations we keep saying need to happen.
"When I was growing up wanting to be a footballer, it was about knowing that there weren't that many Black players representing myself and other Black players. That started to grow, seeing the likes of Brendon Batson, John Barnes, Cyrille Regis and loads of other greats do it, my aim was going to be like them.
"When I started playing, I wanted to help encourage the next generation. Now I'm on the other side of the line and I've seen Keith Alexander, Chris Powell, Chris Hughton, Darren Moore all doing their thing and I go into that coaching world, that's what I want to go and do because of those guys.
"Eventually, when I get the opportunity, that's what I want to be doing for the next generation. So, I keep doing what I'm doing so that can help bring a change not just for myself but for others also."
Yet that fight can be draining for many. Former Liverpool and England winger Barnes is widely regarded as one of the finest players of his generation, yet he is still without a management job since a four-month stint at Tranmere Rovers in 2009. The 57-year-old gave an interview to the Sunday Times earlier this month in which he stated his desire to be a manager again, but "I know I won't be given an opportunity until the perception of a Black manager's worth in relation to a white manager's worth is fairer."
So does it put Euell off staying in the game?
"No, not at all," he replied. "It is not something that drives me even more, either. But I can be a voice and use my platform to help educate others and show that it doesn't matter what the colour of my skin is, I'm still going to look to do what I want to do to help make things better and produce better players. That's my role."
It's another chapter for Euell in a life that has seen many challenges, including losing a baby as a stillbirth in 2001 and being declared bankrupt in 2011 when his finances were "mishandled" during a property venture. Euell's empathy is evident in his desire to help the next generation given the adversity that faces Black coaches.
"I was always good at having that rapport with younger people and just understanding them, trying to put yourself in their shoes," says Euell, who has played a key role in advancing the careers of Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, Fulham winger Ademola Lookman and Aston Villa defender Ezri Konsa, among others.
"I found that an easy transition from my playing days. You are actually with them at a really important time in their lives. I found that a great responsibility to have and made sure I got to know them and their parents and make sure we can work together in trying to achieve both dreams for them, academically and professionally."
Euell began his coaching badges during the 2006-07 season but was stop-start in his progress until picking up the thread properly when returning to Charlton in 2011. After his final season as a player at 35, he began a part-time role with the club's under-16s before supplementing that work by supporting under-18 coaches Paul Hart and Steve Avery.
Later, Euell spent three years at St George's Park -- England's hub for training coaches and the national teams across all age groups -- working on his Advanced Youth Award and his A licence, which led to his Pro Licence and a job in the England set-up. So far he has applied for management roles at Championship, League One and League Two level.
"There were some where I haven't had a call-back, there have been a couple of interviews and on a couple of occasions, it was the [lack of] experience reason why I wasn't offered it," he said. "How can you get experience if you aren't given the opportunity? It is easy to go for someone thinking, 'We know what he's about,' because they've had 15 jobs before."
So, how high does Euell set his ambitions now?
"There's no ideal job," he said. "It's more, 'Can I go and coach or manage at the highest level?' I set myself that target as a player and did it. Now I want to achieve that as a coach or manager.
"What the pathway looks like, I don't know. The immediate for me is Charlton want to get promoted and I've got to do all that I can to make that happen come the end of the season. That's where my day to day is, being away with England is about the continuity of playing and progressing on the pitch and try to help them in their pathways. And to keep improving to be a better person."