The Brighton manager, Graham Potter, has been sleeping rough to publicise a campaign to end homelessness. Can he make a difference?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today: The manager who’s trying to change attitudes to social problems.
English managers in the Premier League are few and far between.
Dean Smith has swapped Aston Villa for Norwich and Eddie Howe has just joined Newcastle. Then there’s Sean Dyche, who’s battling relegation at Burnley.
But there is one English boss who stands out: Graham Potter at Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Seagulls – one of the smaller clubs in the top flight – are in seventh place, level on points with arguably the biggest, Manchester United.
Brighton have lost only twice this season. Their run includes a 0-0 draw with Arsenal and a stirring draw with Liverpool at Anfield. Two-nil down, they fought back to draw, 2-2.
“Trossard, good feet, good goal! Goodness gracious me! Shades of Mo Salah about that finish.”Sky Sports Football
But although Potter is weaving his magic on the field (sorry!), he’s casting his spell off it too.
Which gets us to The Big Sleep Out, an annual event organised by a Brighton charity called Off The Fence.
Graham Potter supports it – not just by speaking about it or by promoting it on social media but by taking part in sleep outs.
For him, social action is important. Yes, it goes down well with the fans but it talks too to his approach to life. Because Potter who has a masters degree in Social Intelligence, wants to know what makes people tick. Feelings – yours, mine, ours – matter.
“But this was just a way of… just to theorise some leadership concepts. Er, self-awareness, empathy, responsibility, motivation, building relationships are all things that I think you need when you’re coaching. And as much as you need to know about football, I think you need to know about people as well.”The Coaches’ Voice
Richie Mills, a journalist who reports on Brighton, has seen what happens when Potter’s theories are put into practice.
“For example, in September, him and his wife Rachel put on a pilates and meditation morning and they raised nearly five thousand pounds for the charity. So yeah, he has a history of helping out where he can, using his platform to really good use…”Richie Mills
Potter admits he got the “easy” version of sleeping rough. He slept on cardboard mats inside the local church hall.
But Brighton’s homelessness problem is real.
“Brighton has the region’s highest numbers, the charity shelter says one in every 75 people in the city is technically homeless. For our exclusive report, Amanda Akass has been talking to people in the city who are or have been homeless, among them a man who spent four months living in a sewer.”MP’s Newswatch
Potter is engaged by the issue. And of course his visibility as a public figure raises its profile in the community.
We are talking here about “influencer” culture.
More usually, it describes how popular personalities can be paid to showcase brands on social media. The power to change people’s shopping habits can be pretty profound.
But there’s more to it than that – as Potter’s uncomfortable night in his sleeping bag shows.
A recent study by the political science professor Salma Mousa of Yale University revealed that anti-Muslim crimes in Liverpool had fallen significantly. Why? In part because of the impact of Mo Salah, the Liverpool footballer who makes no attempt to hide his Muslim faith.
She says she was inspired to undertake her research by the pro-Muslim chants of Liverpool fans.
“If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, he scores another few then I’ll be muslim too! If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, sitting in a mosque that’s where I wanna be! Mo Salah…”Islam Channel, YouTube
Now you can argue that’s a sign of Scouse humour but Professor Mousa concluded that positive exposure to celebrities who represent something can change attitudes. Prejudice is challenged.
So it doesn’t take a big leap to see how Graham Potter’s actions could have far-reaching consequences.
Not everyone is in favour of sleeping out to show solidarity with homeless people. Indeed, it could be counter-productive if it’s seen merely as gesture politics.
That’s why the social inclusion campaigner Jenica Frisque said “You cannot just wear a hijab for a day and understand the experiences of being a person that wears a hijab.”
A fair point.
In terms of visibility though, Potter’s solidarity with the homeless could be important.
The Big Issue picked up the story, showing it has currency beyond the world of football.
And as the Yale study noted, if visibility sparks real-world change in attitudes then Graham Potter’s actions could have positive consequences for the homeless.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Studio Klong.