Gloucestershire recently played host to a Football Black List celebration event at Ashton Gate – a fantastic evening spent celebrating the Black heroes in the South West.
The Football Black List (FBL) regional celebrations – held across the Country – have been supported exclusively by the Football Association. Each event has seen the FBL team come together with the County FAs in the area, as well as Black community and grassroots leaders, to create something very special.
The events have also featured panels with Black leaders from a range of positions in football. The aim is to shine a spotlight on inspirational figures and highlight the various pathways into working in the game. Gloucestershire FA is continuing to bring the contributions and achievements of our award winners to the fore; this week, we caught up with local match official OJ Olagunju.
Can you tell us about your experience in Football and the award you have won?
I am still surprised to be nominated by someone and even shocked to have received an award for my services to refereeing. I did my refereeing course in 2006 whilst at university, mainly to continue involvement in football after getting too many injures while playing. I did not plan to still be involved for all these years.
Due to circumstances, I decided to step away from being active as a Referee so trained to be an Observer to continue my involvement. This new role helped me make a positive impact to the development and progression of referees. I’m now in my fifth season now so gained lots of experience and settled in well. By working closer and learning from many elite Observers, I am continuing my development and excited about the opportunity to progress further.
It was an honour and privilege to receive the award. However, I don’t see it as a personal achievement because it was down to many people that have supported me over the last 17 years - mentors, coaches, and confidants - so I dedicate it to them.
“It is an opportunity to spotlight and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black individuals from the past, despite the history of racism and oppression. Those individuals shaped what many of us have the advantage to enjoy today.” – OJ Olagunju
How has football impacted your life?
Although it was not planned, being involved in refereeing provided me with something to look forward to away from usual work and family life. With young family, it can be a bit challenging at times when I was still active referee. However, in my new role, I have managed to strike a good balance of spending great times with my little ones and still enjoying the opportunity to help develop referees.
October is Black History Month. How important is it that we celebrate this campaign?
Over the years, especially recent years, I learnt and read a lot in terms of history so using the month of October to celebrate Black History Month is an opportunity to spotlight and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black individuals from many decades ago in the UK, despite the history of racism and oppression. Those individuals shaped what many of us have the advantage to enjoy today. So, it’s an opportunity to reflect on inclusion and shape a future for all to enjoy.
“My uncle's kindness and affection for everyone that crossed his path had no limit. Kindness to others matters.” – OJ Olagunju
What more can we do to support historically underrepresented communities?
The murder of George Floyd in America over three years ago brought race relations to the surface across the world. Previously, discussion on race and racism are difficult topic but since the terrible event, many people are comfortable to discuss this topic and reflect on their own experience. The footballing community in the UK have been very proactive in my view. For me, the football community just need to continue the following - inclusive spaces, active listening and learning and improving by keeping up with latest trends and best practices.
Are there any inspirational people that you look up to?
My uncle who passed away a couple of years ago was the only inspirational person that shaped the person I have become. He always sees the positive in every given situation and importantly, he had high hopes for the future. His kindness and affection for everyone that crossed his path had no limit. He always reminds us that no matter what situation you found yourself in, someone else is going through a lot worse than us. Importantly, kindness to others does matter.