Black History Month: Reflecting on the leaders of PFC’s title-winning team

In the history of the English Premier League, three of the 14 winning captains are Black, and none of the title-winning managers are. To add more context to that point, only 10 managers have ever taken charge of a Premier League club in the competition’s 30 year history, and this season only one team has had a Black player captain the team most frequently.

This isn’t a perfect sample size or comparison, but it illustrates a big problem in soccer: the racial bias put upon leadership positions both on and off the pitch.

Given this, the importance of Pa-Modou Kah and Jamar Dixon as the leaders of the Pacific FC team that won the 2021 Canadian Premier League Championship cannot be understated. It’s difficult to know with absolute certainty, but it appears to be the only time in top-level football that a team has won a trophy with both a Black head coach and Black captain.

“It was amazing to see,” says Pacific FC right-back Kunle Dada-Luke. “Seeing how hard both people worked to achieve the goal that we all had during that season, it was memorable for all of us.”

“Just sharing the pitch with them, how hard we worked to get there and seeing that picture of them, that’s when we realize all our hard work paid off. It doesn’t matter what happens, if you follow the game plan then you’re destined for greatness. So it was a special moment just seeing that and witnessing it live.”

Dada-Luke says he didn’t have many Black coaches or leaders in soccer while growing up so watching Kah and Dixon lead the team to the Canadian Premier League title in 2021 was impactful for him.

“I didn’t have any Black coaches really teaching me about the game when I was growing up. Pa was my first Black coach and it meant a lot to me. Seeing how far he’s come and just knowing anything’s possible. It doesn’t matter how you look, if you have a dream, and you’re good enough, it’s attainable.”

“It’s just rare”

The image of Kah and Dixon leading the team on the pitch and on the sideline resonated with many people during the 2021 season and during the subsequent title-winning celebrations. But Dixon says he didn’t fully realize the gravity of the moment until after it happened.

“I didn’t even take that in until later on. But it’s extremely monumental what we’ve done here. It’s very rare, you don’t see that. Especially how everything was (in 2020) and everyone was exposed to so much more through social media. But, for me, it wasn’t just being the captain and having a Black coach and dealing with so many difficulties, we were still having to manage it on a professional level with the players.”

“It was well worth it in the end though. I think it was extremely special, for not only us, but for the football community to really see that. Because, you know, you can’t write that story. It’s just rare. It’s rare, it happened that way, and what’s meant to be is meant to be. It was definitely one of the top moments in my career just because it was a statement. It’s hard to find the exact words now. It was just extremely important for the game. And it was an honour to be in that position at that time.”

An example of the rarity of having a Black head coach or Black captain was mentioned at the beginning of this article, but just because that has historically been the case, doesn’t mean it needs to continue. Notably, Dixon’s post-retirement move into the Pacific FC Front Office is another important step on the path towards having more Black players, coaches, and staff in leadership positions in the soccer world.

And Dada-Luke, having not had a Black coach growing up, knows the infrastructure needs to improve in Canada and sees that happening.

“It should definitely change. There’s always gonna be room for improvement, you just have to give it time. I think with time you’re gonna see it, and seeing Pa and Jamar win the championship with Pacific will open doors.”