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Stormzy exclusive interview: Rapper launches Merky FC to fight racial inequality in football

Stormzy and adidas have announced a partnership with 10 brands, including Sky Sports, to come together on a multi-year initiative, Merky FC - a programme committed to enhancing and protecting diverse representation in the football industry

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Stormzy has launched Merky FC - a programme committed to enhancing and protecting diverse representation in the football industry

Stormzy hopes his new Merky FC initiative "can drive change" after figures showed just 6.7 per cent of senior roles in football are taken by black or mixed heritage people – a statistic the rapper has called "embarrassing".

Stormzy and adidas have announced a partnership with 10 leading brands including Sky Sports, to come together on a multi-year initiative, Merky FC - a programme committed to enhancing and protecting diverse representation in the football industry.

Merky FC is a new movement that will affect change across the industry by addressing the lack of diversity off the pitch in football and providing access to a host of multi-year, paid professional placements and opportunities across the industry.

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Stormzy says he hopes Merky FC can inspire and help more people from diverse backgrounds to succeed in the football industry

The careers programme will commence in January 2023, with all 10 partners - which also include Manchester United, Fulham and LADBible - supporting with opportunities in operations and community to creative and marketing within their businesses, in a bid to change the game.

The campaign's launch also comes after the Football Association's second annual report on the Football Leadership Diversity Code showed English clubs are failing to meet six out of eight pledged targets.

Speaking to Sky Sports News about the lack of senior people in football that are black or mixed heritage, Stormzy said: "The statistics are shocking. I think it's down to visibility a lot. Even growing up we didn't see any black managers, black people on our screens in the media.

"So I think when Ian Wright comes along, Thierry Henry comes along, we know we can kick ball - we've always known we can kick ball - but in terms of the roles and the other positions in the industry we don't see our representation, and representation is important.

"When you can't see it, it's not always easy to believe it."

Stormzy says the lack of senior roles in football taken by black or mixed heritage people is 'shocking'
Image: Stormzy says the lack of senior roles in football taken by black or mixed heritage people is 'shocking'

Asked specifically about just 6.7 per cent of senior roles in the game being taken by people who are black or mixed heritage, despite 39 per cent of footballers being black or mixed heritage, the 29-year-old said: "That statistic is embarrassing. I don't think it is anything short of embarrassing.

"If you can see that representation on the pitch with all the players, then it should at least be backed up by people in positions of power, positions of influence outside of being an actual footballer.

"Hopefully with what we're doing we can drive a change."

Here, in an exclusive Q&A with Sky Sports News, Manchester United fan Stormzy discusses the launch of Merky FC, empowering young black people and being "starstruck" after meeting Sergio Aguero in Dubai...

What does success with Merky FC look like for you?

I'm just really proud that we have got to a stage where it is out in the world and we've launched it. Massive credit to my team at Merky and massive credit to adidas because with an idea of this stature and this size and this ambition, people need to come together. It is all great us having these ideas. That's why I say massive shout out to adidas because as soon as we came forward with the idea they were full steam ahead. My idea of success for it is just more brands coming on, different corners of the industry, different partners of the industry and just adding to the starting eleven that we got. And just seeing people thrive in those roles. I always say with anything that we do, I hope that in 20 years I see someone and they're the something something at Manchester United or I am currently doing this at Sky Sports or I am currently doing this at LADbible and that was because of Merky FC and the initiative that we started. Seeing more young black people in these roles, more black people in positions of power away from being on the pitch. And just seeing that thrive and grow and inviting more people to come along and offer those opportunities for the young people.

The organisations have pledged roles exclusively to people of black heritage aged between 16-25 starting from January 2023
Image: The organisations have pledged roles exclusively to people of black heritage aged between 16-25 starting from January 2023

What do you hope to bring from this partnership?

I just hope to inspire change, which sometimes sounds like such a worldwide, such a massive ambition and sometimes it sounds unrealistic. I always hope that 20, 30, 40 years from now, there is some kid who has no idea who I am - I'm way too old, he don't care about Stormzy - but there is some initiative that we started like now which allows them to have some ambition and a dream and a future. Just keep the ball rolling, domino effect and hopefully that inspires my kids', kids, kids, kids and we put some infrastructure and real change there that actually allows them to be stronger and more empowered.

Who do you consider trailblazers in football and the football industry?

Ian Wright. I adore that man, I have so much love and so much respect for him. Even his journey from a footballer and him now, everything he does and how unashamedly he stands in his views and his beliefs. Ian was always one for me. Raheem Sterling, I've always said that the stick that he used to get from the media, we could smell that a mile off. And he always had to be brave in the face of everything and stand for what we believed in. Marcus Rashford as well. Being a musician, I think it's easier for me to say, 'Yo, that's not right', I feel like I might have a lot more freedom to do that because of my career and the structure in my career. Whereas footballers they have employers, they have the FA, they have a lot of things where they might feel restricted in terms of being the truest versions of themselves. So when I speak of Ian, Raheem and Marcus - they're standing for something. So big up all of them.

Stormzy with former Arsenal footballer Ian Wright during A Very Merky Christmas, the first ever Christmas party held by Stormzy's charity, Merky Foundation, which is being held at Fairfield Halls in his hometown of Croydon, with free tickets available for people who live in the south London borough. Picture date: Friday December 3, 2021.
Image: Stormzy 'adores' former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright

Who were your role models and what made you become a Man Utd fan?

What do they call us? Cockney Reds. I'm a Cockney Red. My favourite player growing up was Rio [Ferdinand], I love Rio. Because I'm dead at football but I liked to think if I was good at football I would be like Rio. I got the height, I got the strength, I got the physicality. Even my nephew supports Man City, growing up I just saw Man Utd winning all the time and I said I want a piece of that.

You had the privilege of going to Old Trafford - were you a bit starstruck the last time you went?

I was mad starstruck.

It surprises people to see that Stormzy gets starstruck...

I get starstruck all the time. If I see anyone - I've literally got a folder in my phone called 'Fan Boy Mike'. It's got like 70 pictures of me when I saw [Sergio] Aguero in Dubai - and he crushed my heart that day when he done that [scored against QPR to win Man City the title in 2012]. I said to him, 'I hate you, but I love you. Let me get a picture'. Whenever I see anyone that I've grown up watching on tele or who have inspired me or who I respect or who I admire, I'm like, 'Yo, let me get a selfie'. That there on Sky Sports, I was sweating, I was flustered. But it was sick.

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British rapper and Manchester United fan Stormzy joins the MNF panel and shares his post-match thoughts after his beloved Red Devils defeated Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford

Does doing stuff like that make you feel a bit normal? Because you're a massive star in what you do...

I guess it's normal until that happens. I was with all of my nephews and we had the courtesy of going to the side of the pitch with adidas, they took us down there. You can take some pictures, there's a few people there. And then someone from Sky Sports came over - I thought they were telling us to keep the noise down because we were talking a lot - and said, 'Stormzy, do you want to go on there?' I was like, 'What now?' And they were like, 'Yeah, yeah'. My nephews were like, 'Go, go'. So I went on mad sweating and they were like, 'Yo, Stormzy. What do you think?' And I am just looking around like this is insane. It was normal until that point and then I was like OK.

Which track would you choose for the team to walk out to?

That's a good question. It would be, 'Clash', featuring myself with Dave because that's like a get in your zone [song]. That's like a, 'We're coming to mash something up'.

What's your all-star football five-a-side team?

That's tough. I'm going to get cooked for this. My goalkeeper is [Peter] Schmeichel. My defender I'm going Rio, I think Rio. That's my GOAT. I love Rio. [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and then R9 [Ronaldo] up top. That's all time.

And your music all-star football five-a-side team?

Dave. I know Dave is good at football. I put myself in goal, I know I'm a good goalkeeper. I'm a goalkeeper by choice and not because I was rubbish and everyone said I had to go in goal. I am a goalkeeper by choice, that's who I wanted to be. I'm in goal, put Dave somewhere. Avelino is actually pretty good. Wretch 32 is good apparently. I say apparently because I have never seen him play. I've seen Av play, I've never seen Wretch play but he is meant to be cold. Who else is good at football?

AJ Tracey?

I don't think AJ is cold like that. AJ is my brother but I don't know if AJ is cold like that. Chunkz, my brother. I don't know if he is that good. But he scores goals, he scores goals that I know he can't believe that he scored. Me, Chunkz, Dave, Avelino and Wretch. That sounds meady because Avelino is dead. He's got a nice touch, he's got a bit of flare to him. But they've got me in goal they should be alright.

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Roma boss Jose Mourinho made his music video debut with this cameo in Stormzy's new video which references his infamous post-match interview from 2014

Stormzy was speaking to Sky Sports News after announcing the launch of his collaborative venture with adidas, #Merky FC - a programme committed to enhancing and protecting diverse representation in the football industry.

#Merky FC is open to all. Candidates can visit merkyfc.com to find out more and register their interest in the placements available, ahead of the nationwide application process commencing from tomorrow, November 4.

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