Merky FC: Stormzy’s initiative to boost off-pitch diversity in football


First publishing, then education – now football.

Not content with launching his own books imprint and sponsoring a new generation of Cambridge graduates, Stormzy has turned his attention to Britain’s biggest sport, in an attempt to make football as diverse behind the scenes as it is on the pitch.

In partnership with Adidas and 10 other major brands including Manchester United, Fulham FC and Sky Sports, the musician has launched a scheme to help young black people secure jobs and leadership roles at all levels of the game.

While football might appear diverse on the pitch, just 6.7% of senior roles in the sport were held by people with black or mixed-black heritage, Stormzy said.

“We barely see any black team managers, coaches, sports presenters, assistants, ops managers, sales managers, accountants, marketing managers or physiotherapists – the list goes on, nor are many of us even aware of the vast roles within the football industry.”

The new initiative, named Merky FC after the musician’s philanthropic foundation, aims to address this discrepancy by asking partners to provide long-term, paid professional placements, in a programme due to start in January 2023.

“On the pitch, we do our thing. But off the pitch, it’s like we don’t exist,” Stormzy says in a launch video. “That’s all about to change.”

The brands involved in the Merky FC initiative will each provide work placements, from operations and community to creative and marketing, within their businesses in an effort to change the game. The programme will be available to young people of black heritage aged 18 to 24.

In an interview with Sky Sports News, Stormzy said: “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 now, which allows them to have some ambition and a dream and a future.”

The project is the musician’s latest effort to increase opportunities for young black people, as part of a philanthropic mission he has said will be a “lifetime commitment”. Since 2018 Stormzy has been funding scholarships at Cambridge University for black students, in a scheme that now sponsors 10 places each year.

In 2020 he gave £500,000 to an organisation funding grants for disadvantaged students taking on other educational activities, later committing to donating £10m over a decade to black British causes.

He has also launched a publishing imprint for “underrepresented voices”, Merky Books, with Penguin Random House, and supports a new writers’ prize.

“We welcome what Stormzy is doing in addition to the work that is already going on across the space,” said Tony Burnett, the chief executive of Kick It Out, which campaigns against racism and broader discrimination in football and runs a similar mentoring programme called Raise Your Game.

Solving the problem was “complex” and an “uphill battle”, Burnett said, not least because many of the 92 clubs in the football league were unwilling to be fully transparent about their own record on representation.

“Even the numbers that we saw Stormzy quote today are not necessarily 100% accurate, because we don’t know – because clubs will not tell us – what the representation data looks like across all areas of their employee base. And until we know that we can’t even assess the extent of the problem.

“We need collaboration, so we are more than happy to work with Stormzy or whoever else is trying to drive this agenda.”

Paul Elliott, who was Chelsea FC and the premier league’s first black captain, told the Guardian that while he wasn’t aware of the details of Stormzy’s scheme, “it’s wonderful to see talented and conscious role models like Stormzy using their power and influence to empower current and future generations of young people from diverse backgrounds, by creating training and potential pathways to employment within football.

“There’s a vast talent pool out there in these communities, across so many different areas, and there have to be pathways through football and sport to embrace them.”