“I’m the only coach in the Championship that I’m aware of, that is Black.” Ricky Khan is the backs coach for London Scottish and is a charismatic and inspiring individual. His statement exemplifies an outdated area of rugby, where ethnically diverse people are greatly underrepresented.
When speaking to him, his passion for coaching radiated through the zoom call. With his Guyanese heritage, his individuality is elevated throughout October’s Black History Month. However, year round, Khan never feels alone. His group of ‘Exiles’ provide the perfect comradery, week after week.
“It sounds funny, as in, I don’t not see colour, but I don’t when it comes to rugby and coaching. What I see is, we’re either a London Scottish team, or a Chinnor team, when I was there, or a Maidenhead team, or whoever that I’ve coached. That’s how it’s been, we’re all part of a unit, and I kind of like that mentality of being a unit all together.”
Khan spent the majority of his playing days with London Scottish’s local rivals, Richmond. After a mass player exodus, Richmond fell into administration in 1999, and ‘Shaka’ Khan relocated home to Lancashire. The Clitheroe original signed with the Preston Grasshoppers, before a broken leg and torn quad abruptly ended his playing days.
Now an RFU level three qualified coach, Khan believes that his journey to become a trailblazer happened rather unexpectedly. His first taste of coaching came through giving his housemates lifts to work at Wasps.
“If you look at my own sort of journey, it’s never been a kind of like, right, I want to be a Black coach climbing the ladder, it’s almost by default”, he told me.
“Friends of mine needed a lift to Wasps. They were coaching the minis and juniors, and I had a car. So, I would drive in there on Sunday morning, and then just end up getting involved in coaching that way, through that I was invited to coach the academy.”
Khan coached many international stars including Danny Cipriani and Christian Wade and is recognised as an official Wasps Legend: “It’s the Wasps Charitable Foundation for ex-players and coaches, but I’m amongst some of Wasps royalty, which is cool and a real honour to be in such company.”
Khan’s addictive enthusiasm shone through my laptop screen, as he proudly represented the London Scottish Lion embossed on his red and blue training jacket. The 42-year-old believes that a willing attitude is key for new coaches to succeed, but believes that education is essential for a diversified side-line.
“To get young, black or ethnic coaches coming through, they’ve got to ‘A’ want to do it. But ‘B’… I worked closely with the Berkshire County Diversity and Inclusion group, and there’s some brilliant people on there. And a lot of it came down to on the discussions we had, was about education, and being in schools.”
“What are we doing then, to make people young leaders? It’s not like Duke of Edinburgh, but it’s similar kind of stuff, giving people the responsibility to lead groups. That actually might give them the hunger to say, okay, you might become a teacher, or they might become a coach”.
“And I think that’s the pathway, it’s more education than anything else.”
A perfect example of Khan’s outstanding influence is Levi Meek. The two met at the Jamaica U23s training camp and at Maidenhead RFC, with Meek since going on to be a P.E teacher. Khan leaned back, and reminisced about an inspiring conversation the two had.
“He said that he was really proud to sort of see that there was a young Black guy, that was actually a head coach of a club that he was at.”
“And he said that he really looked up to the fact, it was almost like, well, ‘if he can do it, I can do it’”.
Bristol Rugby legend Paul Hull reached out to Khan and congratulated him on his ground-breaking achievements. This delighted Khan but reminded him about the constant push for a diversified rugby backroom.
“It [Hull’s praise] impacted me pretty well. He was the only Black guy to have actually been a Director of Rugby, or Head Coach at Premiership level, at the top level. Which in itself to me is a little bit alarming really, when you look at the stats, as in how few ethnic coaches there are.”
Along with Khan, Former Saracens captain Floyd Steadman, and Black rugby coaching pioneer Audley Lumsden also feature in the Berkshire Diversity and Inclusion Group.
“This group of people have been pathfinders, or have led the way, and I really look up to people like that.”
“And what I’ve learned about them, Jeremy Guscott, one of England’s best centres, said that Audley, if he hadn’t been injured, was one of the best ever players he’s played with.”
“I think he’s [Floyd Steadman] had quite a big influence on Maro Itoje. He’s actually said himself, what an influence someone like Floyd was.”
On a final note, Khan asked: “What can we do to have them say; I want to be like Ricky, I want to be like Floyd, I want to be like Audley, I want to be like Ellery Hanley, all these people that have gone and done it? And that’s the question I think we’ve really got to answer.”
For now, the Exiles coach will take each week as it comes, as he steers London Scottish through the choppy seas of the Championship.