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New PFA chairman Omar Beckles determined to be ‘voice for the voiceless’

Omar Beckles was appointed PFA chairman in February (Kieran Cleeves/PA).
Omar Beckles was appointed PFA chairman in February (Kieran Cleeves/PA).

New Professional Footballers’ Association chairman Omar Beckles has vowed players will never be silenced on his watch.

The Leyton Orient defender wants to be a “voice for the voiceless”, having looked on from the outside for so long.

It had initially been a quiet start to life as chairman until former member Gary Lineker was taken off air by the BBC for his tweet comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany.

It saw PFA members contact the union, looking for clarification and advice over their broadcast commitments and wanting to show solidarity with Lineker and his colleagues, including former members like Ian Wright and Alan Shearer, this month.

A fast-moving situation ultimately saw the PFA confirm Premier League players would not be interviewed by the BBC, in the men and women’s game, and Beckles is adamant the union was right to take a stand.

“It’s so hard because it’s a very political situation, but where there’s power, there’s politics,” he tells the PA news agency.

“It so happens that football is massive in this country, it contributes a lot to the economy. There’s a platform we’ve been given as players and we like to use our platform in a purposeful way.

“And why not? Why not look to give back and speak up for the voiceless?

“He’s (Lineker) expressed something that represents a part of the population and they have supported him as well.

Barrow v Leyton Orient – Sky Bet League Two – Holker Street
Beckles (left) wants to keep players at the heart of the PFA (Will Matthews/PA).

“The politics aside, what we don’t want is that players’ voices are silenced. That’s something we can’t allow.

“There’s this collective approach and this need for us to be able to have our voices heard. The narrative is being a voice for the voiceless.

“We want to make sure there’s not one rule for footballers and another for others in a position of power who can do exactly what Gary did but get away with it. That’s where the union’s that champion.”

Football and politics have become intertwined in the last few years especially, showing the power of players’ voices.

Then Health Secretary Matt Hancock criticised Premier League footballers, telling them to play their part in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as pressure grew for them to take pay cuts in 2020.

The PFA responded by highlighting a 12-month 30 per cent salary cut in the top flight would cost the Government £200million in tax.

Later, Marcus Rashford forced the Government into two high-profile U-turns over free school meals.

“Football has also done a lot to help change society as a whole,” added Beckles from Leyton Orient’s Chigwell training base. “So many players have championed certain things and done great things for people.”

Despite a political chat, Beckles says he is not in place to be “a specialist” and know the ins and outs for stakeholders. That is for chief executive Maheta Molango, who has helped reshape the PFA since his appointment two years ago.

Instead, he will bridge the gap between the dressing room and the boardroom, having replaced John Mousinho in February after Mousinho retired to take charge at Portsmouth.

“I’ve seen John pour himself into a role. I’ve seen what it takes from him,” said Beckles, who stressed the nearly 80 per cent of current National League players who are former PFA members will not be forgotten.

“It’s a massive challenge, but I felt like I was best placed. As a young, current player who could bring a bit of a continuity moving forward.

“I’m trying to assume the position of a servant and know what’s at the heart of the members. What would the legacy look like?

“What are some of the things I would like to really address? Player welfare is central to it all, like fixture congestion at the top of the game.

“We look at the demand put on players, as if to say, they’re not humans, you’re a machine. It’s almost like this dehumanisation takes place.

“It’s like, ‘We’re going to increase fixtures in the men and women’s game, you can crack on and you’ll be all right. You’re footballers, just stick to football. You don’t really need opinion’.

“This is why we need a union to be able to have that collective voice.”

Beckles only reached the Football League in 2016, having spent the early years of his career playing for Boreham Wood, Billericay, Kettering, Histon and Aldershot before joining Accrington.

Three years at Shrewsbury and a season at Crewe followed before he returned to London in 2021 to sign for Orient, having grown up in Leytonstone.

The 31-year-old, who came through Glenn Hoddle’s academy, has gone from working as a PE teacher, coaching on a Sunday and having promises broken at clubs to being a leader within the game.

He is likely to end the season a title winner, with Orient six points clear at the top of League Two, but is still taking time to assess his new position.

“It’s still all so surreal. I’ve come a long way. I didn’t envisage playing over 250 league games while in a non-league wrestle,” he says.

“I’m talking to kids now who are going through the same sort of scenarios like, ‘How do I chase my dream but make ends meet?’

“You’re so busy trying to forge a career you’re not even looking at what that career might look like.

“I’ve definitely stumbled into this role and everything else that’s happened in my career. I consider it an absolute blessing and a privilege.

“I’ve gone through the school of hard knocks. People were excellent for me and I want to be excellent for them.”