For the last 18 months or so, Blackwell’s name has been conspicuous by its absence from the managerial merry-go-round. That’s because the 53-year-old, one of the most qualified managers in English football, truly believes that when it comes to coaching, travel broadens the mind.
A few years ago in between jobs it was Brazil, France and Italy; this time it’s been Nigeria and the USA, before an amazing stint helping the UK-based charity ‘Coaching for Hope’ in Burkina Faso.
Blackwell said: “It’s great to be back in management, it’s what I do and I enjoy it.
“I’ve been out of the game for two years but have been travelling all over the world. I’ve been looking at the standards of coaching and football in general, so I have kept myself busy.”
And it’s out of Africa where the former Leeds and Sheffield United boss has emerged “a better coach – and hopefully a better human being”.
Travelling on behalf of the League Managers Association, Blackwell visited three ‘Coaching for Hope’ projects all using football to help disadvantaged communities help themselves.
First came an illegal gold mine where Comic Relief funding is being used to persuade parents to send their children to school instead of down the mine.
Next an under-resourced orphanage which needs £22,000 for a truck to become self-sufficient, and a coaching camp with 25 Young Leaders training to go back into their communities and make a difference.
Blackwell explained: “I did a presentation for Coaching for Hope at the last England game at Wembley before the European Championship, and they asked me if I wanted to go out and coach in Burkina Faso.
“I had always wanted to do something worthwhile on the charity side so I was only too happy to oblige.
“What really appealed to me about this project was that it meant going to areas where deprivation was rife. It just makes you feel so humble going to somewhere like that and being able to give something back.
“I have been so fortunate, I have been able to really enjoy my career, and giving something back really mattered to me – and this just seemed to tick the boxes. It included Aids awareness, and social and welfare issues. I have been to Africa before and know exactly what it’s like. I remember 20-odd years ago when Bob Geldof was swearing on the television, and I didn’t appreciate it at the time.
“But when I went to Burkina Faso and saw what was happening with the gold mines, I felt really angry and suddenly I knew how he must have felt.
“Now I was there and I just felt we had to do something, what could we do, how could we help. It was very powerful and it does make me angry when I think there are so many people in the world who complain about things, and wouldn’t get out of bed for £500 a week when the people I met were earning 50p a day, if they were lucky, and working long hours risking their lives. It was very humbling.
“We haven’t got a clue really, and I’m talking about some people with a lot of money, like some footballers. They ought to go out there and see first hand the difference a pound or two can make to a family. I think how can that be right? I think people should be made to go out there and they would come back with a far greater awareness of how lucky we all are.”
Now Blackwell is back in the game – and facing an uphill battle with League One strugglers Bury. But, undaunted by years spent “firefighting” financial meltdown at Leeds and Sheffield United, his desire to improve himself and come back stronger burns brighter than ever.
“I believe you should always be learning. Even in Burkina Faso, they taught me things about myself.
“I’m one of the most qualified coaches in the UK, my record as a manager puts me in the top 10 per cent, I have a 44 per cent win rate; three Championship play-off finals, an FA Cup semi-final.
“These experiences make me a better coach, and hopefully will make me a better human being. You have to go to places that keep challenging you, and I would definitely say that my experiences in Burkina Faso were a challenge.”
Kevin is helping Coaching for Hope raise £22,000 for the flat-bed truck to help the orphanage become sustainable. If you can help contact firstname.lastname@example.org or donate £5 by texting GOAL11 £5 to 70070. Coaching for Hope is an official charity partner of The Football Association. To find out more follow @coachingforhope on Twitter.
This article was produced for Coaching for Hope by ConnectSport, and published by the Manchester Evening News in October 2012.