Paul Elliott pauses briefly to collect his thoughts. He’s just been asked whether he believes there will be a black leader of the Football Association in his life time.
‘Up until this journey, I thought it was impossible,’ he answers.
‘This journey has made me believe that what I considered impossible, could be possible.’
Paul Elliott believed a black leader of the PFA was impossible, but now believes it is possible
No wonder Elliott is almost euphoric as he conducts this interview. It’s afternoon after the day before; Elliott reflecting on the launch of the Football Association’s historic Leadership Diversity Code – aimed at increasing equality in the top positions within the English game.
The former Chelsea defender – now chair of the FA’s inclusion advisory board – has been at the heart of developing the voluntary constitution that, it is hoped, will change the face of English football.
As he reflects on the last six months – and close to 700 zoom calls – Elliott’s first port of call is to acknowledge the figures that made it all possible.
He is quick to namecheck FA chief executive Mark Bullingham, who helped spawn the idea during a call with Elliott in May, and Edleen John, the recently appointed international affairs director.
The 56-year-old is also eager to acknowledge the input of FA chairman Greg Clarke – who came out fighting for Elliott after he was controversially declined a place on English football governing body’s board earlier – and Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and equity advisor Paul Cleal.
Then, of course, there are the players: Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, Tyrone Mings, Wes Morgan, Troy Deeney, Nikita Paris, Lucy Bronze, and Leah Williamson who played key roles in moulding the code.
It’s all very modest from Elliott. Yet, there is no escaping the fact he has been the driving force behind the project.
The fact that 40 clubs have already signed up speaks volumes for Elliott’s powers of persuasion.
The former Chelsea defender is now the chair of the FA’s inclusion advisory board
However, it’s already well documented that Southampton are the only top-flight club not to have become a founding member of the code.
Indeed, the topic is the elephant in this virtual room as we discuss the events of the previous 48 hours.
Yet, there is no hint of resentment from Elliott: ‘I had a really positive meeting with Southampton. They’re supporting our code, they just need to look internally to make sure the code it is the right fit, they should be afforded that.
‘If you said to me I was going to get 19 out of 20 clubs – happy days. I will do as much with Southampton as I would do with Rochdale to bring them to the party – I believe they will eventually join.
‘When I started this journey, I was nervous because it is the uncertainty because you just don’t know.
‘You’re talking to clubs and they are saying “yes we are going to be really supportive” – but until they say they are in you just don’t know.
Elliott is thankful to FA chairman Greg Clarke – who came out fighting for Elliott after he was controversially declined a place on English football’s governing body’s board earlier
‘The last month has been unbelievably stressful. The process caused sleepless nights because, for all the people who said they would commit, if they didn’t when would I see them again?
‘All the time I was thinking what if we only got a nominal take up or if those who said they would pledge didn’t. It could have been a devastating time.
‘I didn’t want to let people down. There was a pressure I placed on myself because even though I believed in it I could still not achieve what I wanted to achieve. There was a fear in my subconscious mind of what if. Thankfully it wasn’t like that, it was actually on the contrary.’
Beyond the highs of the last 48 hours, the run up to Tuesday’s launch has not been without its bumps.
Most significantly in July when Elliott was refused a place on the FA’s full board amid objection from the Premier League.
He is already a fixture at all FA board meetings, so the only tangible benefit Elliott would have had would have been a vote.
Elliott says he is proud of Tyrone Mings – who he believes will make a great future FA leader
Of course, however, an official position would have far greater symbolic meaning. Becoming the first black man on the FA board is still within reach, there is a certainly a will from within the FA for it to happen.
Elliott had just left a meeting with government home secretary Priti Patel when he discovered the veto.
The administrator hasn’t spoken of the rejection before, but he told Sportsmail: ‘I put on a front because I’ve had to put that on for 30 years.
‘But I’d be a liar if I said there wasn’t disappointment because, of course, there would be. But what I realised most was that people were more disappointed for me. I said to myself “look at what you’re trying to achieve” – I didn’t need a vote to do this.
‘The most important vote was the one I had from my chairman and CEO to give me the ability to represent the organisation and English football. But look, it was disappointing day – but I always say nothing before its time.’
That disappointment has now subsided and all Elliott feels now is a sense of pride.
Pride in Mings – who he believes has the makings of a future FA leader. Pride in Henderson for his ability to lead from he front.
Elliott also named Jordan Henderson as another player who can lead people off the pitch
‘I’ve built up up an excellent relationship with Tyrone over the past six months – I have to say he has got it,’ Elliott added.
‘Tyrone Mings is your optimum individual. He is more than a footballer, he can go to the stars. He is a leader of people.
‘Jordan Henderson was the same. Wes Morgan and Troy Deeney are also in that space.
‘The social conscience the modern day player has – they think differently to any other generation I’ve come across.
‘They want to do the right thing. They have a consciousness I’m in awe of.’