There’s nothing quite like a bit of controversy to publicise a book launch and Sol Campbell though has gone all-out, embracing an almost comical Ali G-like stance in his forthcoming autobiography—serialised in The Sunday Times.
According to the 73-time capped England defender, he would have been England captain for 10 years—if he wasn’t black.
Campbell graduated through the youth ranks at Tottenham Hotspur and soon became the first team’s linchpin, culminating in him captaining his side to League Cup glory in 1999. He became an England regular and eventually became too big a name for Spurs to pin down. Despite the defender making assurances that he would never leave Spurs for bitter rivals Arsenal, he committed the cardinal sin by allowing his contract to elapse and join the Gunners in 2001, for free.
Evidently no stranger to controversy, Campbell ‘s ill-founded Is it coz I is black? claims have somewhat backfired given no professionals, former or present, support his beliefs.
Speaking via the BBC’s 5-Live programme, Ian Wright disagreed with Campbell and stated that there were more suitable contenders to wear the armband during his era.
Sol has never had the demeanour where he is aggressive on the pitch and put people in their place. People say David Beckham wasn’t like that, but he only had to raise his eyebrows to put someone in their place. Maybe Sol could have grown into it but it’s down to the manager who he wants. Sol was more than good enough to be a captain but I personally believe there were better candidates at the time.
Campbell squarely accuses the English Football Association of racism. “I believe if I was white, I would’ve been England captain for over 10 years. It’s as simple as that.” What is simple in fact, is that given the FA’s notorious and dedicated investment in tackling racism in English football, the claims are both counter-intuitive and above all embarrassing.
Could he have a point though? Former FA chairman Lord Triesman stated that despite the FA not being ‘consciously’ racist, “there was an assumption of the type of person who should captain England.”
Campbell argues that he was best candidate for the England captaincy during his Three Lions tenure and singled-out Michael Owen for particular criticism, “he was a fantastic forward but nowhere near captain material”.
It’s worth noting that Owen only held the captaincy in David Beckham’s absence through injury, plus (as Sven Goran-Eriksson pointed out at the time) the then-Liverpool striker was also reigning European Footballer of the Year.
According to the man himself, Sol Campbell burns bridges in order to build new ones—“If there is another reason [not racism], I’m listening”.
Let’s commence with the accurate notion that England coaches are the ones who choose the captain. If the FA did have an assumption of the type person who should captain England, is it even remotely possible that would Tony Adams, imprisoned for drink driving among other transgressions, would have fit the bill?
Surely one of Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Eriksson, Steve McClaren or Fabio Capello would have complained if they couldn’t pick their own captain during their respective England tenures? And rather crucially, why would a racist institution appoint a Swede or an Italian as head coach of the national team?
The long-term captains during Campbell’s England career were Tony Adams, Alan Shearer, David Beckham, John Terry and Steve Gerrard—all players who led by example on the pitch.
Jamaican-born John Barnes, who experienced football racism at its height during the 1980s, disagreed with Campbell’s claims.
There will be a lot of white players who think, ‘I should have been captain’. I don’t think any of the managers involved, from Sven Goran-Eriksson to Glenn Hoddle, would have not appointed Sol as captain because he was black. I don’t think [his claims are] helpful. It can make people think you’re playing the race card again, which is very arbitrary. You can’t just always call the race card when it isn’t obvious. Sol may feel that way but, knowing the people involved and the way football moved on from the 1980s, that would not have been a factor.
Since Campbell possesses the necessary qualities to carry out a significant ambassador role in football, and sport in general, these comments are hugely disappointing and threaten the damage the good work achieved by the FA to date.
It’s difficult not to conclude that Campbell has a huge chip on his shoulder, confirmed by an additional extract from his autobiography, highlighting a flaw in his character, whereby he fell-out with his older brother—a lifelong Spurs supporter.
Whilst no-one can deny Campbell’s bravery in making the move across North London, he perhaps misjudged the magnitude of the tremors such a transfer would cause.
In his first game back at Tottenham, Arsenal’s new man was notoriously subjected to vicious abuse which culminated with him seeing his brother among the Spurs crowd. “A knife to the heart” was how a dismayed Campbell described the news that his brother Tony continued to support his lifelong club, despite Sol’s own move. Since then the two became estranged. What was Tony supposed to do, re-program himself? Campbell made his decision and, even now, expects others to blindly follow.
“What’s the point in having a bridge you can’t access? I say burn it.” Well done Sol, mission accomplished.