Sol Campbell is a bitter man isn’t he? He has more chips on his shoulder than a branch of Harry Ramsden’s. The former England defender has branded the Football Association ‘institutionally racist’ and claims he would have been captain of the national team for 10 years if he was white. Listen, I’d be the first to stick the boot into the FA. ‘Institutionally incompetent’ is how I’d describe them. But racist? Sorry, Sol but you’re wide of the mark there. Playing the race card is a pretty cheap attempt to blame the FA for your own lack of leadership attributes.
Sol Campbell, you won’t be surprised to learn, has an autobiography to flog. And his ‘Is it cos I is black?’ bitterness towards the FA clearly sells more copies of The Sunday Times, which is serialising his memoir, than tales of his dalliances with tennis star Martina Hingis or über-bland songstress Dido. ‘I think the FA wished I was white. I had the credibility, performance-wise, to be captain’, Campbell claims. ‘Michael Owen was made a captain ahead of me. I thought: “What is going on here?” I think the FA didn’t want me to have a voice… I’ve asked myself many times why I wasn’t [captain]. I keep coming up with the same answer. It was the colour of my skin.’
In many ways Sol Campbell is the quintessential modern footballer. Not in the sense of the versatile ball-playing central defender who can also operate in midfield. Rather, he’s an introverted, sensitive soul who has battled with depression and has acquired the thin-skinned victim sensibility of a Guardian reader. In short he’s a guy with a Louis Vuitton manbag full of ‘issues’. Campbell seemed genuinely perplexed and hurt that Spurs fans branded him a ‘Judas cunt with HIV’ for leaving White Hart Lane for hated local rivals Arsenal. ‘If this happened on the streets, you’d be arrested’, he told the BBC’s Today programme. ‘This is a human-rights situation.’
Campbell has even suggested that there was an element of racism in the vitriolic abuse he received from Spurs fans. ‘It was camouflaged — but there was racism in there’, he told the London Evening Standard last year. Certainly there were unpleasant gay slurs aimed at the former Spurs defender, but, as with his latest complaints about the FA, I think he’s completely wrong to cry ‘racism’. Spurs fans are particularly unforgiving towards any players who defect to the Gooners, but they have no reputation whatsoever for racist behaviour.
Campbell’s claim that he was overlooked for the England captaincy because he was black doesn’t really stand up to any great scrutiny. Firstly, there really is no good reason to believe that skin-colour was a factor in deciding who should wear the captain’s armband during the 1990s. That might have been a legitimate concern in the 1970s and 1980s, when black footballers were regarded as exotic and skillful but bereft of leadership qualities. But the old racial stereotypes had long been debunked by the time Campbell was winning international caps. If, as Campbell says, there was a ‘glass ceiling’ for black players, then why was Paul Ince given the captain’s armband in 1993? Martin Samuel, writing in the Daily Mail, argues that Campbell wasn’t the victim of racism but bad luck - he was recuperating from a shoulder injury when David Beckham was appointed captain.