Offside, 23 November
Spurs fans were duty-bound to give Sol Campbell a torrid reception on his return to White Hart Lane in enemy colours.
George Orwell said that sport was ‘war minus the shooting’ – presumably before shooting became an Olympic event.
Orwell’s famous phrase captures well the passion and hatred that animates the great football rivalries – Rangers and Celtic, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United. Remove the hostility between these rivals and the sporting contest is diminished.
For this reason, Spurs fans were not only justified but duty-bound to give Sol Campbell a torrid reception on his return to White Hart Lane in enemy colours. Supporters held up balloons and posters bearing the word ‘Judas’, booed Campbell’s every touch, and pelted Arsenal’s team bus with beer cans and bottles.
Now, while I wouldn’t advise readers to throw bottles at footballers – it’s not clever or funny and it’s also illegal – I fully understand the fans’ anger. The same cannot be said for Arsenal’s Gilles Grimandi, who said that Sol ‘didn’t rob or leave as a thief. He left having seen his contract out. He has no reason to apologise’.
But this misses the point. It is not the fact that Campbell left Spurs that so rankles with the White Hart Lane faithful, but that he joined hated north London rivals, Arsenal. Campbell himself seemed surprised: ‘I didn’t understand why the abuse went on for the whole game, but enough is enough now’, he said. Enough is enough? I rather suspect he hasn’t heard the last from Spurs fans. Perhaps Sol ought to cast his mind back to January 2001 when he announced ‘I am not going anywhere. I am here and I am staying. I want to play for Tottenham Hotspur and that’s it really’. Except that wasn’t it. Six months later Sol was wearing the despised red-and-white jersey of Arsenal.
The most absurd response to Campbell’s vilification has come from the Daily Mail’s Ian Wooldridge who, without a shred of evidence, cried racism: ‘A crude effigy of Mr Campbell, with a Judas placard round his neck, was strung up, Ku-Klux-Klan style, and burned. Apart from being a wealthy and successful footballer, Mr Campbell is also black.’ (1) Right on cue a police spokesman warned that ‘anyone found to be shouting offensive and or racist abuse at Sol Campbell or any other players will be ejected from the ground and arrested’. Journalist Danny Kelly, himself a Spurs supporter, pointed out that ‘the effect of [Wooldridge’s] hideous words has been, unfortunately, to bring race into an issue where it previously, and rightly, had no place’ (2).
Invariably journalists have used the Sol Campbell incident as an excuse to vent their deep-seated contempt for football fans. Stand up Ian Wooldridge (again), who described Spurs fans as ‘the hate-filled, bored, indolent, ignorant, moronic, low-life dregs of our society’. (Hey, don’t hold back Ian – tell us what you really think.) Likewise, the London Evening Standard’s resident Spurs fan Matthew Norman branded those who jeered Campbell a ‘peevish, petulant, inadequate bunch’ of ‘vindictive dullards’ who had engaged in ‘moronic and vicious abuse’ (3).
I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. The chants and songs through which football fans express their passion are often crude, offensive, cruel and vindictive, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. People who prefer polite applause and Mexican waves should go and find another sport to watch. The day that football fans start to link arms and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is the day I rip up my season ticket.
(1) Daily Mail, 14 November, 2001
(2) Sol Abuse Has Nothing To Do With Colour Of His Skin, Football 365
(3) Evening Standard, 19 November 2001
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