The Black And White World Of England Captain Sol Campbell

Perhaps I’m not the best person to write this post because I clearly have a subjective stance with regard to Sol Campbell. After all, as a Spurs supporter, even after all these years, his defection to Arsenal remains one of the most odious acts of skullduggery committed during this era in football we like to describe as Modern.

Then again, maybe I am. I don’t loathe the man because of the colour of his skin. I do so because he is a duplicitous individual who put self-interest above loyalty. He will forever be tainted by the assurances he gave Spurs that consequently proved hollow once he decided to cross the north London divide. I would feel the same way if that player had been white. Not everything involving a black player is a race issue.

I only bring up that particularly acrimonious event in Spurs’ history because I think it gives you a measure of the individual in question. Campbell has been successful in whipping up a frenzy in the media with his allegations that the Football Association is institutionally racist for having apparently failed to endorse him as a suitable candidate for the England captaincy. According to Campbell he could have been captain for “more than ten years” had he been in possession of a paler shade of skin. Remember, this is a quote from a serialised extract of his forthcoming autobiography. To that end, the comments have achieved their goal in the sense that they have garnered maximum publicity thus alerting casual book readers to its existence. Am I being too cynical? Maybe I am. So let’s look at his comments objectively.

There seems to be an assumption on Campbell’s part, some might even call it hubris, that he was by far and away the obvious choice to lead his country in World Cups and European Championships during his playing career. He feels aggrieved that he was passed over in favour of the likes of Alan Shearer and David Beckham. Think about that. Whatever you may feel about those two, their captaincies were clearly defined by both reputation and marketing. Shearer, despite his flaws, was a convenient throwback. A bustling, brawny centre forward who harked back to a time when footballers were proper men. His persona may have been anachronistic but it allowed fans and sponsors to bask in some rose-tinted ‘old school’ perceptions and however backward–seeming that may have been, it cannot be dismissed as a symptom of racism. In the case of Beckham, if Campbell wants to delude himself into believing he stood a better chance of captaining England over the most recognisable and lucrative brand the game has ever produced, then he is more foolish than I already thought. The colour of money, as they say, is green.

Campbell also feels the need to take a sideswipe at Michael Owen by suggesting:

“[He] was a fantastic forward but nowhere near being a captain. It was embarrassing. I kept asking myself, ‘what have I done?’”

It’s a telling statement because it reveals the swollen levels of Campbell’s ego. Firstly, it seeks to denigrate a fellow professional’s merits. Secondly, it suggests a disproportionate amount of significance he chooses to place on the relatively minor role of the vice-captaincy. Thirdly, and most importantly, it shines a light on Campbell’s confused sense of self-entitlement.

Campbell, however aggrieved he may feel, was lucky enough to captain his country. It cannot be denied that he was a defender of the highest quality. The fact that he did wear the armband suggests that he was held in high regard by the England manager. During his England career, players of the calibre of Gary Neville, David James, Frank Lampard and Ledley King did not perform captaincy duties despite there being a case for each and every one of them to do so. And guess what? Some of those players were, and still are, black.

As were two of the captains he played alongside with at Arsenal. Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry are undoubtedly Arsenal legends. Like Shearer and Beckham in the case of England, they brought different qualities to the role. Vieira was a traditional midfield warrior who led by example whilst Henry was more mercurial, talismanic in his leadership. Campbell could conceivably feel hard done by that he was not chosen by Arsene Wenger above these two but any criticism here would come across as craven haughtiness on his part. That sadly, does not shift books from shelves.

This is not to suggest that racism is non-existent in football. Any proclamations to that end would be rightfully condemned as being beyond ridicule. There is indeed something very wrong with an institution when it simultaneously bans a player for racially abusing another player but allows him to then resume his international career without much consequence. I agree that there should be more black managers and coaches in the game. People should be ejected from stadia if they subject players and other supporters to racial vilification. These are points that I need not have to make because any rational, sane human being believes them to be so.

Sol Campbell clearly believes that it was his colour that played a part in stymieing his international career. Has he ever considered that there might be other factors? Perhaps he was a loner who did not possess the requisite skills to unite a disparate squad of personalities who played together infrequently? Perhaps some managers valued his qualities as a defender but did not rate him as a person? What if some even had their personal favourites? Just because Sol Campbell feels he was overlooked, it does not mean that there is a case for the FA to answer with regard to the England captaincy. I’m aware at this point that I could be accused of falling into the trap of conjecture but the same accusation could also be leveled at Campbell’s allegations.

If Campbell has concrete evidence, he should make it known. Otherwise, he deserves to be dismissed as an opportunistic chancer who’s said a few controversial things in a book. For money. Empty words, yet again. I stopped taking anything that man had to say seriously the day he signed for Arsenal. Some things really are that black and white. Like I said, perhaps I’m not the best person to have written this post.

Further reading: 

Playing The Race Card: Suarez, Solidarity and 1973

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @Sofalife

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12 Responses to The Black And White World Of England Captain Sol Campbell

  1. N9boy March 3, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Does a captain walkout on a team at halftime and go missing for over a week? Ask that question to yourself mr Campbell?

  2. MrChill March 3, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    There’s no love lost for Campbell here and you’re probably right that he was not chosen for other reasons. Regardless of what I think of the man (egotistical, a liar) he does highlight something worthwhile:

    The different world that a White person and a Black person live in.

    Hear me out. If Campbell were White, he might wonder why he wasn’t picked as captain. Perhaps he was prickly or a loner. Maybe he wasn’t the right personae for the team. He would not, however, ever have to wonder if it was because of the color of his skin. When Beckham was dropped as captain or Michael Owen passed over, I doubt either ever considered the possibility that it was because he was White.

    For people who look Black, however, the thought does cross their minds. Regardless of its veracity, the world a Black person lives in has treated differently. You don’t have to be passed over or treated less than every day. If it happens to you a couple times, though, you’d start to wonder: “I’ve been treated differently because of my skin color before; is it happening to me again?”

    The privilege that those of us who are not Black have is that we never have to wonder. When we do get slighted for our skin color (say, not getting passed the ball when playing basketball at the park) it’s disconcerting. “Did that just happen? Was it because I look different?”
    We feel slighted.

    Black people have to live with that niggling in the back of their minds every day. Did the waitress sit us at the back of the restaurant because she’s thoughtless or is it because we’re Black? Did that lady turn around and cross the street because she forgot something or because we’re Black?

    I cannot begin to fully understand living life like that year after year and day after day.

    So even though I think Campbell is a traitorous piece of sh**, when I hear his story I feel sympathy for the man. He wonders because his life experiences have shown him he should.

    He doesn’t have the privilege that those of us who don’t look Black do. He doesn’t have the privilege of knowing that his skin doesn’t matter and that he just wasn’t good enough.

    • Decnann March 11, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

      Im a firm believer that racism is still unfortunately ripe within the culture of today and maybe more so in the era of cambells argument, however i feel that within sport the element of race has no sway in the popularity in which a manager may feel a player needs to lead a team (in any sport) The truth is if a player is adequate for the job he is picked as every manager wants to win and will not let race ruin his or her chances. And if we look across the recent decades some of the most successful, popular, loved, and financially rewarded sportsman are black e.g mike tyson, Michael Johnson, tiger woods, ronaldo, Ussain bolt, Michael Jordan, Lennox Lewis and many more.
      As a white man, i probably don’t fully understand the implications and result of rascim.
      But I do not and will never condone it… But I think the more black sportsman and women use unsupported claims of racial discrimation the more we as society feed the never relenting burning fire which is rascim.
      I would like to add i think sol cambells was a brilliant centre back and great professional but was unfortunate to be overshadowed by some of the biggest names and greatest players we’ve had in any era.

  3. Beano111 March 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Campbell using his colour as an excuse for not being made England Captain, tells you everything you need to know about the man. If ever he thought he could fill the boots of Beckham, then he needs to wake up, he’s pathetic and as for not getting the Captaincy ahead of Micheal Owen, well, keep on dreaming.

  4. elliott March 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    If personality was a factor, then why Michael Owen? He doesn’t exactly come off as lion-hearted, even if he did go out with the guys while at United. And John Terry was captain for awhile. He barks orders and knows the role well, but personality off the field = major negative.

    Lots of countries pick strong, imposing center backs as captains. Based on playing and ability, Sol had a claim to it.

  5. Tottenham70 March 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    I remember Paul Ince as Captain for a few games and was also the 1st black Captain of England. He was, for me, a leader on the pitch and had the qualities that Mr Campbell perhaps lacked to lead the team at that time

  6. Carlos March 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Shame on you Campbell for trying to incite racism.I hope you get arrested for this.

  7. vkon1 March 3, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Personally I think that despite his defensive qualities he was a poor leader. I always used to cringe at his TV interviews and felt so disappointed that a spurs club captain talked like a child. Incoherent may be string but let’s just say he struggled as an orator. A leader has to be able to communicate. He couldn’t in my opinion. And yes his character was well displayed in the ‘defection’. Take it all with a pinch if salt. Or Pepper. Colour is irrelevant. It’s all condiments

  8. Dougie Brimson March 4, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    Great piece and great points.

    The sad thing is, the obvious aim of these appalling claims has been achieved and that is PR. No more, no less.

    Thankfully, people have been quick to see through this and I earnestly hope that all honest and decent fans of the game boycott this book for the sham it is.

    As I said earlier this week, for anyone to play the race card purely in an effort to sell books undermines the struggles everyone from Paul Cannonville to Clark Carlisle went through and the hard work done by fans the length and breadth of the country.

    Shame on you Campbell. England captain? This week you’ve shown you weren’t even fit to wear the shirt.

  9. Adam March 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Campbell has publically displayed an awful lot of character flaws that are incongruent with the qualities of a captain. Flaws that 4/5 England managers clearly felt counted against him. We could only judge him at the time as an undoubtedly world class defender but the views from inside the changing room will tell the full story. His conduct since retirement (and just before) threw the cloak off and exposed the traits that only his colleagues could see.

    If someone feels they deserve to be skipper above someone else, in my mind, that’s an opinion a true captain would never hold.

  10. Robert Gaspar Majestic March 6, 2014 at 3:30 am #

    Maybe he is just thinking of those things because he was upset f Or not being a captain of the soccer team. Being a team captain, ability is not the only basis. It also requires good communication skills.

  11. Roy March 11, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Very fair and honest commentary. Sol Campbell should apply this approach to his own proclamations before expressing his distorted views which are tainted by bitterness and, dare I say, prejudice. I see he is on the case with Chris Powell now but in view of results would he be so vocal if it was a white manager? – of course not. We can’t employ managers based on skin colour. How many ‘physically challenged’ managers are there? Come on, this is getting ridiculous…

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