After the beauty and nostalgia that was thick in the air at White Hart Lane following our defeat of Man Utd in our final game at the old stadium, it was refreshing to look back this morning and see many of the old players and staff walk back onto the turf for a final time to rapturous applause. Seeing different generations, from Cliff Jones to Ledley King, strolling out and basking in the applause they deserve after giving so much joy to the fans at the Lane was a truly lovely moment. However, my real pleasure was in the fact that we did not let an issue that was dominating discussion in the days before the game overshadow our big day: By the choice to make Sol Campbell persona non-grata on the day. Frankly, the whole hatred and controversy surrounding Sol needs to be put to bed finally now, once and for all. Hence my decision to write this article in the hope that maybe all the chants and vitriol will not be carried from the Lane into the new stadium.
For anyone unaware of the situation (although I’m not sure you can be as a football fan), back in 2001, Sol was our captain who decided that he wanted to leave. Despite passionate pleas for him to stay, he chose to run down his contract and leave. This isn’t exactly a unique practice but Sol’s choice to join Arsenal over any other club in the world still rankles with Spurs fans, even today. Sky Andrew (Sol’s agent who negotiated the move) came out recently and said it was unfair that Sol had not been invited to join in the closing ceremony, as a former Captain and fan favourite at the Lane. In all honesty, I thought it was extremely tactless of Andrew to try and overshadow our big day by flaring up the Campbell controversy but sadly it is something that repeatedly comes up every season.
The chants that some Spurs fans echo are disgusting. It has to be said. Do I like Sol for what he did? Of course not. But spewing vile racist, homophobic, and death-threatening chants on the terraces shouldn’t be a part of our culture, nor any other teams. By and large, our fans are wonderful (hearing ‘There’s only one Aaron Lennon’ sung around the lane yesterday was a fantastic gesture) but the truth is those who sing such awful taunts should be ashamed of themselves. It wouldn’t be out of place at a Millwall game. I’m all up for giving players stick and some chants bantering with players are hilarious but hearing our own sing about Sol hanging from a tree cannot be condoned.
On the other hand, Sol has never exactly helped himself out with the Spurs fans. He has claimed that he wanted to stay at Spurs and his hand was forced but we can never know the truth of the chain of events that unfolded. The fact of the matter is that Sol should have known the consequences of his actions. Look, in the 9 years he was at the club, he won 1 trophy: The Worthington Cup. Can he be blamed for thinking that Spurs were not going to match his high ambitions? The honest answer is no. We were generally quite a poor side in the mid to late 90’s, we had some wonderful attacking players but were often let down by a weak defence and that really showed no sign of changing in the new millennium. Spurs fans could have sympathised with his desire to leave and challenge for titles and European trophies and if he had joined any other side, at home or abroad, it is likely he would have been forgiven and invited back to the Lane yesterday. Look at Luka Modric, he practically threatened to go on strike to force through his move to Real Madrid but we understood that we could not match his ambitions at the time. The result is that Luka is now a double-winning Champions League player and he has universal love with the Spurs fans who still recognise his greatness. At the end of the day, Sol chose to join the one club which was considered a betrayal for Spurs fans. Clearly, he did not want to relocate from London and he felt Arsenal could help him reach greater heights. That’s fine, but he must accept that choice was always going to sever any affection from his former club.
Sol’s problem is that he has always maintained an air of arrogance about the situation. Obviously, I don’t know Sol personally but he strikes me as an arrogant man. I remember reading Harry Redknapp’s autobiography where he recalls an anecdote about Sol complaining about the state of Portsmouth’s training ground, until Harry puts him in his place by reminding him where he grew up playing football on horrible pitches in London. Surely Sol would have realised he would not encounter the same facilities at Portsmouth than he had at Arsenal or Spurs? There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for yourself in life but I get the impression Sol always considered himself better than he was and always aspired to climb the social ladder. (hence his failed campaign to be the Tory candidate for London Mayor) In the end, that sort of behaviour can alienate you from people.
At the end of the day, making a decision as big as moving from Spurs to Arsenal will always be a two-sided coin. Professionally, he made the completely right decision for his career in terms of winning trophies. During his time at Arsenal, he won 2 league titles (playing a huge part in the Invincibles season), 3 FA Cups and a Community Shield, as well as reaching the Champions League final. Do you know what we won in the same period? Nothing. At Arsenal, he played with the likes of Martin Keown and Tony Adams. If he had stayed at Spurs, it would have been Noureddine Naybet and Anthony Gardner. It cannot be argued that Arsenal were in a different league to us in the early 2000’s. However, Sol cannot realistically expect to have any support from Spurs fans ever again after choosing to make that move. If he cannot see why Spurs fans would not want him at the Lane for the farewell ceremony after leaving for our biggest rivals (and being hugely successful with them), he is either arrogant or stupid.
However, my main point is that we are in a different time now to how we were 15 years ago. We have a chance to build on our successful season and become the predominant team in the country. The same cannot be said back when Sol Campbell left us, hence the hatred and vitriol that was thrown at him because we knew we could not accept we were underperforming and watching one of our own leave us for our biggest rivals turned disappointment into anger, pain into jealousy and masqueraded itself in bitterness. We have a chance to be better than all that now. And we can do this by finally putting the Campbell saga to bed and cease the hateful chanting and bitterness because we have a bright future to look forward to. The best way to sum up the changing state of affairs in North London is through one simple question.
If Sol Campbell was in the same position today, who would he choose?
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