Sol Campbell: I hope someone dies? In what world do we live? | Sol Campbell

wHaight Hart Lane station, 8.20pm, on the Sunday before last. The North London derby finished two hours earlier, Arsenal winning 2-0, and a Tottenham fan started singing. The man, in his mid-to-late 50s, wants to know everyone’s going to have a party when Sol Campbell dies”. The platform is not particularly crowded and no one else joins in. Likewise, no one intervenes. The train arrives, the man gets on and goes home.

In the seconds before kick-off, there was a different cheer of support for Tottenham in the South Stand. This time, it’s coming from hundreds of them and it’s similarly despicable. The roar of the beginning of the game drowns him out and everyone’s focus shifts.

Campbell paused. He does this a lot over the course of a shocking and stimulating interview, trying to process, trying to find the right words. Being abused remains part of the Spurs matchday experience; Indoors and outdoors, in and around the stadiums. Anti-Campbell sentiments were heard in the next two matches for the club – at Manchester City and Fulham.

Not everyone sings it and it is not always easy to pick it out from the ground. And it doesn’t happen every time. But there is often an almost incidental detail. Even spurs. Good for you, Sol Campbell. Those who sing do so because that is what they do, and not all of them stop to think of barbaric content.

Sol Campbell shakes hands with Arsene Wenger when he is presented as an Arsenal player in July 2001.
Sol Campbell shakes hands with Arsene Wenger when he is presented as an Arsenal player in July 2001. Photo: PA

“It’s as if people have forgotten how to be human,” says Campbell. “I hope and hope someone dies? And are you going to throw a party? What world do we live in? I know football has its tribal side, but if no one around me feels that’s unacceptable… well, we’re in a really sad place.”

Made by Campbell Boseman Transfer from Tottenham to Arsenal in 2001, which means some of his tormentors were too young to be aware of what he did at the time – The depth of the betrayal of a local hero Or maybe not alive. Hate has been passed on.

Campbell wants to strike the right note as he speaks publicly on the subject for what he hopes will be the last time. He may be the most hated British footballer of all time in the eyes of one group of fans. The emotional toll was enormous, as he had a psychological breakdown in 2006 and many other moments where he felt stalked and downtrodden.

What it comes down to, for Campbell, is basic humanity. No longer is the 26-year-old over cleavage, all stubborn confidence, caught up in believing he can handle anything. He is a worldly 48-year-old, married man with children, looking for a compassionate community. After all these years and with so many bad things across Europe and beyond – from health emergencies to economic crises to war – do we still really need to do this?

Sol Campbell
“I get the situation, but it’s been a long time coming,” Sol Campbell says. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“It’s like I’m becoming a caricature, not a human being anymore,” says Campbell. “It’s like some folk song, people around a campfire, passing on stories from the old to the young. ‘Let’s talk about this, let’s sing about this.’”

We are talking about a quarter of a century [since the transfer]. Where do we go as human beings if someone can’t move forward? I don’t think people realize how much hate and vitriol hurt me. I understand the situation, but it’s been a long time.”

Campbell retired as a player in 2011 – one year after he married interior designer Fiona Barratt. They have three children together Isabella, 11, Ethan, nine, and Georgiana, seven, whom Campbell worries may be affected by his character’s treatment.

Isabella and Ethan are promising tennis players, and Campbell even talks about them “making it” in the sport. He seems to relax when he discusses them with Georgiana, and for a few minutes, he’s just another dad with dreams and a lot of love. But then the conversation turns to whether he’s taken them to any soccer games.

“No, never,” says Campbell. “It’s just the culture around the game. You want to protect them and you never know. I don’t want to go to a game and have someone who’s not a fan of this club suddenly say something for no reason.”

What does Fiona think of all this? “She’s disgusted,” Campbell replied. “And as a white woman and most of the people who do that are white men and boys… It’s just so scary. Fiona is such an amazing, wonderful woman and a brilliant mother. That’s the only way I can describe her. Just beautiful in every way.”

Arsenal manager Sol Campbell is greeted by Tottenham fans on his first return to White Hart Lane in November 2001.
Arsenal manager Sol Campbell is greeted by Tottenham fans on his first return to White Hart Lane in November 2001. Photo: Reuters/Alami

Campbell can pinpoint the moment when you harden as a person — out of necessity, survival instinct. White Hart Lane Stadium, November 17, 2001, its first red-hot derby Arsenal. Campbell always had a calm determination, single mindedness to make the most of his talents. Now double up on everything. Fiercely.

“It was one hell of a hate day,” says Campbell. “There was a cobblestone in the coach, a burning effigy of me and everyone kissed her, even the good people who were there.” Oh, big sol. He can take it.

“I had to dig deeper into myself and I had changed. I had to learn in 90 minutes how to deal with these things and how to play a game of football. I had to put up a mental battle and said to myself, ‘I’m just going to win.’ As a footballer in a great team, that’s all. What I can do. But I can’t do it now. I can’t support myself on the field.”

Campbell was shaped by his upbringing in Plaistow, east London. The youngest of 12 siblings (nine brothers, two sisters), he faced a battle to be heard, so he made things happen. He was sometimes described as a closed person during his career; He was not known by the public, which led to misconceptions. What was quite clear about him was his desire to reach the top.

“I’m from a poor family, a tough area as anything, and I’ve seen a lot of people around me fail, a lot of heartache,” says Campbell. “I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. I was completely focused on my football. I didn’t have time to mess around.

“I was a boy who started an annuity at 17. What boy would do that?! But what’s wrong with you being a boy who doesn’t have much and what he gets he makes sure he uses it right? Because he never knows if it can be taken away. I’m from a background Where things are taken.”

Campbell’s success at Arsenal only made things worse with Spurs’ support, especially when he was part of the ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003-04 that clinched the title at White Hart Lane. The assault remained constant and was a contributing factor to its downfall.

Campbell had lost his father, was struggling with form and fitness and it all got the better of him during Arsenal’s home game against West Ham in February 2006. He was knocked off Highbury at half-time and the next day headed to Brussels to try and clear his head.

Team celebrated
Arsenal’s “Invincibles”, including Sol Campbell (left), celebrate after winning the 2004 title at Tottenham. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA

“I thought that was it,” Campbell says. “It was done. I couldn’t take it any more. Playing good football was the only thing holding me together and I was losing that. It was like a house of cards.”

What’s striking when Campbell looks back on the episode is how he had to handle it on his own. There was no sports psychologist for him. He had simply spent a few nights in Brussels – ‘I had a friend there and she helped me’ – Arsenal told him, with Arsene Wenger asking him to make a speech to the rest of the squad, including an apology, and cracking up. By the end of the season, Campbell was playing and scoring in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League Final loss against Barcelona.

Was there a rock bottom in terms of abuse? Most likely in September 2008, says Campbell, when he was playing for Portsmouth and they welcomed Tottenham to Fratton Park. He was moved to file a complaint with the police and they will file charges against 11 people for “indecent cheering”. Three of them were under the age of fifteen. Chants recited in court included the lines: “We don’t care if you’re hanging from a tree, Judas HIV-positive bitch.” Others have shown repeating the phrase “faggot boy”.

Campbell tells a more recent story from the summer of 2021 when he was in Rome as a TalkSport analyst for the European Championship quarter-final against Ukraine. He and his colleagues were having lunch in a restaurant when a man started hurling insults at him.

“He was English, with a girlfriend and he couldn’t have been more than 25,” says Campbell. “It was ‘Judas’ and… blah blah blah. He filmed it because he thought I was going to do something. I didn’t do anything. Sometimes I think, ‘Am I going to run into someone who’s going to yell rubbish at me?'” I’ve got a lot less, no. You get me wrong. But I still get randoms… taxi drivers, builders or whatever. It happens. Of course, it does.”

Sol Campbell celebrates after Peter Crouch scored the second goal in Portsmouth's 2-0 win over Tottenham in 2008. Tottenham fans have been accused of
Sol Campbell celebrates after Peter Crouch scored the second goal in Portsmouth’s 2-0 win over Tottenham in 2008. He was accused by Tottenham fans of “inappropriate chanting” towards him there. Photo: Matthew Ashton/Corbis/Getty Images

Campbell’s ‘caricature’ line resonates as he feels as though his achievements on the pitch – the trophies, 73 England matches, six consecutive Grand Slams, and the period immediately after his move to Arsenal were where he was possibly the best centre-half. In the world – it is blocked.

as well as his personality and the work he has done as a community leader; Helping disadvantaged children, for example, or cooperating in the opening of the Museum of Black Cultural Archives. There is no doubt that the cloud over Campbell has held him back in terms of job opportunities, including those in football management.

And so it comes back to this. Campbell paused. Then the words are lost. “I was a young boy when I signed for Arsenal,” he says. “I didn’t have a family. It’s a different story if I had kids. Maybe I would have thought differently. I don’t know. Maybe if I were 30 or 35, I would have thought differently. But I was 26.”

“It’s not me now. Who stays the same every year or more every five years… let alone 22? I’m not 48 from making that decision. To me, that’s a plea. I want a clean slate. Look into your hearts, look into your souls.” And give me a clean slate. He took me out of the cartoons and saw me as a human being.”

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