By Simon Astaire
Published by Spellbinding Media
It’s hard to review a book where sensationalism has overrun the remaining pages. Sol Campbell’s views on racism in the game and why he wasn’t considered for the England captaincy, have been debated since this book was serialised shortly after publication. The observations he makes are no different from those he has made before, in short they were nothing new but with a book to sell, no publicity is bad publicity. The problem is that in cherry-picking the controversial parts, the book is built up into something which it is not. It isn’t the manifesto of a would-be football politician, it’s the story of a boy who wanted nothing more than to play football. And was able to do that.
There was more to Campbell’s career than the much-publicised move across north London. He has suffered more abuse than most players on the basis of that alone, the perceived treachery haunted him even when he had moved to Portsmouth when the vile abuse received most coverage. That wasn’t the worst of it for him, his brother’s continued presence at White Hart Lane cut to soul more than any words could. It broke the bond between the pair and echoed the strained relationship with his father. Campbell is a complicated character as Arsenal fans are well aware.
The book is a testament to how successful Campbell was as a player. Following his transfer to Arsenal, the silverware he craved flowed, on the home front at least. It nearly followed on European fields as well, ten more minutes in Paris and his goal would have won the Champions League. Whilst that defeat brings sighs of a lost opportunity, to me losing in the quarter-finals two seasons earlier was worse. The final quartet in 2003-04 was arguably the weakest for a generation.
Three months before Paris, Campbell had left Highbury at half-time during the home defeat to West Ham. Speculation was rife at the time over a breakdown and whilst that was extinguished some time later when he returned to first team action, he was certainly under pressure in his personal life. That it took its toll on him is of no surprise; footballers are often put onto the pedestals reserved for gods with little or no appreciation that they are nothing more than fortunate human beings.
It’s that aspect which comes through during the book. The self-analysis he plunges into brings an understanding of the man and the anxieties his introspection brings. For an intensely private person, one who shied away from the pages of Hello or other glossy magazines, it is an interesting exercise. Was it as cathartic as he hoped? The early days before a professional career beckoned about the casual and inherent racism he encountered suggest he was a man always feeling the wall against his back. Sometimes you sense this was misplaced but the accumulated effect of the isolated incidents leaves that as no surprise.
Campbell’s story conveys the pressures which come with the job and Simon Astaire deserves credit for capturing this brilliantly, whether it is the time spent at Arsenal or World Cups with England. The episode at Notts County would be funnier were it not for the fact that the white chargers upon which the knights in shining armour arrived turned out to bed sheets over donkeys. And those suits quickly turned rusty with Campbell’s fixation a broken window which remained neglected at the Meadow Lane.
There is a fine line being trodden in the narrative between introspection and hand wringing. Astaire guides Campbell astutely along this tightrope. Campbell was not a typical footballer, at heart a shy person. Not without fault and at times a little too self-absorbed to notice his own, this is anything but a dull tale.
Click on this link to buy Sol Campbell – The Authorised Biography.