Sol Campbell: Substance Obscured by Sensationalism

Sol Campbell’s claim in his new authorised biography that he could have been England captain for ten years had he been white, has been met with almost unanimous disapproval. Obviously, Campbell’s publishers will have been urging him to make controversial claims in order to draw much-needed attention to the book. It is perhaps doubtful that Campbell genuinely believes he could have been captain for an entire decade, but he is definitely resentful of not being given the role, especially when Michael Owen was selected ahead of him. There has also been outrage that Campbell dare allege that the FA is institutionally racist. But it is in this claim that Campbell may have a point.


Campbell scores what we all thought was the winner against Argentina in 1998. Unfortunately, Alan Shearer’s overused elbow was being pushed in to the keeper’s face. Source


Sol Campbell, to his credit, has been a positive force for black footballers both during his career and subsequent retirement.  He was very quick to criticise Greg Dyke’s all white, all male “football panel” and he has spoken in the past about the difficulties for black players in becoming managers. There is also credence in what the former Spurs captain has to say as perceptions of black people need to be continued to be challenged throughout all sports and society.

However, influential figures Paul Ince and John Barnes have been critical of Campbell’s claim to the captaincy. Somewhat disappointingly, Ince’s reported comments concentrated on the “10 year” aspect rather than the issue of race. However, in an interview for The Mirror John Barnes got to the crux of the real issue.

“Where he (Campbell) has a point is the absence of black people who run football, but boardrooms and directors in any walk of life tend to mirror society as a whole”.

“The problem we’ve had for hundreds of years is a perception that black people lack the intellectual capacity to perform top jobs.”

“But as England captain, your role is to lead by example on the pitch and toss a coin before kick-off – it is not like being a manager who decides the tactics and formation.”

Barnes’ claim is supported by Birmingham City’s academy coach Michael Johnson. After Chris Kiwomya’s sacking at Notts County, the former Derby County defender was asked by Five Live about the fact there were now only three black managers among the 92 football league clubs (Chris Hughton now stands alone in this regard)

“I wouldn’t say it’s racist but I think there are some severe problems with some people maybe not thinking that a black player is educated enough to go upstairs in a boardroom capacity”.

Barnes and Johnson tacitly support Campbell’s claim that the FA is institutionally racist. In perhaps the most considered article on the issue to date, Musa Okwonga discusses the merits of their accusation. He rightly says that racism is more than the views of a certain individual or set of individuals. He says that “In some cases, it is a prejudice of which even those making such appointments may be unaware”. Essentially, the white establishment is at a point where it is more than happy to have black players play in the team and even become captain, but not in a role that is perceived to be intellectually challenging.


Barnes is an England legend and a lifetime advocate for black footballers. Forrays into management and TV presenting have been less successful. Source

This issue has been played out in the NFL. Until very recently the amount of black quarterbacks in the game has been minimal despite the majority of the league being made up of African-American players. However, by the beginning of the 2015 season, there is a real possibility that half of all starting QBs will be African-American. An NFL quarterback is infinitely more influential than a football captain. It’s a position that is traditionally perceived to need guile as well as physical prowess; a position that has traditionally been the preserve of the white man. Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and before them Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick have revolutionised the role. NFL Scouts now look for raw athleticism as well as an accurate arm and defences have had to adapt to quarterbacks taking off at a moment’s notice with the speed of a running back. In the past, players like Newton and Griffin would have been pushed out to wide receiver or tight end, where these attributes were more valued.


Michael Vick ignited my interest in American football. source

The revolution in the NFL however, could be a double-edged sword for black players. Yes, there are more black quarterbacks than ever before, but they are still being valued for their athletic prowess, not their intelligence. It’s as if the establishment has simply realised that the talents of the black players can be used in a more advantageous way. The issue of which Barnes and Okwonga speak therefore remains.

Chris Powell’s sacking to leave Chris Hughton as the only manager in the football league with a non-white heritage is a sad indication of how much more work is to be done. The problem with the lack of black managers is that no-one is offering any solutions.  Rather than simply acknowledge it as a problem, the entire football community needs to take a look at how representative it truly is. The Kick it Out campaign demonstrates the progress that can be made when attention is focused on the race issue.There is obvious substance in Campbell’s claim that racism is still institutionalised within football, it’s simply a shame that he had to coat it in selfish sensationalism.


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