Tack­ling prej­u­dice in English foot­ball

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - OLIVER HOLT

SOL CAMP­BELL is a bit weird, peo­ple say. It’s his man­ner, peo­ple say. He’s too odd and too ar­ro­gant to be a foot­ball man­ager, peo­ple say. He’s a bit work-shy, too, they say. That’s why he hasn’t been of­fered a job in the game un­til now, they say. Noth­ing at all to do with him be­ing black, they say. Noth­ing at all.

So Camp­bell can be a lit­tle ec­cen­tric. Sure, I can see that. Funny, though, isn’t it, how be­ing ec­cen­tric never seemed to get in the way too much for white man­agers? Martin Allen is a glo­ri­ous ec­cen­tric. So is Ian Hol­loway. So was Brian Clough.

But their ec­cen­tric­ity was seen as an ad­van­tage, not some­thing to hold them back. It was al­ways seen as some­thing that en­deared them to the fans and the wider pub­lic. It wasn’t some­thing that would be held against them at in­ter­views.

But it hasn’t worked like that for Camp­bell. Be­ing black and hav­ing the kind of man­ner that doesn’t put peo­ple im­me­di­ately at ease is not the ideal combo for mak­ing it in English foot­ball man­age­ment. Say­ing things peo­ple don’t like to hear doesn’t help, ei­ther.

Camp­bell’s not afraid to speak his mind. He says the rea­son he wasn’t Eng­land cap­tain more than three times was be­cause he was black. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with that but nev­er­the­less it is in­ter­est­ing that Tony Adams, with his his­tory of prob­lems, was a con­tem­po­rary who cap­tained the na­tional side more reg­u­larly.

Adams was an out­stand­ing leader and a pop­u­lar skip­per, but if a black Eng­land player was a con­fessed al­co­holic with a his­tory of drinkdriv­ing, do you think he would have been made Eng­land cap­tain? We all know the an­swer to that.

Peo­ple don’t like it when Camp­bell al­ludes to those kind of is­sues. They call him cocky for it. He was ridiculed, for in­stance, for say­ing at his un­veil­ing as Mac­cles­field Town man­ager last week, that the club was get­ting some­one who was once one of the best play­ers in the world. What’s the prob­lem with that? It was just a state­ment of fact. For some rea­son, peo­ple use it to add fuel to the idea that Camp­bell has way too high an opin­ion of him­self. Maybe they should ad­mit he’s just be­ing hon­est. Maybe he knows that if he doesn’t say it, no­body else is go­ing to say it.

Paul Ince did say on tele­vi­sion that it did not sit eas­ily with him that other high-pro­file for­mer Eng­land play­ers have gone into jobs near the top of the foot­ball pyra­mid whereas Camp­bell, one of the out­stand­ing de­fend­ers of his gen­er­a­tion, has had to start at Mac­cles­field Town, a club that was five points adrift at the bot­tom of League Two when he took the job.

He is right to point that out, too. There are eight man­agers from a black or mi­nor­ity eth­nic back­ground in the English leagues; an im­prove­ment but still nowhere near rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the num­ber of black play­ers in the game.

Camp­bell was one of the stars of the Golden Gen­er­a­tion. He was also keen to get into foot­ball man­age­ment. Those two fac­tors alone should have smoothed his path into coach­ing. But Camp­bell is also black and English clubs are no­to­ri­ously re­luc­tant to hire black man­agers. So Camp­bell had to wait. And wait.

And let’s not for­get that when black man­agers do get an op­por­tu­nity, it’s of­ten at clubs where the odds are stacked against them. And so the sta­tis­tics about whether they tend to suc­ceed or fail are also skewed. They play into the hands of those who want to see them fail. There are plenty among that num­ber. It has been sober­ing, al­though grimly pre­dictable, to see the out­pour­ing of bile and abuse aimed at Camp­bell on so­cial me­dia since he took the job at Moss

Rose. Some of it may be a twisted hang­over from his de­ci­sion to leave Spurs for Arse­nal. Some of it is out­right racism.

Nor does it help that each time a black man­ager gets a job, some peo­ple think it’s OK to use it as a test case about whether black man­agers make good man­agers. That is a ques­tion so stupid it’s not even worth dis­cussing but it heaps pres­sure on an al­ready pres­surised ex­is­tence.

I like Mac­cles­field Town. It’s the team clos­est to where I grew up. To coin a phrase some­times used in other cir­cum­stances, some of my best friends are Mac­cles­field Town fans. But you don’t need lo­cal knowl­edge to re­alise Camp­bell has been thrown in at the deep end.

Moss Rose is on the edge of town, at the top of the hill be­yond the old tex­tile mills, next to the road to Leek. It can be a bleak place in the win­ter and the club have seemed doomed to rel­e­ga­tion al­most since the start of this sea­son, rooted to the bot­tom of the ta­ble.

Those who are al­ready sali­vat­ing about the prospect of see­ing Camp­bell fail might care to re­flect on that. If he can keep Mac­cles­field Town up, it would be a stun­ning achieve­ment. At least he has been given the chance to try. |

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.