Tackling prejudice in English football
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. |