Camp­bell makes it tricky for him­self but it should not have been this hard

The Observer - Sport - - Football -

Moss Rose was once de­scribed as the kind of place from where only a mis­an­thropist would want to send a “Wish you were here ” post­card. Which isn’t the kind­est de­scrip­tion when there will be sup­port­ers of Mac­clesfi eld Town who are very fond of this un­pre­ten­tious lit­tle ground. But un­der­stand­able, all the same, when you take into ac­count the strangely lop­sided stands, the match­stick fl ood­lights, the con­fus­ing lack of sym­me­try and the fact the roof at one end is so low down the third- fl oor res­i­dents of Mul­berry Court, the block of fl ats next door, can see on to the pitch.

A more gen­er­ous de­scrip­tion, per­haps, is that there is a lot more charm to be found at these kinds of lower- league grounds than some of the iden­tikit bowls in out- of- town in­dus­trial es­tates higher up the foot­ball lad­der. There is some­thing rather en­dear­ing about the fact the pitch at Mac­clesfi eld has perime­ter ad­ver­tis­ing boards for Man­darin House, a lo­cal Chi­nese take­away, and the walls are lined with pic­tures of the team that beat North­wich Vic­to­ria to win the 1996 FA Tro­phy. The toast at the Silk­men Cafe is, as the menu prom­ises, hot and but­tery. The ale is served in Butch’s Bar and though the club shop – no me­ga­s­tore here – had a sign say­ing it was open, the lights were off and the door was locked when I ar­rived for Sol Camp­bell’s in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence.

Camp­bell pulled up a seat on the faded car­pets of the McIl­roy Suite. The hills on the hori­zon were a re­minder of the beauty and wealth that ex­ists in parts of Cheshire

( never for­get that Mut­t­ley McLad, lead singer of the Macc Lads, was ac­tu­ally called Tris­tan) and it was an un­ex­pected bonus, be­hind one stand, to come across a work­man in fl uores­cent or­ange scratch­ing off the last rem­nants of a faded, barely dis­tin­guish­able Manch­ester City sticker – the last re­minder, pos­si­bly, from when the two sides played here in Septem­ber 1998, amaz­ing as it sounds now, on an equal foot­ing in what is now League One. “City will have left the en­gine run­ning on the team coach,” as one match re­port snootily put it.

Twenty years on, the two clubs are poles apart in ev­ery sense and, if Mac­clesfi eld are to pull off a feat of es­capol­ogy from the bot­tom rung of League Two, their new man­ager will have backed up all his talk. Camp­bell, af­ter all, has been telling us for quite some time that he will make a bril­liant man­ager and that it is mad­ness the rest of the foot­ball world can­not nec­es­sar­ily see it.

If he can save the Foot­ball League’s wooden- spoon club, his rhetoric won’t open him­self to quite so much ridicule ( Ex­hibit A: re­fer­ring to him­self as “one of the great­est minds in foot­ball”). At least he will be able to sup­ply the hard ev­i­dence that he was right – and that the in­dus­try should have given him his op­por­tu­nity long be­fore now.

He is cer­tainly an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter, Sol. Not ev­ery­one is en­tirely con­vinced, it is fair to say, and if we are be­ing to­tally can­did his brag­gado­cio and oc­ca­sional lack of hu­mil­ity makes it no sur­prise, foot­ball be­ing the in­dus­try of that the peo­ple wish­ing him well ( this cor­re­spon­dent in­cluded) must be aware there are quite a few oth­ers who are rub­ber­neck­ing in schadenfreude, Mac­clesfi eld’s di­rec­tion to see if he falls fl at on his face.

Nor does he help him­self some­times, bear­ing in mind that jar­ring mo­ment at Thurs­day’s press con­fer­ence when it be­came ap­par­ent that, no, we hadn’t mis­heard him and, two min­utes in, he was in­deed con­grat­u­lat­ing Mac­clesfi eld for hir­ing a man­ager he de­scribed as pre­vi­ously be­ing one of the great­est foot­ballers in the world, as if it were per­fectly nor­mal to re­fer to him­self that way. Or he wasn’t aware, per­haps, that putting your in­ter­na­tional caps on the ta­ble didn’t stop, say, Bobby Moore or Bobby Charlton – play­ers from an­other level of great­ness – from mak­ing lousy man­agers.

That lack of self- aware­ness doesn’t tend to go down well in the dress­ing rooms of League Two and is cer­tainly an is­sue if my im­pres­sion of Camp­bell is cor­rect: that he doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily re­alise how he comes across some­times, that he is not the eas­i­est man to read, or em­brace, and that he might not have the skills set, judg­ing from some of the stuff he comes out with, to leave any real sense that he is a nat­u­ral team builder.

Rather pa­thet­i­cally, I am en­cour­aged by the fact there are now eight BAME man­agers

When Camp­bell has ar­gued in the past that he has been held back from man­age­ment be­cause of the colour of his skin he might have a very cred­i­ble point when there is so much ev­i­dence of how much harder it is for some­one with BAME back­ground to be of­fered work. Yet there are oth­ers who will ar­gue it is too sim­plis­tic in his case to be­lieve the only rea­son he has been kept wait­ing is be­cause he is black. And maybe there is some­thing in that, too, when the in­dus­try is so gos­sipy and there are so many sto­ries about his less at­trac­tive traits – ar­ro­gance, pom­pos­ity, self- en­ti­tle­ment, call it what you will – that might not sit well with po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers.

The lat­est ex­am­ple comes from Peter Crouch’s new book and is about their time to­gether at Portsmouth and Camp­bell’s ap­par­ent habit of hav­ing two- hour mas­sages un­til two min­utes be­fore ev­ery game. Portsmouth had two masseurs and Camp­bell would com­man­deer them both, one for each leg. Some­times, the other play­ers would com­plain. “He’d raise his head briefl y,” Crouch writes, “and look ex­pres­sion­less. ‘ When you’ve got 70 caps for Eng­land, come back and talk to me again.’”

Troy Townsend, of Kick It Out, wrote a sup­port­ive ar­ti­cle for the

Times on Fri­day to com­mend Camp­bell for his per­se­ver­ance and strength of char­ac­ter. Even then, how­ever, Townsend could not brush over the fact that one of the chal­lenges for Camp­bell in­cluded “peo­ple in foot­ball think­ing you’re just a bit odd ”.

The time for ex­am­ple – and no apolo­gies for re­peat­ing this one – when the then sports min­is­ter, He­len Grant, ar­ranged a sum­mit at White­hall to dis­cuss the lack of black man­agers and Camp­bell de­manded an ex­pla­na­tion from Dan Ash­worth, the FA’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, about why Gary Neville had been fast- tracked through the sys­tem. Fair enough, but when Ash­worth spoke favourably about Neville’s work in the Eng­land set up the re­ply was a comedic: “But I am Sol Camp­bell.” Ash­worth tried to con­tinue and, again, a hand went up. “But I am Sol Camp­bell,” louder this time, more in­dig­nant. There are even anti- racism cam­paign­ers who can hear those fi ve words and laugh at the tum­ble­weed fl oat­ing across the room that day. And word

 At Thurs­day’s press con­fer­ence, Mac­clesfi eld’s new man­ager de­scribed him­self as pre­vi­ously be­ing one of the great­est foot­ballers in the world, as if it were per­fectly nor­mal to re­fer to him­self that way

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