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