Thursday 24 September ~
Sol Campbell has walked out, and not for the first time. In WSC 175 (September 2001) Martin Cloake criticised the defender for his move from Spurs to Arsenal
The reaction of Spurs fans to Sol Campbell’s decision to join Arsenal has been taken as more evidence of our taste for whingeing. But I’d argue we have a point. I’m not condoning the pond life who strung an effigy of Campbell up outside White Hart Lane. But while it’s important to get the reaction in proportion, it’s also vital to see why anger is a justifiable response to football’s own Shaun Woodward.
Like any professional in any other business, it is claimed, Campbell has a right to choose where to work. But football is not like any other business. If it was, Campbell wouldn’t be able to command such financial rewards. Football is cash rich because of the brand loyalty of fans. If you prefer McDonald’s but there’s only a Burger King nearby, you go for Burger King – it’s no big deal. But the vast majority of football fans don’t switch teams (even David Mellor went back to Chelsea). Unlike any other product, a football club has total consumer loyalty. This is why advertisers and media groups are prepared to pay such huge amounts to be associated with it.
What makes Campbell so undeserving of the respect he craves is that he cynically used this loyalty to maximise his earning potential. By repeating the mantra that he was “a Tottenham man”, Campbell sought to present himself as a club loyalist in order to buy the time he needed to reach the end of his contract. That ensured as much money as possible went into his own pocket, and nothing to the club he claimed to feel so strongly about.
You may say good luck to him. But having evoked strong feelings of club loyalty, Campbell can hardly complain if a decision which damages Tottenham while boosting Arsenal causes fans to lose respect for him. Especially when, as he now seems to be claiming, he made the decision to sign for Tottenham’s great rivals as an act of revenge after Spurs “hurt” him by revealing, quite legitimately, what his contract demands were after negotiations had broken down.
Campbell has made us suspicious of any player who claims affinity for the club they play for, and so potentially weakens that brand loyalty. His move also illustrates another worrying trend. Take the transfer of Ipswich’s Richard Wright, also to Arsenal. Newly promoted Ipswich surpassed everyone’s expectations. Yet despite this, Wright felt he “had to move on to win things”. Underachieving Tottenham losing a quality defender is one thing, but it’s difficult to see how much more successful Ipswich could realistically have been. Yet even they are losing good players.
Whatever happened to players creating success, rather than buying into it? Is each season to become merely a trial for players who will eventually transfer to Man Utd, Arsenal or Liverpool? How much longer will fans feel loyalty to a collection of shirts worn by players who may have played against their club last week, or may play against it the next?
But at least Wright hadn’t spent months professing his commitment to Ipswich. In fact, he recently signed a new contract to ensure Ipswich would receive a transfer fee if a bigger club came in for him. Campbell, on the other hand, exploited the benefits of supporter loyalty while wanting exemption from the responsibilities that come with those benefits. There is, of course, a great irony to all this. For which club first turned FC into plc, and which club’s former chairman played a pivotal role in bringing Sky’s millions into the game? The answer is Tottenham Hotspur.