Sol Campbell

In 1999, Liverpool fans largely accepted Steve McManaman moving to Real Madrid for nothing. Barcelona fans did not accept Luis Figo following him, but they at least got a world record fee. Perhaps Sol Campbell thought, perhaps because he was told, that in the Bosman era this kind of behaviour would be routine for the game’s stars. He expected acrimony, I’m sure, but I think he also expected camouflage.

It turned out that he was lighting a flare. There has never been another football transfer like Campbell’s, or even close. He was - as every player still is - entitled to run down his contract while insisting that he would sign another. He had the opportunity to enrich himself by leaving the club where he was the adored captain, where he received his training and his start in the game, and go not just to a more successful club - though many made offers - but to the fiercest rivals of his own. By running down his contract, he was also free to deny his club any compensation, and instead keep some of what they would have received to himself in the form of a signing-on fee. Since Campbell, however, no other player has done this. They either lack his resolve, or have learned from his example.

My only point is this. To neutrals, or the uninterested, the loathing that Spurs fans feel for Campbell following his move to Arsenal in 2001 looks quaint. Worse, it looks like a deliberate failure to understand that Arsenal were the more prestigious and successful team (as they still are, but now by a narrow margin). I think Spurs fans deserve more sympathy. Football is a job for some people, of course, but it is rarely only a job. For most footballers it is a dream, at least at first, and the good ones are truly loved for their work. Campbell was free not to requite ten years of love from Spurs fans, but we too are free to draw conclusions about his character.