what was and what can never be

18.11.2001

People say never look back.  So why are Spurs fans so angry that they felt it necessary to make a special show of their feelings against Arsenal yesterday ?

The bland platitudes that have come out in the press and on TV to give support to Sol Campbell's position just give rise to further frustration as these people have no feeling for the game in the way fans do.

Terry Venables comments on "The Premiership" were ludicrous in my opinion.  Saying that Sol might not think he was wrong to leave after the reception he got today, after giving 100% for the club.  Well Tel, the fans gave Sol Campbell 100% support during his time at the club, but he didn't take that into consideration when he made the move to suit himself.  Yes, he saw out his contract and made the move that suited him the best, but that doesn't happen for fans.  Their's is the one club for life.  For players it is just business and for all those remarks about fans never having upped sticks to work for another company for more money, they are all just condescending views that bear no relation to the situation that is being discussed.  I am sure that Barclaycard board members might feel resentful if one of their top members of staff told them that he loved the company and then left for American Express within months.

Tottenham were caught in the cleft stick of freedom of contract, where they could not sell Campbell as, he was the star player and the fans would have been furious, but they had to try and negotiate with him to secure a new contract that he had set his mind on refusing.  He had decided that Tottenham were not good enough for him to achieve what he wanted to in the game, so he wanted to play for the top teams.

His contract talks with Barcelona and Liverpool left quite a bit of room for improvement, in basic manners if nothing else.  When he was unveiled at the press conference at Arsenal's training ground, it was a shock to all, although rumours about his defection had been rife for some time.  His reluctance to wear an Arsenal shirt or scarf showed that perhaps there was a grain of understanding that by "crossing the floor", he had broken a code that was unwritten, but complicit in being a Tottenham player.

The money was a major factor of course, with his claims being aired by the Spurs board being cited as a reason why he could never return.  But would we want him back ?

At Tottenham he had been a big fish in a little pool.  Playing well in a struggling team for many years had made him stand out as a player who looked good.  Moving to another side would be a big challenge for him and therefore, it was some surprise that he moved across London rather than across Europe.  He obviously didn't feel confident enough to test his abilities against the top players in the Italian or Spanish leagues.  We had seen evidence of Salas mugging him up when playing for Chile against England at Wembley.  Would that have happened every week in Serie A or La Liga ??

And then, why move to Arsenal if he was to stay in England ?  There are other clubs who are probably better placed for future success, but then he didn't want to move out of London.  Why such a small town mentality when he had such a reputation in the game ?

Maybe he was swayed by the argument put forward by some on "Jimmy Hill's Sunday Supplement", that Sven Goran Eriksson would give preference to players who are in Champions League action to be picked for England.  I don't know how Darren Anderton, Trevor Sinclair, Kevin Phillips and Teddy Sheringham, among others, are ever in the Swede's mind then.  Surely, it is how you play rather than what your club can achieve.  

At the age of 27, he should be approaching his prime, but for the last few seasons at Spurs, his form fluctuated and injuries hit, taking ever longer to clear.  There is no doubt that Campbell is a strong player who is among the best in his position in the country, but does that say more about him or the defenders available to be compared against ?  Rio Ferdinand is a flawed genius who has yet to prove that his defensive skills match his skill on the ball.  Danny Mills is nothing more than an old fashioned "kick 'em up in the air" full back, while Martin Keown is a typical English centre half.  There are few "different" types of player available to Eriksson and the progress that the current crop of players can make must be limited.  At their age, they should be playing at the top level and should be able to look comfortable against foreign opposition.  Wenger's assertion that "We saw the real Sol Campbell" is one that has a hollow ring to it.  We know he is better than that, but will he ever regain that form in a faltering side or in an England side that has moved on while he has been injured ??

Considering Ledley King has no club experience against European opposition, he looks eminently suited when he turns out for the England Under-21's.  His passing is miles better than that of the Arsenal player and his use of his body is much more subtle when he is in defensive positions near his own goal.  Positionally, he has a little to learn, but not much more than his former captain.  His ability on the ball is nothing more than sublime.  He doesn't look flustered and he can bring the ball out of defence with it under control, which is not within the capabilities of Campbell.  It was clear to see the difference between the two and Ledley's sharpness was in stark contrast to Sol's tardiness on the ball and general lack of touch.  Some have suggested that King might suffer the same when he leaves, but a lot depends on the circumstances.  Those who throw up the examples of Pat Jennings (not wanted by Tottenham and always a Spurs man), Willie Young and Steve Walford (followed Neill to Highbury and no great loss) are trying to use mismatched examples to strengthen their case.  It doesn't work with those who know.

The allegations that the abuse was racist is just another example of someone who has no idea what they are talking about.  It is like a "crime passionel" for Spurs fans.  The old saying that came out of Figo's defection to Real from Barcelona was that the reason they hated him so much is that they loved him so much.  That "love" for a player cannot be understood or felt by a journalist or another player/manager.  They simply do not follow the game in the same way.  How many fans would put up with the consistent mistakes that appear in match reports in the newspapers if they were in charge ?  There is a feeling of belonging in the world of the football supporter, which is alien to others.  That is why the journalists feel they can say whatever they like about fans as they are a different breed and below the likes of those who write for newspapers.  It is odd how the Barca fans demonstrations against Figo when he returned to the Nou Camp were widely reported without recourse to the sort of "hooligan" imagery that has surrounded Campbell's visit to White Hart Lane.  The only difference is that Barcelona got a huge fee for him, but look at what it has done to their team.  In Italy players are stoned and their cars wrecked at training.  But this seems OK, because it is not over here and the inherent racist theme they purport to abhor is implied in their reporting.  The only thing that matters to Spurs fans is the colour of his shirt, as Stuart Goldman so neatly put it to me on Saturday.

He was hurt by the crowd's shouts and songs.  He felt that there was nothing he had done wrong and that the standing ovation he expected like so many other ex-Spurs who had come back would be his.  That it continued throughout the game has made Spurs fans seem small minded, but the feelings ran high when he went and have done so since.  Campbell himself had been stoking the flames this week with his constant revelations on why he made the move in the newspapers in the lead-up to the game.  If he wanted to keep a low profile, he should have kept his head down and his mouth shut.  You could tell just by his body language that he did not want to be there and that it did affect how he played.  Credit to him for turning out, but there were indications that he was unnerved by the attention he received.  The ball slipping off the side of his foot that nearly resulted in an own goal was uncharacteristic and his need to crash into tackles spelled out that he was not on his game and felt he had to make his presence felt.  That may have been partly due to his return after injury, but then if he is not fit, why was he playing ?

It is easier to pick holes in the play of the Arsenal player now that we do not have to defend him.  Questions had been raised about Campbell's form even before he left and Spurs did play the bulk of his last season without him, with his lengthy recovery form injuries meaning others filled in.  That he is seen as the answer to Tony Adams in the Arsenal defence is a tribute to his reputation, but how that pans out in practice remains to be seen.  His good showing against Spurs was always on the cards, as he wouldn't want to come a cropper at his former home, but the fact that he did well in the frantic action of a North London derby only reinforces the view that he might be a traditional English centre half.  In European action, he can be seen trailing in the wake of a ball entering the net with his arm raised aloft (just watch next time you see Arsenal concede in the Champions League if you don't believe me).  So, his progress now might be less of a steep curve, but it still has to be upwards, as he was far from the finished article when he left Tottenham and having come from here, the fans at Highbury will be hard taskmasters should he not proceed to improve as quickly as they want him to.

The comparison between the two teams is difficult.  Arsenal have been a top team in recent years, but for the last few they have been without trophies.  Spurs did win the Worthington Cup, but that was a one-off drop in the sea of mediocrity that has been seen over the last ten years at the Lane.  However, the future looks brighter for Spurs than perhaps it does for Arsenal.  A good young squad at Tottenham could see them push up the table over the next few years and break into Europe.  Whether silverware is part of that we will see.  The fact that the Arsenal squad was ageing and that a lot of foreign talent is wrapped up in their efforts to dislodge Manchester United at the top of the league could spell danger if it is not successful.  Wenger is already unsure about staying and the fans will turn of they do not win something soon (and then we will see who is fickle ?).  The players are only like Campbell and will want to better themselves elsewhere.  Why does Vieira keep moaning and get linked with clubs like Real Madrid and Juventus ?  

Wenger said that the defence stood up well to a typical English approach to the game by Spurs, implying the long ball was used. Example of which was our goal then was it Monsieur ??  If anything, there was little football played by his side until the second half and to say that Tottenham were lucky to get a point is just useful camouflage for his side's less than impressive performance.  Tottenham were up for it more than his side and compared to last season's 1-1, when Vieira equalised near the end, Spurs were in control more than in the previous few home matches against them.  AW's thoughts that it is worrying when you play well and don't get the points must be ones that are playing on Glenn Hoddle's mind and not those which should be troubling M. Wenger.  If that is playing well, then I frankly would be worried if I was an Arsenal fan.

I don't think that there will ever be another crowd reaction like this.  The bottles pelted at the coach and thrown at the player on the pitch were things that we do not want to see.  As long as the derision was verbal that would have been fine, but if Sol Campbell thinks this is going to go away, he is either very naive or very dumb.  "The first cut is the deepest" as the old song goes.  For many Spurs fans, this is their first experience of players crossing the great divide.  For some it will be something they can never forget.  But perhaps we should forget and although we might not be able to forgive, he is now consigned to the past.  A past that Tottenham are moving away from in a way that he could only dream of.  He wanted no part of our future and that is the greatest gift we can grant him.

WYART LANE

 

FEEDBACK
20.11.2001
Dear mehstg, 

After the 17/11/01 I came away from the match thinking that I can see Ledley King going to the world cup, c***bell staying at home. Also, wouldn't it be great to think that the only medal r-s*l will ever win was the one he won with us.

Looking at it know I think that Richards and King are great for the club, i'm not sure c***bell would get a game, not that we would ever have the low-life back anyway........ regards.     

Pat Wickham

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