Sol, we hardly knew ye

IT’S difficult to shrug off the feeling that, as he watched Nathan Bishop pick the ball out of his net over and over again during the 7-1 defeat against Doncaster, Sol Campbell knew he had made a terrible mistake before the ink had even dried on the contract he had signed earlier that day.

A mate of mine was in the tunnel after the match that night as part of a birthday mascot package for his father, and recalls a senior player approach Sol, probably while the new manager was still processing what he had just seen, to tell him he wouldn’t be in training the following day, because he had a speed awareness test.

Even after spending months at Macclesfield without pay, he could surely not have believed that he would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

After a very tough run of three league games that unsurprisingly saw no points taken by a team that was practically relegated before the clocks went back following the worst start to any team in England since the 1960s, the FA Cup defeat at Dover saw fans turn on the players at the final whistle, launching a tirade of abuse that left those in yellow visibly shocked.

That night, another senior player was filmed in a pub laughing and cheering with Dover players celebrating their win.

January came with the same false hope it brings every year. Sol saw several senior players sold or released from underneath him, leaving him ever more reliant on young players, many of whom were nowhere near ready for first-team football, to bridge the gap. He was promised reinforcements but as it turned out, the club was under a transfer embargo – not that the powers-that-be were saying much about it. Sol did eventually persuade Emmanuel Osadebe and Theo Vassell to leave Macclesfield and sign for the Shrimpers in February but they could not be registered because of the ongoing embargo. Presumably now they never will be.

Campbell cut a sullen and beleagured figure during this period, frequently expressing his bewilderment with the situation. His catchphrases included “I don’t know” and “it is what it is”. It was no doubt embarrassing for such a decorated figure in football to be messed around like he was and then shoved in front of a camera to try and explain it.

There were frequent suggestions that all was not well between Sol and some players. However, many fans rightly pointed out that many of these players had undermined every manager they had played under in recent years, so it probably wasn’t a bad thing that some had to face some home truths.

The global pandemic that curtailed the season in March this year almost came as a blessed relief to Southend fans who had been treated to four wins all season and eight since the start of 2019. Apart from a club statement in April encouraging people to stay safe and to provide a vague update on matters around the club, Sol was not heard from again.

An interview with Mark Milligan recently suggested that nobody from the club had been in touch with him about a new contract or coaching role, which raised question marks about whether the management was communicating with the squad. Out-of-contract players were then informed by letter that they would be released or offered terms.

The only surprising thing about Sol Campbell’s departure was the length of time it took to announce. There have been suggestions that his desk has been cleared for some time.

The club’s statement suggests that Campbell nobly agreed that he was a financial burden in unprecedented times, and valiantly stood aside. It’s a nice PR line that suits all parties. The reality is that Sol Campbell’s position had been untenable for a while through very little fault of his own. Is it really just a coincidence that Ron Martin released a statement through the Echo just this weekend, bemoaning the commitment of certain people at the club?

For all Campbell’s merits – and there were plenty – he appeared aloof to many and rarely appeared to covet a special relationship with the supporters. Some were triggered by his social media antics, which while doubtless intended as light-hearted ways to communicate with his wider following, became less and less humorous as the situation at Southend became more and more serious. After all, if you can’t even bring yourself to pick up a phone to tell a player some bad news, it doesn’t look great to be sat in Chelsea, wearing a straw-hat and telling people you’ve got your thinking cap on.

Sol Campbell will be a success as a manager, of that I have no doubt. He is determined and professional, has no time for slackers and understands the game. He did oversee improvements, had a ground of young players playing with heart by the end, and he leaves the club in a better place than he found it. Unfortunately, it was just the wrong place for him at this time. I wish him all the best, and may his next job be at a club which is much less of a basket case.

Burnley, banners and Black lives

On Monday night a plane flew over Manchester City’s stadium prior to the home team’s 5-0 victory. Trailing behind it was a banner with the words “WHITE LIVES MATTER BURNLEY”. The aeroplane banner has become a strange phenomenon in British football, gaining popularity over the last 10 years since Steve Kean’s unpopular appointment at, ironically enough, Blackburn Rovers. This is perhaps its most sinister deployment. The company responsible is alleged to have said “If an ad is legal and no coarse language is used then we don’t take sides”; perhaps an odd occasion to plump for neutrality when one of those sides is asking that black people aren’t killed by police for allegedly trying to pay for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill or selling loose cigarettes or holding a BB gun or getting out of your car when told or running away when being stopped driving. Burnley FC released a statement that evening condemning the actions of those that organised the banner and Burnley’s Captain Ben Mee railroaded his own post-match interview to draw attention to his own sense of shame and embarrassment, claiming that those that organised the banner had “missed the point of what the players were trying to achieve” by having Black Lives Matter printed on the shirts. But this event mustn’t scapegoat Burnley, it is a problem present everywhere.

Southend, like Burnley, is a medium sized town with plenty of angry young men who haven’t had a pay rise in 10 years. Like Lancashire, Essex voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU and the man that pissed on the memorial to PC Keith Palmer, the officer that died on duty during a terror attack at Westminster, was from Essex. We have our fair share of things to be embarrassed about whether or not the rest of the country chooses to point the finger at us as they have been known to in the past. Some might question why Brexit has been mentioned and to those people I suggest that you look at the eruption in hate crime 4 years ago after the result of the referendum or the assassination of Jo Cox MP in the days preceding it. White pride, as the plane soaring over everyone’s heads proved, has never been higher on the agenda.

The media will not paint this incident as a nationwide issue, but it is. Anyone that has attended more than a couple of football matches in the last few years will know the distasteful element that each club carries: some of them are in the toilets taking cocaine at half time; some of them are singing 10 German Bombers on away days; some of them are getting in scraps at stations or arguing with retail or pub staff. Ultimately, you’re not responsible for anyone else’s behaviour than your own and so, hopefully, the racists that organised this banner will find out as they’re banned from Turf Moor; some may even lose jobs and friends. Routinely these individuals are denounced as “not real fans” but they are. They’re the fans throwing banana skins at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or the fans hissing as visiting Spurs supporters in mimicry of the gas chambers of WWII. They’re season ticket holders and pumping money into the local economy on match days and keeping the bookies afloat and talking about fantasy football non-stop either side of their game at 3pm. Now they’re here to remind you that white people shouldn’t be forgotten about.

Black Lives Matter is not a competition, there’s an assumption from some that BLM actually means Black Lives Matter More. But it doesn’t say this, deliberately so. There’s no one-upmanship here, the BLM movement is about recognising that the black experience (and other ethnic minorities) is different from the white experience. That’s one of the reasons that saying things like “I don’t see race” is now no longer seen as sufficient by some people. A man in Minnesota was killed by a policeman because he could do it; his colleagues didn’t stop him and the public didn’t confront armed officers. That is part of the black experience. Black people educate their own communities into how to deal with being stopped by police because it happens… A LOT. On the face of it they are playing the same game as the rest of us but are still playing by different rules, history, culture and wealth is stacked against them. BLM is supposed to draw your attention to this so that you can see a policeman kill a man as he begs for his life and that you can correctly say “that’s not right, that shouldn’t have happened”. White lives do matter, but white people aren’t being disproportionately stopped by police or disproportionately dying in police custody or disproportionately fined for breaking lockdown. Those are just examples in the UK; in the US you can add lynching and being killed by the police.

I am a 31 year old white man. I cannot and will never know what it’s like to live the life of BAME people when a police officer is walking towards them on the street. I will never know what it’s like to be a woman walking home alone at night and hear a new set of footsteps behind her. I will never know what it’s like to feel so overwhelmed by shame because of my sexual preference for my own gender that suicide feels like the only way out. These are not my issues and so I can’t speak to them. I have nothing to add to the topics but through the stories of others I have plenty to take from each. I can only be responsible for my own behaviour and so I try to be. When someone tells you that black lives matter are you listening or just waiting for your turn to speak?