Sol Campbell, one of England’s best footballers of recent times, seems to be intensely private, thoughtful and complex. He retired in 2012. Now the tall, black man with intense eyes has spoken up, opened up.
Racism, he feels, stalked him when playing the purportedly ‘beautiful game’. Some barbaric fans shouted monkey noises and racist abuse every time he touched the ball; unsurprisingly (though unforgivably) he says his team-mates, coaches, managers and sportswriters didn’t mind or care about the ritual humiliation. Why would they? It wasn’t happening to them.
Black and Asian players are “sissies” if they can’t take a bit of banter. Fellow-players threw in some homophobic teasing. Sol didn’t join in with sexist, lewd repartee and so to them that meant he must have been gay. The ex-footballer also claims that he didn’t get to be the England captain because he wasn’t white. Lord Triesman, FA chairman from 2008 to 2011, admits that had this talented man been white, he “would have captained England on more occasions”. To Triesman, man of the establishment, this is not conscious racism, just how things happen.
You see the problem? Today, even in-your-face racism is now not racism. Sol has broken a big taboo. People of colour must move on and ignore the slurs, accept their lot, not make a fuss, be nice and quiet. Most now do just that. Which is why racism is rising and toxic again, much more so than in the 1990s.
The hostility to immigration is one reason. Of course politicians of all parties, guided by Nigel Farage, insist that to relentlessly malign “bloody foreigners” is not to be racist. It bloody is. They don’t go on about American or Aussie migrants do they? Diversity priorities have not helped. Gay people and women are at least heard when they speak up about injustices. Race inequality has fallen off the agenda and no one is bending down to retrieve it. Among minorities, a sense of powerlessness grows, and with it suppressed rage.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, those who speak up against bigotry are penalised, insulted, trolled. Welcome to the fold Sol. We need your voice. And don’t let the bastards get you down.