Deborah Orr: Save Sol Campbell from the narrow world that is modern British football

It emerges, however, that there has clearly been plenty of cause for concern for a long time about the 31-year-old footballer's state of mind. His career has been in a two-year decline, for a start, with persistent injury adding to his lack of form. Perhaps he just got used up. He was, for example, the only player to be on the field for all 25 hours of England's 16 matches at the last four major tournaments.

Then there has been all the other nasty stuff he has had to shoulder. His move from Tottenham in 2001 provoked a campaign of hatred from his former club's fans that resulted one evening in him coming home to find 50 abusive messages on his answering machine. Further, Campbell claims, the club's management is the source of long-running rumours about his sexuality that Campbell has found hard to bear.

Campbell has had a difficult time with women too. A long-term relationship with a model ended bitterly in an excruciating kiss and tell. A casual relationship with another woman led to a paternity claim disputed by Campbell until a DNA test proved his fatherhood. An on-off relationship with the interior designer Kelly Hoppen, pictured, appears to have attracted huge emotional investment from Campbell, although she is now with someone else.

It is accepted that for players of Campbell's calibre, a career in top-level football is public, demanding and short. That is why these young men are paid so well, the argument goes. Yet there is every sign that all the money that he has been stuffed with had not helped Campbell to find any stability. He has assumed some of the trappings that have become a footballing cliché - he wears designer clothing, drives fast cars and until recently lived in a gated home in Hertfordshire.

Hoppen's influence, it was said, steered him towards different social aspirations, along with the purchase of a Georgian townhouse in Chelsea. It has been apparent for years that he did not really feel comfortable with the stereotypical sort of footballer's life that has become a national pastime to sneer at, even if Campbell is unsure of what alternatives await him.

Which isn't surprising really, since his great skill has taken him from being the youngest of a family of 12 subsisting in the East End of London, to his present condition, with hardly a breathing space in between. Apprenticed to Tottenham at 14, earning £75 a week with them at 17, he has known nothing whatsoever but football. His apparent unwillingness to indulge in the work-hard, play-hard, get-married-at-25 path of professional footballers has left him with the difficulty that without that support network there is little or no alternative.

Perhaps Sol Campbell will pick himself up now, and move forward, able to enjoy what's left of his career. But there is just as much likelihood that he will become one of the casualties of football. We are used to the Paul Gascoignes or the George Bests, over whom we shake our heads when they press the self-destruct button. When young footballers behave badly, we are quick to point out that they have much more money than sense, much more attention than is healthy for such uneducated oiks.

But there is a real sense in this crisis of Campbell's that his downfall has come precisely because he tried to be a footballer and to be himself as well. It is sad that this game that is the seat of a whole international language and communication system for men should make such narrow demands on its heroes. Football demands a certain kind of man. Yet that kind of man seems not heroic but pitiful, as lost in his little world of cars and champagne as Campbell has become in his depression and his misery. Maybe part of the attraction of football is that version of masculinity it projects. Sol Campbell's going over shows just how narrow and cruel that version of manhood is.

Great expectations

I'm troubled by the fact that Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has put Ulysses on his list of books children must read by the time they are 18. Although I studied literature at university, make my living as a writer, and read widely and avidly, I've never been able to get through it. The last time I tried, I realised nearly 300 pages in, that my eyes had been sliding over the pages for hours and that I had no longer got any clue what was going on.

I understand his point about children having to be stretched, but for a teenager Ulysses is surely the equivalent of being stretched on a rack. I'm all for developing reading skills and I'm appalled at the news that secondary schools rarely teach "whole books".

But I do take solace in the fact that teenagers are still reading a great deal. It was telling that Philip Pullman and J K Rowling had a much better idea of how to pitch books to children that a man whose career has been built on the teaching of literature.

I can only assume that Motion is either insufferably pretentious, or merely wants everyone to arrive at university having read the books that the academic known as Pelvic Motion wants his girlfriends to be able to chat about with him.

* I'm struck by the lack of reciprocity in the debate around the Danish cartoons that depicted Mohamed. I'm perfectly happy with the idea that we should respect each other's viewpoints and should not as a rule go out of our way to trample over the religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that people hold dear.

There has been a consensus in Britain that it was, to use Peter Mandelson's word, "provocative" to depict Mohamed. Good manners and a spirit of multiculturalism preclude such insensitive behaviour.

But in return, it should be understood by those requesting such restraints that they can only ever be a courtesy rather than an edict. When a maverick breaks the rules, that should surely be treated with the same degree of understanding and tolerance for different cultures that makes the depiction of the cartoons so unusual in the first place. Death threats, gun fire and angry demonstrations around the world don't seem to be in that spirit at all.

* It is rumoured that Madonna's marriage is in trouble because of the demands of her career. All that really needs to be said is that it certainly isn't in difficulties over the demands of her husband's career. Au contraire, I'd guess. A "friend" of the couple (where do celebrities find these friends?) suggests that Guy is alone in the house a lot when the children are not there. Hmmm. That would be during school hours. Maybe he should - oh, let's think - get himself a job?

* What can one say about the news of Shell's vast profits? I know it's gauche, idiotic and - most tellingly - unfashionable to say things like "Arrggghhhh! Capitalism's evil". But such a perspective does help one to understand why, despite all the dire warnings, human beings seem unable seriously to tackle global warming, global poverty, or any of the iniquities that all the world appears to agree are undesirable. So there we are then: "Arrggghhhh! Capitalism's evil."

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