Brief Encounters… Sol Campbell at Notts County

Chris Henderson, 18 January 2019

Sol Campbell once described himself as ‘one of the greatest minds in football.’

Pointing towards an illustrious playing career, Campbell is never too far from a boastful claim about his achievements in the game. After recently being announced as manager of Macclesfield Town, he told his new club that in him they had ‘one of the best players in the world.’ Humility is not his strong suit.

It was perhaps not his most wise decision, then, to drop down four divisions in the summer of 2009 in a move to Notts County at the age of 34. Despite dubious ownership at the club, Campbell signed a lucrative five-year deal and swiftly boasted about taking the Magpies to the Premier League.

29 days later, he left the club by mutual consent after only one game. Sweet justice for all that ‘one in a million talk.’ The nature of fate is such that humility is a lesson taught to those who need it. Eventually.

Early promise

In the summer of 2009, Munto Finance, a Swiss company based in the British Virgin Islands, were confirmed as owners of Notts County. The football world was stunned when Sven-Goran Eriksson was appointed as Director of Football, who quickly signed his former England defender.

“This club has got great ambition and I want to be a part of it”

The brilliant thing about this signing is that you can almost hear the conversation; a ‘cartoon cad’ promising his new captain the world, and everything in it.

On day one, Campbell beamed at the sea of journalists, “This club has got great ambition and I want to be a part of it.” A young and spritely Kasper Schmeichel was another star name in the County squad.

Unbeknown to the new arrivals, they were the first expensive building blocks in an increasingly precarious house of cards.

Unfit and Improper

It all looked suspicious from the outset. Russell King, a man with an extensive history of financial misdemeanours, led the negotiations. A new club logo was unveiled to ‘symbolise the club’s potential.’

The murky and complex nature of the consortium made the extent of the owners’ riches unclear, and apparent ‘strong links with Qatari royal family’ were swiftly denied by the family themselves.

The process for takeovers of this nature is a well-trodden one. In fact, it can be boiled down into three clear steps. Step one: An offer is made to take over a club by a group of misty-eyed crooks and football ignoramuses. Step two: football fans across the country and pundits (those not having their pockets filled) voice considerable outrage that the whole thing seems dubious and, plainly, commercially unviable. Step three: the new owners sail through the laughable ‘Fit and Proper Persons’ test. As Danny Baker once said, “It’s a hoopla, and we’re knee-deep in it.”

“That is a wonderful strapline, which we can market to football’s global audience. What excites me is the commerciality of football”

The whole thing is of course more nuanced and complex, but lots of County fans rightly voiced their fears about the new owners from the get-go. Lots of others, naturally, got caught up in the excitement when new club chairman Peter Trembling announced his intentions, “County is the world’s oldest professional club. That is a wonderful strapline, which we can market to football’s global audience. What excites me is the commerciality of football.” Well, if nothing else, that quote should hopefully make you feel better about the impending doom of rising sea levels.

In Campbell’s much-anticipated debut, County fell to a limp 2-1 loss away to Morecambe. That both Shrimps’ goals came from set-pieces says enough about their new captain’s organisation. The game was also memorable for a late Schmeichel overhead kick as County chased an equaliser, but it was not to be.

Campbell fell for promises of the club signing David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Christian Vieri and Patrick Vieira, to the backdrop of laughter from the watching world

A swift return to the Premier League

The centre-back quickly returned to Arsenal and back in the comfortable confines of the Premier League, just 90 minutes of unconvincing football into a five-year contract. Notts County, meanwhile, went on to win League Two that season despite the chaos behind the scenes.

Campbell fell for promises of the club signing players such as David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Christian Vieri and Patrick Vieira, to the backdrop of laughter from the watching world. This is from a man who, in a recent foray into politics, claimed that Brexit would improve the English game, and prevent it from becoming a ‘free-for-all.’

Eriksson revealed that he was promised a 10% stake in the club, though he never saw a penny of it. To County fans, the summer of 2009 when Sven Goran Eriksson signed Sol Campbell must still feel like a strange dream.

“I bought into a dream and I wanted to make that dream a reality,” Campbell later said. “The only thing I’m guilty of, is taking people at their word.” That’s quite the admission, from one of the ‘greatest minds in football.’

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Chris is the founder of The Football Brief. He runs our regular series and can usually be found waxing lyrical about Blackburn Rovers and R9.

By |2019-01-20T17:02:40+00:00January 18th, 2019|

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