It is an uncomfortable truth that every club seems to have its achilles heel, a bone of contention that shows up the true colours of a certain section of its support, and in the case of Tottenham Hotspur it’s Sol Campbell. Campbell’s defection from White Hart Lane to Highbury in 2001 continues to infuriate Spurs supporters to distraction, and the extent to which this still seems to boil over should be an embarrassment to the club. However, in the case of Ian Trow and (for legal reasons) an unnamed fourteen year old boy, the abuse of Campbell became an issue that they became intimately acquainted with even though it was nothing to do with them.
The incident that sparked what happened to The Tottenham Two came on the 28th of August last year at Fratton Park, during the match between Portsmouth and Spurs. As ever, Sol Campbell was coming in for some pretty vile abuse from a section of the travelling Tottenham support but this time a complaint was made after the match and the police decided to act. They released CCTV pictures of sixteen people that they wanted to speak to over racist and homophobic abuse aimed at Campbell and the pictures were plastered over the media. Of the sixteen, they arrested eleven, nine of whom pleaded guilty as charged and received a mixture of police cautions, fines and banning orders. Trow and the teenager were offered cautions, which they refused to accept as a matter of principle.
The matter was, therefore, put before Portsmouth Magistrates Court in May of this year, where Trow and the teenager were found guilty as charged, fined £500 (plus £400 costs) and given three year football banning orders. The Tottenham Two, however, refused to take this and immediately challenged the rulings, and at a retrial this week the two were acquitted of all charges and had their sentences dropped. What was somewhat surprising was the paucity of evidence against them. The CCTV camera showed the two of them in the area that certain homophobic chanting had been coming from, but Judge Richard Price agreed that, “We can hear the crowd, we can hear the words ‘gay boy’. We can’t be sure those words came from Mr Trow’s mouth. We can’t be sure those words came from the boy’s mouth”. It was, reportedly, all over in minutes.
Immediately upon their arrest, The Tottenham Two were banned from White Hart Lane. While it is commendable of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to take swift action against those that they believe to have been involved in such incidents, now that they have been acquitted it is surely only right that the club should rescind any sanctions that were ever brought against them. At the time of writing, there has been no notification that this has actually been done yet, although there has been talk that the club has to, for legal reasons, await written confirmation of this from the court service. Mr Trow was also fulsome on his praise for the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, who “who gave some invaluable advice and have been in contact with Spurs during the whole scenario”.
Whether the Hampshire Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service were mendacious or merely incompetent is open to question. It has to be said, however, that this case does cast doubt over the efficacy of CCTV as a tool in dealing with this sort of problem. If a judge can see in the space of a few minutes at a retrial that there is a serious problem with the evidence submitted, the question has to be asked of how these two innocent people were put through this ordeal in the first place. CCTV has been a critical tool on the prevention of hooliganism in and around stadia over the last couple of decades, but there is a tendency to treat it as a panacea for the ills of the terraces which is clearly not as cut and dried as its advocates would like us to believe. Some answers may be found at the civil action that Mr Trow is now bringing against the police.
For all of the above, however, the issue of Sol Campbell is one that needs to be addressed by Spurs supporters themselves. It is not uncommon, even now, to hear defences of people that shout abuse at Campbell on the basis of “the way that he left Spurs and who he went to”, as if this is somehow the greatest crime committed in the entire history of football – it was pretty distasteful, sure, but footballers and football clubs have been behaving badly and treating supporters badly for as long as money has been involved. None of this is a defence of Campbell’s actions in 2001, but Spurs supporters who fall into this trap have to understand that the acceptance of the level of vitriolic abuse aimed at Campbell is the same culture that leads to homophobic and racist abuse. For people of a certain mentality, it’s only a short leap from being “a Judas bastard” to being “a black Judas bastard”, “a gay Judas bastard” or, indeed singing songs about him “swinging from a tree”.
Of course, now that he has signed a contract with Notts County, it is unlikely (though not impossible) that Spurs supporters will see Sol Campbell play in the flesh again (considering what his fitness has been like over the last couple of years, County supporters might not see that much of him themselves). No-one is suggesting that football supporters shouldn’t be allowed to dislike who they want and – within reason – sing or shout what they want, but now might be the time for the Spurs support to put some of this material behind them and concentrate on something else instead. The Tottenham Two have been acquitted and exonerated, and maybe we can all take a step back from the culture of abuse that seems to be eating football alive.