Until recently, Sol Campbell had spent the whole of his football career at the top level of English football. A product of Lilleshall and the Spurs youth academy, his previous trips to lower division grounds had been largely reserved for the early stages of domestic cup competitions. As such, it is perhaps that he took one look at the glaring reality of football in League Two and decided that perhaps it wasn’t worth all the effort. Not even for £40,000 per week. From Wembley, the Emirates Stadium and the like to Christie Park, Morecambe in just a few months.
Campbell had claimed that he was plenty used to playing at smaller grounds at pre-season friendlies and in cup matches, but visiting for a couple of hours before departing back to a life of opulence is a somewhat different matter. Even Morecambe themselves are moving out at the end of this season for pastures new. Meadow Lane is one of the better appointed grounds in League Two, and Campbell may have managed to convince himself that it was all going to be like that. Morecambe away in front of less than 3,500 people may have been enough to persuade him otherwise.
It could be that the passing of his thirty-fifth birthday that jolted him awake. His Notts County contract is five years long. He might have seen out the rest of his playing days and the start of his coaching career at places like this. It’s not that Morecambe is a particularly bad ground to play football at – the people are friendly, the pies are hot and the tickets don’t have to be purchased with a heavy heart and concerns over how you’re going to feed your family for the rest of the month. It seems, however, that this wasn’t Sol’s style. Perhaps he regretted his move once he saw the rent-a-quote Premier League managers expressing regret that he had chosen to join Sven rather than him.
The early signs, however, seem to be that this was a matter of attitude. Campbell was less than happy with the state of Notts’ training pitch, and is also rumoured to have put a few noses out of joint by stating that he didn’t much like training on Mondays. You can take the boy out of the Premier League, but you can’t take the Premier League out of the boy. He was also not believed to be match fit for the game at Morecambe, and this seemed to be given away by his tepid performance at Christie Park.
What we can say with a degree of certainty is that this was another piece of bad news for Notts County. County lost the match at Morecambe by two goals to one, a result that saw them slip to eighth place in the League Two table. It’s early days, but things aren’t exactly going according to plan. They have now won just one of their last four matches in the league, and manager Ian McParland seems to be suffering under the glare of the spotlight. His position, according to executive chairman Peter Trembling, is under constant review, who had less than comforting words for the manager.
Of course we’ve got to review all the time whether he’s the right man for the long-term job. He’s under pressure, we spent a lot of money so it goes with the territory. We are under the spotlight. We haven’t started in the best possible way but sometimes it takes a while for things to gel. But he is a good coach and we’ve moved on considerably from last season. We’ve got to make a decision, irrespective of where we go this season, of what’s best for the club in the long term.
None of this adds up to a club that is stable at present, but it’s not all bad news for Notts. At least he has got out of the club early, sparing them a potentially massive financial loss. One month’s wages for Campbell would pay a year’s worth of wages for a couple of reasonable League Two standard players and, while Campbell may not have been at full fitness for the Morecambe match, his leaden-footedness must have been a cause of concern for many at Meadow Lane. Better to have him out of the club altogether than to run the risk having him play like that for the rest of the season.
The press have also been speculating over whether Campbell will be able to sign for another club before the January transfer window. The answer to this is probably not. Because his transfer was cancelled by “mutual consent” (that handy phrase used within the game when at least one of the concerned parties doesn’t want the truth of what happened to come out) he’s out of the game until the new year unless he can demonstrate some sort of grievance with County, and there has been no indication that anything like that has taken place.
It goes almost without saying that Notts County should have learnt a lesson here. A lot of the publicity created by the signing of Sol Campbell is now being turned upon the club, and they run a risk of becoming a laughing stock. A more sensible financial policy than throwing money around like merchant banker in a Soho wine bar might have kept the reputation of the world’s oldest professional football club intact. As things stand, though, the Notts County “experiment” doesn’t seem to be running exactly to plan, and that’s not a bad thing for lower division football in England.