The rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham is a fierce one, with a number of incendiary incidents stirring up hatred between the two clubs. However, one moment stands out above all the rest. That moment was one of the greatest acts of treachery and deceit in the history of football, and what a moment it was.
Sol Campbell was Tottenham Hotspur through and through, joining the club’s academy at the age of 14. The Englishman would go on to play for the first-team, with the centre-half making 315 appearances from 1992 to 2001 for the Lilly Whites, also captaining the side for just over half his time at White Hart Lane. He also lifted the League Cup in 1998/99.
However, 2000/01 saw Campbell enter the final year of his contract. Despite not signing a new deal, he repeatedly claimed he would remain at Spurs and not leave the club. Even if he chose to depart, it was expected that he would move abroad, with Spanish giants Barcelona and Italian powerhouse Inter Milan both linked. With the Bosman ruling – allowing players freedom to move clubs at the end of their contract – having come into play just six years earlier, Tottenham were powerless in the situation and could do whatever he wanted.
But, no expected what he did.
Only 17 players and managers in the history have football have been brave enough to swap one side of North London for the other, but many have been average players or coming towards the end of their career. With Campbell though, it was different.
He was Tottenham’s best player, club captain, and loved by everyone at White Hart Lane and a move to Arsenal would simply be unthinkable. On July 3rd, 2001, Arsenal called a press conference at Highbury. As the story goes, the majority of the journalists who attended that day were expecting the club to announce the signing of goalkeeper Richard Wright from Ipswich Town as he had been linked with the club for a number of weeks. However, they were all in for a shock.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger walked into the press conference with a beaming ear to ear smile on face, telling the media there was someone he’d like them to meet. Out comes Sol Campbell and everyone was left open mouthed. He had done the unthinkable, he had moved down the Seven Sister’s Road and crossed the Tottenham/Arsenal divide, in the worst way possible.
Firstly, Tottenham received no fee from the transfer.
Secondly, he had not hinted at any point that he was joining Arsenal.
Thirdly, he allowed Arsenal to parade him, rubbing it in the faces of their biggest rivals.
Campbell sighted a need and want for UEFA Champions League football and trophies, something Arsenal could offer and Tottenham could not. However, Tottenham fans were not happy, understandably. They called him Judas, attacked the Arsenal team bus on Campbell’s first return to White Hart Lane and Arsenal even had to include a bodyguard in the deal for the player’s safety.
Campbell turned out to be right, going on to win two Premier League titles, three FA Cup’s and playing a key role in the Invincibles side of 03/04. He is still hated by Tottenham fans today but, Campbell made the right career choice.
Was it disrespectful? Yes.
Was he brave to do it? Yes.
Was it the right move for him? Yes.
Am I glad he did it? Yes.
Sol Campbell, brave man.