Sol Campbell in action for England during Euro 2008. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Sol Campbell is wrong - for most England fans, race is irrelevant

When it comes to choosing an England captain, fans are more likely to have a biased opinion based on club colours than skin colour.

The former England footballer Sol Campbell believes he was prevented from captaining his country more often because of the colour of his skin. He told the Sunday Times: “I don’t fit the FA’s image of an England captain. I’d done enough to be captain. I’ve asked myself many times why I wasn’t. I keep coming up with the same answer. It was the colour of my skin”. Campbell argues that both the FA and most England fans prefer the captain of the national side to be white. “I don’t think it will change because they don’t want it to, and probably the majority of fans don’t want it, either. It’s all right to have black captains and mixed-race in the under-18s and under-21s but not for the full side. There is a ceiling and although no one has ever said it, I believe it’s made of glass.”

Campbell’s views reflect the amount of prejudice and abuse that he has faced in his career. Though he is straight, the player faced significant amounts of homophobic abuse, which the game was much slower to crack down on than racist monkey chants. The arguments about who should have been England captain when in the late 1990s are inevitably subjective. But there is little evidence of an FA “glass ceiling”. After all, Campbell was himself selected to be captain of the full side, and at a younger age than any England captain, except Bobby Moore. Paul Ince and Rio Ferdinand were also England captains in this era, with little public discussion or controversy of this. The Sunday Times’s front-page story reported that he captained England on only that occasion, though Campbell captained England three times in his 70 appearances, as was corrected in the final editions. By chance, Sir Bobby Charlton was also captain three times in his 106 games, which shows that any England team will usually contain many potential leaders. Campbell’s experience probably had more to do with the choices of England managers than with an FA policy. He was asked to captain the side twice, when very young, by Glenn Hoddle in 1998. But Hoddle was forced to resign early the next year and his successors chose other players.

Whatever the merits of the choices that England managers, or the FA made, Campbell is on weakest ground in suggesting that most England fans would prefer a white captain to a black captain. This seems extremely unlikely. The vast majority of England fans see nothing remarkable in our multi-ethnic football team or its leadership. The question of whether you could be black and equally English was a publicly contested issue in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. When Viv Anderson first put on the England shirt as a full international in 1978, and Paul Ince first captained the team in 1993, it was worth marking the breaking of a glass ceiling. The racists were probably in a minority even in the 1980s. The problem was that a vocal National Front-associated group of extremists dominated the England travelling support, to the extent that they put everybody else off. When John Barnes scored that crazy, mazy goal in Brazil’s Maracanã stadium in 1984 to put England two-nil up, the NF contingent in the stadium chanted one-nil. But the nation watching at home knew the real score – and celebrated the goal.

By the time that Campbell or Ferdinand were leading England out, the idea of a non-white captain went unremarked – because it had become enough of a norm for us to barely notice. We don’t discriminate over the race of our sporting heroes. At the last Olympics, three-quarters of people rejected the notion that we should cheer more loudly for British-born Team GB athletes to those who had come to this country to wear our flag. At least that proportion would find the idea of a race bar on picking the England captain bizarre. This goes for Englishness outside the stadium too. Sometimes liberals wonder and worry about whether English remains a racially exclusive category, even though British identity is more inclusive. But this is an idea that most people in England reject. There is still a sizeable minority – of one in five - who say it is very (12 per cent) or fairly (10 per cent) important to be white to be English. But most say it does not matter at all, as YouGov polling for British Future has shown. France did have a rather tortuous and embarrassing debate about whether the Republic of equality and fraternity should have a policy to make sure there weren’t too many black players in the national team. Such a conversation would struggle to get off the ground in England today and would be laughed out of court in the post-match phone-ins. Most England fans will want the team, and the captain, chosen on merit. Football being a matter of opinion, of course fans will argue about who the best captain should be. When it comes to choosing an England captain, most of us are now rather more likely to have a biased opinion based on club colours – who plays for the teams we support, or that we love to loathe – than skin colour.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

Getty
Show Hide image

The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.