Back to Spite Hart Lane: Sol Campbell to face the Tottenham fans who still call him 'Judas'

14 April 2010 11:17
Arsene Wenger remembers the first time. The Arsenal team bus crawling into White Hart Lane under attack from a barrage of bricks and bottles. The hatred and bitterness.

The hostility directed at Sol Campbell was 'terrible', Wenger winced, recalling the Tottenham icon's first visit to his old stadium after he dared to run down his contract, ignore interest from Manchester United, and cross the north London divide in one of England's first Bosman deals. 

Still dividing opinion: Sol Campbell is likely to endure more abuse from Tottenham fans at Wednesday night's derby. He has been a figure of hate since he left the club for their north London rivals Arsenal nine years ago

'I remember his big challenge, after about 10 minutes,' said Wenger, searching for details of the 1-1 draw in November 2001. 'That's where he showed he is a man. You always wonder what impact the pressure will have but he showed straight away he was ready.'

Nine years on, the betrayal still festers at Spurs as Campbell prepares for tonight's derby, his first since signing again for the Gunners in January.

'I'm sure he'll get some grief, it's no good me sitting here and pretending he won't,' said Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, who tempted Campbell from Arsenal to Portsmouth four years ago and saw the vitriol of Spurs fans first hand.

'It has been a long-running saga but they have got the hump with him and are not going to forgive him. They pay their money and they're going to do what they want, aren't they? I just hope they don't do or shout anything silly.

'If they want to jeer him or whatever then fine, but we saw the trouble at Portsmouth with people making remarks that ain't right.'

Happy days: Campbell lifts the FA Cup with Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth

The abuse of Campbell during Tottenham's game at Fratton Park last season provoked outrage. It seemed it could not get worse. Then, after leaving Pompey for a bizarre one-match spell at Notts County, he returned to Arsenal.

'I could never see him going back to Arsenal in Campbell is back to face the fans who call him 'Judas' a million years,' admitted Redknapp. 'I never thought he would want to go anywhere near Arsenal again. When I took him, he wanted out and they wanted him out as well. He walked away from a fortune. His contract there was incredible. He just went: "No, I don't want to play there any more". I wouldn't want to say what he told me, but he wasn't happy.'

After scoring against Barcelona in the Champions League final, Campbell ended his Highbury contract and expressed a desire to play abroad, but joined Redknapp at Fratton Park, where he won the FA Cup.

Redknapp recalled: 'People said to me: "Are you mad? Sol's finished. He's had it. Mentally, he's gone." But I knew he'd do a great job. I had no doubts he was still top class. So I took him. He did drop about £3million a year to go to Portsmouth but there was no-one else chasing him.

'He came down and settled in well. He used to moan a lot, you know. The training pitches weren't what he was used to. They were l ike Hackney Marshes compared to what he had at Arsenal. I used to say: "Sol, I remember when you was playing over on Wanstead Flats". That used to do him straight away. I'd say: "You started on Hackney Marshes with Senrab and all that, didn't you? And them pitches weren't that good either".

'He'd come in and have a massage a couple of days a week. When he wanted to train, I'd let him train. Come Saturday, he'd play fantastic.'

Campbell's move to County surprised the Spurs boss, who first saw him as a powerful 15-year-old striker. 'If he'd stayed at Notts County, that was the end of him. But suddenly he's in a team playing in the Champions League and trying to win the Premier League. 

Brief encounter: Campbell's spell at Notts County didn't last long

'I never thought Arsenal would take him back either but Arsene obviously looked at it and thought: "There's no-one else around, can he do a job for me?" And he has done a job. He has come in and done well.'

The incredible script is unlikely to be appreciated by most at White Hart Lane. For them, he will remain a Judas.

'That's the culture of England,' shrugged Wenger. 'I got a lot of abuse in England so I'm not surprised. It doesn't bother you. When you're a football player or manager, you focus on the game. I don't hear anything during the game.

'Pat Jennings played for the two teams but maybe he is more Tottenham than Arsenal. I think the bitterness with Sol came from the fact that he left on a free for Arsenal. He made a choice. At the time we had a winning side. He wanted to play for titles and you cannot stop him. You have a right to go where you want when you're out of contract. I don't think they would have sold him to us.

'When he came here he was highly focused to achieve targets in his life. After, when he had achieved the targets, he was a bit in no-man's land because he wondered, "Where do I go from here?"

'It's simple, he is an Arsenal player now. When he was looking for fitness, he came back here.

'He considers himself an Arsenal player. That's how I see it.'

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Source: Daily_Mail