Why Spurs fans must stop their disgusting abuse of Sol Campbell - or face the full legal consequences

There is a great story from Sol Campbell's first return to White Hart Lane as an Arsenal player in 2001.

The atmosphere was so hostile that police warned Arsenal their team bus was going to be a target for missile-throwing Spurs fans as it left the stadium after the game.

In light of this, one of the more jovial senior players went to Arsene Wenger with an idea.

"Boss," he said, "if you tell Sol to sit at the front of the bus, then we'll all sit towards the back and we won't all get hit."

"Yeeees, this is a good idea," said Wenger in his slow French drawl. "Sol..."

Sure enough, Spurs fans got into the beer garden of the pub next door to the main entrance at White Hate Lane and threw bricks at the bus.

Luckily no-one was hit even though Sol's team mates didn't go through with the plan to leave him completely alone at the front of the bus.

Well, not all of them anyway...

But ahead of Campbell's second "homecoming" as a Gooner to the Lane tonight, it's easy to forget the level of hatred Spurs fans still reserve for their former captain.

Back in November 2001, after Campbell had left the club to join their biggest rivals in what was the most daring transfer in English football history, the passion was raw, bitter, angry and vitriolic.

I was there that day and it was genuinely nasty. There were 4,000 Judas balloons inside the ground and, after initially turning their back on their ex-skipper, the Tottenham then hurled abuse at him from beginning to end.

Campbell, of course, survived that test and went on to win trophies with Arsenal. And Arsene Wenger believes that November day back in 2001 was a key moment in helpind the defender develop even greater mental strength.

Wenger said yesterday: "I remember Sol's first big tackle after about 10 minutes of his first game back at White Hart Lane. That's where he showed he is a man. And that was it.

"You always wonder how much impact the pressure will have on his shoulders, but he has shown straight away 'I am ready for the challenge'."

Wenger admits that if Sol had not been on a Bosman free transfer at the time then Arsenal couldn't have afforded him. As it was, he signed on a great contract, £30million-plus over the length of his five year deal. Arsenal put the transfer fee into the wage deal.

Campbell has faced abuse every time he's been back at White Hart Lane since and it's not been a laughing matter.

I sat down with Sol last year for an hour or two at an East London school where he was launching his charity Kids Go Live (yes, he has a charity and is a good guy - even though Spurs fans won't agree).

He'd just been abused by Spurs fans during a Portsmouth game the previous September that eventually led to charges, arrests and convictions.

But Campbell accused the authorities of not doing enough. He decribed the level of abuse "shocking and embarrassing" and angrily called on the Football Association, UEFA and FIFA to start taking action.

This is what he said at the time last March:

"Football seems to think it can keep on going without getting checked, but in most other sports on this level, it doesn't happen.

"It's quite shocking really. Because if you carry on like that in the streets, you're either going to get arrested or you're going to start a fight and you might come off worse.

"My situation is a small part. But also you have the racial abuse in the rest of Europe, they've really got to get hold of that soon and stop that from happening.

"I think the only way you can stop that from happening is taking points from clubs and that's it and then they would definitely stop. Especially if you are in the Champions League and things like that or a league game."

As one of England's great defenders and a respected player and international, Sol Campbell deserves more respect and to be heard and acted upon when he speaks out.

And yet, it will be the same tonight at White Hart Lane. Banter and a bit of stick are fair enough. You expect that. Fans are allowed that. It's part of the occasion.

But not when that abuse crosses the line into racism, homophobia and criminal behaviour. That's when you know fans have lost the plot.

And yet the police and FA don't do enough.

I was at Campbell's last game at White Hart Lane while playing for Portsmouth. He was brilliant then, shrugging off the abuse just as he did during Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Spurs back in 2001. And sure enough, he will survive again tonight.

But if the Spurs fans overstep the mark, throwing missiles perhaps, or chanting abuse that is against the law of the land, then what will the authorities do?

Maybe there may be some arrests like there were for Campbell's game for Pompey against Spurs. But there won't be a lasting message or enough action to stop it happening again to other players in the future.

Shame on football.

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williamhill.com

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