Ex-Arsenal, Spurs and Notts County man Sol Campbell: 'It's time people knew the truth. I wrote off £1.7m to save Portsmouth, I didn't take a penny'
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As an impressive captain and powerful performer, the classy central defender led the Blues to their first FA Cup triumph since 1939 and successive top-nine Premier League finishes.
Harry Redknapp had assembled arguably the finest Pompey side of the last 70 years – with the Arsenal two-time Premier League winner a pivotal performer over three seasons.
However, in January 2010, it emerged that a club spiralling towards administration was the subject of a writ lodged by their former skipper.
Campbell was owed £1.67m by the financially-stricken Blues in respect of outstanding bonuses and image rights, plus a claim of £200,000 in interest.
Although such actions were condemned by sections of the Fratton faithful, few realised that, two months later, Campbell reached agreement with administrator Andrew Andronikou to defer the payment until a later date when Pompey were more financially secure.
And, until now, barely anyone is aware that, ultimately, the ex-England man wrote off the entire debt to help the club which provided a glorious swansong to a glittering career.
‘People need to know this because time has passed, but I have been honourable in everything I’ve done,’ he told The News.
‘I didn’t get my money, I had to let it go. It was more than £1.6m, I was entitled to it, but I didn’t want to hamper Pompey moving forward.
‘Another person could have said “No, I want my money”, but I didn’t. I’ve been very generous and perhaps people haven't appreciated that. Regardless of what might be said about me, I could have stuck to my guns and said “I want my money” – I didn’t. No way.
‘It was actually more bonuses than image rights, but when they said I couldn’t get it, fine, I’ll walk away. That was out of respect for a fantastic club like Pompey, it should be common knowledge.
‘In the end, once I knew the dire situation, I wanted to let it go and take it on the chin. Other players wouldn't have taken it on the chin, they’d have wanted their money, but that’s the situation with me.
‘That’s what people have to realise. It was like that at Notts County as well, I could have said “I want all my money”, I’d signed a five-year deal, people don’t realise that. I had to let that go as well.
‘The trouble is, at Pompey there have been people in the finance and accounts office who have not run the club properly – then you, as a player, get the brunt of it.
‘I believe I did an amazing job at Pompey as a footballer, but you guys in the accounts department haven’t.
‘I stuck to my part of the agreement, I did everything I was entrusted to do and more. I’ve kept us in the Premier League, won the FA Cup, took us into Europe, I did everything right – but you guys didn’t.
‘Pompey and Notts County were two clubs where I lost my money for the love of football, people don’t talk about that enough.
‘I was honourable and let it go. I let it go. People may say “You have enough money anyway”, but there's a lot of players who would definitely have said “I want my money”.
‘Not me – I didn’t take a penny.’
The Blues had pulled off the Great Escape in 2005-06, finishing one place above the Premier League relegation zone following a remarkable finale.
Meanwhile, Campbell was bidding farewell to Arsenal after netting in a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final at the Stade de France.
With Blues owner Sacha Gaydamak driven to match the ambition of Chelsea and his friend Roman Abramovich, he ramped up Pompey’s spending power in that summer of 2006.
David James, Kanu, loanee Glen Johnson and Niko Kranjcar arrived ahead of the 2006-07 campaign, along with Andy Cole, yet it was the capture of the 31-year-old Campbell which represented the biggest coup.
‘Football is all about passion – and I loved that passion at Pompey. Such a fantastic club,’ Campbell added.
‘It was a fresh beginning for me after Arsenal, but also reconnected me with football, with people, with the players, with supporters.
‘Those fans are incredible, they love football, they have your back, even singing after the final whistle, regardless of the score. Amazing fans – and that’s what it is all about. That’s why football can be wonderful.
‘Winning the FA Cup and going on an open-top bus across Southsea, with 250,000 coming out to cheer us over the course of the day. It’s amazing what that does for the city.
‘There are currently a lot of clubs in the Premier League who have not been in a cup final of any sort for 30 years and spent ten times – twenty times – more money than Pompey over that period. Never reached a final, let alone win a final.
‘That’s what people have to realise, it’s usually the top-six Premier League teams winning things – yet we did it at Pompey.
‘We got to a final and then, after I had gone, reached another final two years later and lost against Chelsea. That’s an amazing feat for Pompey.
‘You have to appreciate the quality of that team Harry built, the whole ethos and philosophy, young players, experienced players, we all got the best out of each other for that period of time – and that’s key.
‘Look at Manchester United, they hadn’t won a trophy for six seasons and were jumping up and down after winning the League Cup against Newcastle last month – yes, the League Cup. They hadn’t won anything for such a long time, look at how they were celebrating.
‘The League Cup for them used to be about playing the youngsters, but they had to take it seriously this time because they needed to win.
‘People in football have to realise the accomplishment at Pompey, over that period it was unbelievable, it was incredible. That’s a special thing.
‘Not everyone can win the FA Cup, it’s the oldest cup competition in the world and it’s a special team which achieves that. Players and management – it’s special.’
Having been involved in winning the 2008 FA Cup and finishing eighth and ninth in the Premier League, by the summer of 2009 that great team was being dismantled.
Gaydamak’s financial issues coupled with the Blues’ most bankable assets being sold off to the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Spurs – along with Redknapp’s exit – signalled the end of those golden years.
With Campbell’s contract expiring and the club imploding, he too left Fratton Park, following 111 appearances and two goals over three memorable south coast seasons.
Aged 34, in August 2009 he signed a five-year deal with ambitious League Two side Notts County, following the takeover of a Middle Eastern consortium Munto Finance.
With former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson installed as director of football, it represented another ambitious challenge for Campbell.
The former England man made his Magpies debut at Morecambe in September 2009 in a side which also contained Kasper Schmeichel, Pompey loanee Matt Ritchie and future Blues right-back Ben Davies.
However, he was on the receiving end of a 2-1 defeat in front of a 3,335 crowd – and the former Spurs skipper never played for them again.
Concerned over the validity of the owners and broken promises, he walked out on the club and, three months later, Munto Finance put County up for sale amid a trail of unpaid bills.
Campbell said: ‘It was an astronomical deal I signed at Notts County and I let it go. I could have bankrupted the whole club, but just left it.
‘It was a Ponzi scheme, some fans wanted this oasis thing to just carry on, this mirage, they didn’t want it to end, but it was a buzz trip – and then there was the come down.
‘I’m not just going to lie to people, it was a Ponzi scheme, I'm sorry, that’s what it is, so I walked out of the club.
‘Panorama did a programme on it in 2011 called ‘The Trillion Dollar Con Man’, doesn't anyone watch things now or what? Obviously not. It was a massive expose on the guys that were involved and shown on the BBC.
‘People don’t know how honourable I’ve been with Pompey and Notts County. People think I got my money. Are you serious? I got nothing.’
After returning to Arsenal, initially to maintain his fitness, Campbell was handed a second first-team spell with the Gunners in January 2010 and went on to make 14 appearances, scoring once.
His final club was Newcastle, where he made a final Premier League appearance in March 2011 at the age of 36.
Since then he has turned his attention to carving out a coaching career, although been frustrated over the lack of opportunities for a player capped 73 times by England and featuring in six successive international tournaments.
Campbell’s first managerial job saw him save Macclesfield’s Football League status on the final day of the 2018-19 season.
Having taken over the side in November 2018 when five points adrift at the bottom, he led them to eight wins and 10 draws in 27 League Two games to stay up by three points.
After quitting the financially-troubled club in August 2019, he became manager of League One strugglers Southend, having taken five points from their opening 14 league games.
When the 2019-20 season was curtailed due to Covid, the Shrimpers were 16 points adrift of safety with a potential 27 points to play for – yet were relegated.
Having left Roots Hall in June 2020, Campbell has so far been unable to earn another managerial position.
He said: ‘Macclesfield didn’t pay me for six months, so I left them three games into the new season – and again wrote off what I was owed.
‘I have been honourable. I have not been perfect, but I have been honourable when it comes to football.
‘I’m a good motivator and know what I’m doing when coaching and into the swing of it, I know football inside out. You cannot have all my football experiences and know nothing about football, I can pass it all on.
‘I am not coaching at the moment, I would love to and am still applying, but nothing is happening.
‘It’s almost like I am banished out of football, which is bizarre. Eventually I will have to look further afield, such as Scotland.
‘No-one wants to talk to me, if I knew why I would change it.’
Campbell is on holiday in Florida for the Pompey Former Players’ Day on April 1 to mark the club’s 125th anniversary, with former team-mates Hermann Hreidarsson and Pedro Mendes among those confirming their attendance.
Although the 48-year-old will instead be back at Fratton Park on April 22 for the visit of Accrington.
He added: ‘In May 2008, at the age of 33, you walk up the Wembley steps, lift the FA Cup and say to yourself “You know what, all the heartache and all the ups and downs, this is so special”.
‘It makes a difference in your life and no-one can take that away from you, no-one. Whatever anyone around the world says from now on, you can’t take that away from those players, managers and staff.
‘That’s the beautiful thing about winning in that kind of way. It’s historical, it’s there, you’re part of history. No matter what anyone says, that moment is yours.
‘It’s unique, only a few people can have that feeling – and it’s so very, very special.’