Our Sol loses face in ugly image-rights row

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Campbell’s decision to sue his ailing club over image rights is an ugly affair, says Steve Morgan

Pompey fans have had more on their plate this season than a starving tramp could scoff at an all-you-can-eat session in your nearest Harvester.

Though I am unable as yet to verify the rumour that the Samaritans are now refusing to take our calls, it was looking a tough assignment, with five months of the season still remaining, to work out what might qualify as the nadir of 2009/10.

(That’s presuming we even make it past February’s cut-off point for the taxman’s demand for his £12 million of flesh).

But, by Jove, I think we’ve cracked it. This one’s lower than a snake’s belly.

Hearty congratulations, then, to the impoverished Sol Campbell for trumping Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all in stepping straight to the front of the baying mob with one arm in the air, crying foul. (You can take the boy out of Arsenal...)

Campbell’s decision to sue the club for £1.7 million over a claim for unpaid bonuses and ‘image rights’ was certainly one we didn’t see coming on an unforgettable May afternoon in 2008, as we bellowed our skipper’s name to Wembley’s retractable rooftop.

A time, incidentally, that now seems more like 2,000 years ago than the 20 months it actually is.

I’m half-expecting to be dug from under my duvet one morning by Tony Robinson’s Time Team in an attempt to prove that it even took place.

But I digress.

Sol’s face-time continuum is money, after all. "When Sol went up to lift the FA Cup, we were there," I believe that Wembley paean went.

This Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Sunderland will probably feature the following ironic variation on a theme: "When Sol went up to get the club wound up, we were there."

"Oooh, I could kiss myself"

Leaving aside the thorny notion of whether the very existence of image rights isn’t extending the beautiful game analogy a bit too far – what, we’ve now got to pay through the nose just to look at you? – and whether fans have a test case against Jamie Redknapp’s Thomas Cook ad, or Iain Dowie, for image wrongs, this is the straw that’s broken the camel’s back where Blues are concerned.

Most of our time spent staring up from the bottom of the Premier League’s pit of souls this season has seen us wracked with the anguish of seeing our hopes buried like so much landfill, with a side order of guilt over perceptions that we mortgaged our souls to the devil when we realised that Wembley dream; the equivalent of that other noted Blues lover Robert Johnson going down to the crossroads with his guitar.

While I wouldn’t expect fans of other clubs to give sympathy – a rare emotion in ‘thegreatestleagueintheworld’ – I would ask this. Isn’t there something of a line being drawn in the sand here?

Before Campbell’s bombshell (another reason to feel like a Spurs fan, besides the fact that they have our old manager and all our players) it felt like us against The Man, casting ourselves in our more romantically dramatic moments, as the battered country bumpkins starving in a dustbowl in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

Now the man who captained us on the greatest day of our lives has plonked his size 14s in.

So, is it just me, or is this about the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?

Did Jimmy Hill really envisage all this when he successfully campaigned for the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961?

The year ended in one – maybe there’s a bit of Spurs still in Campbell after all?

Campbell’s salary at Pompey has been rumoured to have been as high as £110,000 a week, probably enough to keep him – and most of us, probably – in piano lessons. At the very least we could all master Chopsticks.

Regardless of his claim in law, I would imagine there are plenty of others who are rather more deserving of their shilling from the Fratton Park bum-bag that passes for the club’s finances these days.

The club’s administrative staff, perhaps, many of whose had their wages delayed over the festive period.

"That's all you can see without paying a tenner"

It should also be said for the record, m’lud, that the plaintiff was seemingly finished when he joined us from Arsenal.

A giant of the game, Brian, fershure, but one gently downsizing to a bungalow retirement pad on the South Coast; a nice sea breeze to fan the heat from his Upton Park epiphany.

You remember that afternoon, the one where his image rights hit the skids?

When he signed, I had a text message from a mate who joked: "Well, he must be mad if he’s joined you lot."

I urged him to hold his counsel, that Pompey could be just the club for Campbell, that I – and my fellow Pompey faithful – wouldn’t judge him until he’d worn the shirt.

"Could be a late flowering," I said. "Like in Cocoon."

Turned out I was right. At least I was for a bit.

Call me over-emotional if you like, but this feels like a cowardly kick in the nuts, an act which I can’t decide was spawned by a man living in a perennial holiday from the real world, or just outright malice.

Who knows the intricacies of Sol’s complex mind? It’s beyond my intelligence, certainly.

Either way it suggests, to this writer at least, that the balloon has finally gone up for the game I’ve loved for four decades.

Weirdly, I feel a light, trippy feeling, a strange sense of release for finally ridding me of the stupid loyalty and open arms extended to Campbell in the face of the ribbing we received for signing him.

Silly me for supporting the team that helped get him back on his feet. It won’t happen again, even if our transfer embargo ever gets lifted.

A good deal of recent message board activity has centred around the notion of founding a phoenix Pompey, in the event that the bell which tolls for us at the High Court in mid-February is not John bloody Westwood’s, rather the clanging chimes of doom.

"Get those photographers outta here"

"Reclaim our soul," said one bold poster – or was it "Reclaim arsehole"?

Either way, our Sol (was he seen at Notts County for long enough to claim image rights?) has made many of us ask whether we’d not be better off looking the other way entirely from here on in.

Better to leave the Premier League and all who sail in it to gaze longingly at their own reflections in ever-emptying stadiums, and enjoy their image rights exclusively. To themselves.

For my part, I’ve been on hold at the Samaritans while I’ve been writing this, but have been assured that my call is important to them.

In the meantime, anyone got a number for Dignitas?

More on from Steve Morgan:
Wed 9 Dec: How a Christian soldier set a Primus example

Mon 11 Jan: Pompey Crimes?

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