London: Sol Campbell’s racism claims are just sinking in with Paul Ince when he starts rattling off the names of some England captains down the years.
“There’s been me, [Tony] Adams, [Stuart] Pearce, [David] Seaman, [Alan] Shearer, [John] Terry, [Rio] Ferdinand … that’s a lot of big names with a lot of big egos,” he declared.
“Sol’s a clever, articulate man and he’s a friend of mine but he wouldn’t have been England captain for 10 years — nobody is.
“He has obviously had different experiences to me as a footballer and I can only really talk about my own.”
Ince knows what it takes to lead the country: a fiery, competitive warrior who was first named England captain in 1993 against the USA in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
He was the first black England player to wear the armband and yet Ince has mixed views about the stir it caused.
“It was the pinnacle of my career when Graham Taylor made me captain, but I can remember feeling uncomfortable with the questions,” he said.
“I just wanted to be the England captain, I didn’t want to be remembered as the first black England captain because I didn’t look at it in that way.
“Then, after the game, I began to look at it in a different way because I had a lot of parents from the ghetto sending me letters telling me it had inspired their children to get jobs or to start playing football.
“I don’t know whether they were black, white or Asian or whatever, but it didn’t matter. That meant a lot, to think that somehow I had inspired people I had never even met.”
Campbell has made some startling claims, chief among them the idea that the game’s governing body in this country is institutionally racist.
The former England defender, who was named captain three times during a distinguished international career, has convinced himself that his colour prevented him leading his country more often.
“We can make too much of the captaincy and what it means,” added Ince. “I was captain of pretty much every team I played for — Manchester United, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Wolves and England — so my colour didn’t come into it.
“Sol is a friend of mine and he was around for Euro 96 under Terry Venables and again at the World Cup in 1998.
“I didn’t deal with the FA often enough, but there was never any issue over my skin colour with my teammates or people I came across within the organisation.
“I have no reason to believe they are racist — who are we talking about? I loved people like David Davies [former executive director at the FA] and I just never encountered it.
“Sol has every right to his view and we all have opinions, but in my experience I just didn’t see it. I was an England player, an England captain, I didn’t think about it.”
Ince captained England seven times, famously leading the country to the World Cup finals in 1998 in a blood-stained shirt after a typically combative performance alongside Paul Gascoigne against Italy in Rome.
“Adams, Gascoigne, [Gareth] Southgate, [Ian] Wright and Sol all played in that game and I had a responsibility to wear the armband against a very good Italy team,” he said.
“I can remember the night before the Italy game. I was with Ian Wright and we were both so nervous that we couldn’t sleep because we didn’t want to let the country down the next night.
“I felt a responsibility to the country, but the captaincy would have meant nothing to me if I didn’t have the respect of the other players. That was important to me.
“My England teammates didn’t look at me and think ‘Paul Ince is a black England captain’ and neither did the manager. Why is that an issue?
“Glenn Hoddle was the manager and he chose the person he felt could do the job the best at that particular time — he could pick who he wanted. Glenn was the manager and should have been for a lot longer. He chose the captain, as Graham Taylor and Terry Venables did before him, and the FA never had any say in it.”
Ince represented his country 53 times and retired from international football after England’s Euro 2000 exit.
He went on to become a manager with Blackburn, Macclesfield and, most recently, Blackpool, but fears that a number of top former black England players are being lost to the game.
Ince, now 47, added: “We have lost a lot of good black players out of the game, such as Sol, Wright, [Mark] Bright.
“We have to give them inspiration to stay involved because this is the 21st century. I was 32 when I started thinking about what was next for me.
“I understand there are obstacles in the way because we have to be prepared to do our A licence and our Pro Licence if we want to be managers.
“I have had five jobs now and I think I have done well at all of them and still think I should be manager of Blackpool.
“It would have been easy to sit on my arse for five years and wait but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to prove I could do it and I have done that at clubs with limited resources.
“People like Keith Alexander, RIP, did so much for the game and showed black players that they could go on to become managers.
“Last year there was a lot of talk about the Rooney Rule, giving an ethnic minority candidate the opportunity to make a case for a job. We jumped on that and then it’s all gone away.
“Maybe Sol needs to decide what he wants to do with his career now that he has stopped playing and commit to whatever it is he wants to do.”