If I asked you how old the former England centre back Sol Campbell was, here’s what you’d do: you’d go on Google, you’d type ‘sol campbell age’ and then you’d tell me he’s 44-years-old today.
This isn’t what Sol Campbell does, mind. Here is a transcript of his answer, recorded and uploaded online at 9.54am this morning:
“43-years-old today. Yes. Sol Campbell. Gotta get it right though, cause some people thought I was 44 for some strange reason. No, I’m definitely 43.”
Now, you might think “fair enough, he is Sol Campbell, he probably knows his age better than anyone, on account of having lived as Sol Campbell for his entire life, he must be 43.” but hold that thought for a hot second.
At 10.33am, he issued a second birthday statement, almost identical to the first, except with all mention of his age now omitted. So how old is Sol Campbell?
Before we get into this essential piece of forensic journalism, a quick primer on Sol Campbell’s social media. I certainly wouldn’t deny any charges of being prone to bouts of farcical hyperbole when talking up celebrities’ internet activities in the past, I truly mean it when I say: Sulzeer Jeremiah ‘Sol’ ‘solmanofficial’ Campbell is the most essential follow anywhere online.
You see, take you, a bumpkin normie. You broadcast your life across the internet like everyone else. You meticulously curate some sort of ‘relatable’ persona, hoping your tawdry observations and ruminations on everyday life will help you reach an audience, let you connect with followers, with strangers, with someone, anyone. Meanwhile, Sol Campbell’s Instagram Stories are like the captain’s log of an intrepid explorer who’s found himself marooned in civilization. He’ll document whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases.
Sometimes he films soliloquies of his idle thoughts. Sometimes he just stands and stares expressionlessly at the selfie camera, as though admiring himself in the reflection of a car window. And sometimes he whizzes us round 360 to capture his surroundings, though always too fast for you to actually take any of it in. If NASA blasted Sol Campbell into orbit with an iPhone strapped to the front of his helmet, and he somehow encountered a new cosmos and extraterrestrial life, he’d still snap himself in front of a martian with a cocked eyebrow and pursed lips. It’s an irresistible, seductive screen presence.
His voice is every bit as beguiling. He enunciates and pauses as though providing narration on the majesty of nature for some epic-scale documentary. His choice of vocabulary and phrasing is straight out of an Agatha Christie ITV drama - the kind that would be scoffed by a playboy aristocrat extending a goading invite for Poirot to join him in “a spot of Russian Roulette.” And yet, the content of what he’s actually saying, and the general unpolished devil-may-care not-going-to-watch-this-back that’ll-probably-do stumbling delivery is evocative of a self-shot Big Brother audition tape.
This video is his opus. Quintessential solmanofficia. You sort of understand what he’s going for - the kind of rhapsodic monologue that might be laid over a glossy BBC slo-mo montage of famous FA Cup moments, combined with a quasi-team-talk to no-one in particular - but that’s not what comes out.
It both seems like he’s reading off a pre-prepared script, and that also he has no idea what he’s about to say next, and how he’s going to say it. The way he changes dynamic from emphatic staccato borderline-shouting to a sensual whispered growl. The way he trips over “well, it’s all down to you now, guys” without losing pace. The specific way he calls them “Arsenal. The Arsenal.” The way the light emanating from his fireplace softly dapples across his cheekbone and menacingly flickers in his eyes. The way he’s deployed the exact angle that dads use when they open the camera on an iPad and are surprised to see themselves. The way he’s staring at the bottom left corner of the screen, and yet somehow also directly into your soul. It’s masterful.
Sol Campbell takes the rote cliches and sentiments of a celebrity social media, and transforms them into something completely unique. He defies genre expectations, experimenting with subtle changes in rhythm, intonation, delivery, mise-en-scene and performance to make something at once familiar, and yet mesmerisingly strange. It’s never clear exactly how we’re supposed to read his work, or even if there is a ‘correct’ way to do so. Sol Campbell is the David Lynch of Instagram Stories.
According to Wikipedia, and indeed most other sources, Sol Campbell was born on the 18th of September 1974, which would make him 44 today. Wikipedia was once notorious for being a hotbed of erroneous nonsense, but thanks to vigilant mods and rigorous citation checking, its credibility is a lot less questioned these days.
Still, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a mistake could happen from time to time. Perhaps a tidbit of mistaken info got recorded somewhere and somehow snowballed into becoming canon, without the relevant parties ever noticing. But in the case of footballers, whose ages are a matter of official and public record from the age they’re old enough to bin off school for a youth academy, either the entire sport - which comprises a constellation of coaches, managers, pundits, journalists, fans and video games - has got Sol Campbell’s age wrong since the start of his career, or he’s actually 44.
Presumably, a few people wished Sol Campbell a happy 44th birthday, otherwise, he wouldn’t have addressed these claims in his original video. So one has to wonder several things.
Of course, over the age of about 21, it’s possible to momentarily forget how old you are and find age but a pointless, arbitrary statistic clocked on the pedometer of life, but on your birthday? And to not only temporarily forget, but to double down and send a video to 145,000 people preemptively correcting them, and to express bafflement at the “strange reason” people thought you were 44, not 43, without any of this jolting you into thinking: hang on, am I actually 44? Has Sol Campbell spent all of last year believing he was 42, not 43? And if so, did he believe he was 41 the year before that? When did he lose track of his age? Has Sol Campbell, who retired as a 36-year-old, managed to erase an entire year of his post-playing days? Should we be concerned about the number of headers a professional footballer is expected to complete over the course of their career?
The second video raises more questions than it answers. Let’s watch both again.
We’ll start with the answer, which is only inferred: in between 9:54am and 10.33am Sol Campbell has realised he is actually 44-years-old, hence he has uploaded the same birthday video message, only minus the rebuttal at the beginning.
How did Sol Campbell discover he was 44? Did he simply remember? Did someone tell him? Did he have to Google his own name? What was that moment of realisation like? So much has happened offscreen, and Sol Campbell is deliberately going to leave it for us to interpret and him not to addressed.
Why did Sol Campbell delete his original post, instead of just rolling with it, all “haha, turns out I am 44, what am I like, guys??” And why did he re-record the original - which it needs to remembered, seemed to be an incredibly clunky ‘thank you’ message full of “,” and “errs” - almost word-for-word, instead of just improvising a new one? Did he script his original? Does he always script his videos?
Why is Sol Campbell a lot shorter of breath the second time around? Did he record the follow-up in a panicked hurry? What was so vital about the message of the original birthday post the he felt he had to get it out into the world, before he had time to compose himself?
Who is Sol Campbell telling to “stay strong out there” and “to keep positive” - the sort of sentiment celebs usually send to fans in hospitals - on his birthday? Why did he keep the gag about fine wine “getting better with age” in a re-post which he had to do precisely because he’s now gotten so old he seems to have forgotten his age? Which wine gets “one year wiser”? And which members of Sol Campbell’s family saw the messages wishing him a happy birthday in order to be touched by them, and if so, did they not see the messages wishing him a happy 44th birthday? Did Sol Campbell’s own family wish him a happy 44th birthday?
And is Sol Campbell actually even 44?
As the logic of this infamous exchange between two Arsenal fans dictates, a person’s age is not concrete. Has Sol Campbell spent too much time immersed in Gooner Twitter? Has he simply been rounding up and down the wrong way all this time? But, according to Blackburngeorge, Sol Campbell will be 45 tomorrow. So how old is Sol Campbell?
These are all questions better left unanswered. Maybe the mistake was deliberate. Maybe he’s playing with us. Maybe he’s challenging our rudimentary understanding of celebrity, and of age. Sol Campbell is an enigma that defies absolutes, and explanations.
Enjoy the moment, enjoy the occasion. But remember: until you’re 45, you’re 44.