To prove what a great paper The Times is (see previous blog post), here’s a feature from last weekend on Arsenal ‘starlet’ (yuck) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Fortunately the Ox comes across as a well brought up young man who is a credit to Arsenal – but you knew that already. You may not know he’s the son of former pro Mark Chamberlain, and England international himself back in the 1980s. Mark was one of the very first black England players, at a time when racism was far more blatant than now, despite John Terry’s best efforts.
Alex tells a tale of how his father wouldn’t let things faze him, and when a banana was thrown at him he picked it up, peeled it and ate it, thanked the thrower and carried on with the game. Chamberlain senior was also, with fellow black players Viv Anderson and John Barnes, abused by some of the National Front members who were disgracefully allowed to follow England on tours. The abuse took place on an official team flight between Rio (where Barnes had just scored his wonder goal in the Maracana) and Chile! At least we have moved on somewhat from that.
Alex himself has suffered no such indignities. It seems his biggest problem was not growing fast enough. When he played for Southampton at 14 in a tournament he came up against ‘massive’ Arsenal boys of the same age, including Emmanuel Frimpong. Frimpong was so big by comparison that he bullied the tiny Ox and others into getting off the Xbox – which doesn’t sound like the sort of God-fearing attitude Frimpong claims to have, but still. Worse for the Ox was that his small stature meant Southampton thought about releasing him, but in the end kept him in the under-14s for an extra year to give him a chance to grow.
This was after the club had actually offered him a 4-year deal at the age of 12, which his father persuaded him to turn down, fearing he would become complacent.
Mark looms large in the story, as a mentor through Alex’s life, while obviously keeping his feet well and truly on the ground. I’d say so far he’s done a pretty good job.