By Maxwell George
Everyone has childhood heroes. Superman, Batman, Super Ted, Leonardo de Ninja Turtle, or if you were a disturbed little child like me, the Marshmallow man from ghostbusters. Also every child has a human hero, be it an athlete, an actor, an entertainer or like my son’s future hero, me, wishful thinking. Mine was a footballer.
I see kids today at the Arsenal with all different names on their back, and considering our squad now I don’t think you would get teased which ever one you went for. I have only had three in my time, (four if you include an England shirt with my idols name on the back and he was never capped). Two of them are probably the most common, but the first was by far my favourite and meant most to me for many reasons and is certainly not an obvious pick. Before you try and guess, it wasn’t Dickov (‘haha’ to my friend – BURN, still after all these years).
Bergkamp, printed on the back of the 1996 blue away shirt was given to me for my birthday. I still have the picture of dad and I holding it shaking hands in front of me as if a transfer was just completed. A quick mention on Dennis, would be disrespectful not to. With out doubt, in my opinion the greatest footballer to ever put on the famous red and white shirt and I dare to say one of the greatest players of all time. On that note here is what he had to say about the next name I got printed on my back, “If you look at the whole package, with everything he has, I don’t think you can find that anywhere else”. Of course the king himself, Thierry Henry. The greatest ever player not to win the Ballon d’Or.
Right let’s get to it, Kevin Campbell. That’s right Kevin Campbell. A young English boy from Lambeth, Kevin Campbell joined Arsenal in 1985 as a schoolboy trainee. He went on to score a phenomenal 59 goals in one season for the youth team and helped them win the FA youth cup. With short loans to Leyton Orient and Leicester he made quite an impact in the 1990/1991 title winning season, scoring eight times in ten games. Apparently Arsenal had a choice to make, promote Campbell or Andy Cole. I’m sure I don’t need to explain Andy Cole’s career. 187 league goals, enough said. So there you have it Campbell got the nod which speaks volumes about what George Graham thought of him.
Summer of 1991, Arsenal signed the man so good they named him thrice, Ian Wright. With Wrighty in the mix, along with Smith and Merson, Campbell had a real fight on his hands to get first team football. In the following two seasons, Smudger’s time was coming to an end, Merson was being deployed out on to the left and in midfield. Campbell and Wright’s partnership was by no means prolific but they worked well together. A bromance was definitely there, celebrations were great, but it was a little Batman and Robin if you ask me. Wrighty could have played with anyone or no one. It was with Dennis behind him where he blossomed. Kevin Campbell was no Bergkamp but he was big, strong, good in the air and a fairly clinical finisher. Without sounding insulting, think Emile Heskey (Leicester years, not all the other places). 1992/ 93 saw Arsenal kick the Wednesday out of Sheffield twice in both cup finals. In 1994 we won the cup winners cup and it was a personal best for Campbell, 19 goal in total. He finished his Arsenal career on 46 goals in 166 appearances. Not the worst goal tally we’ve seen. It’s higher than the likes of Kanu, Wiltord, Overmars and Anelka.
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In 1995 Campbell was sold to Nottingham Forest. He formed an impressive partnership with Pierre van Hooijdonk, scoring 20 of the 39 goals scored between them. A move to Turkey was cut premature due to the primitive and total ignorant views fans had towards the colour of his skin. The vile behaviour was enough to see Campbell back in England. A master stroke by Walter Smith saw Campbell sign on loan in March as Everton were in a relegation battle, he scored 9 goals in 10 games. Everton still remained one of the two teams who have never been relegated since joining the top division, no guessing who the other team is. A permanent move to Everton saw him become a very popular Toffee in Merseyside. Few seasons later a move to the Baggies where he only bagged one goal and then a final farewell season in Cardiff. I was upset when he left but I was older as well and I guess my knowledge for football had improved. So when we signed the Dutch Inter Milan reject, I soon forgot about the past and only looked forward. With Bergkamp at the helm I was not to be disappointed.
The reason why I was so fond of Campbell was because of my dad’s connections.
He knew pretty much the whole team through his line of work. He managed to get his autograph for me shortly after my first game. A simple piece of paper with an unreadable scribble on it, no message just the scribble. From that moment I adopted him as my favourite player. Also he had the same birthday as my eldest brother. Thanks to Campbell I never missed a big bro’s birthday ever again.
My 8th birthday party at home. A sleep over with six or seven of my friends. The night had become a bit overwhelming for me. I’m in my mum’s room crying, maybe because I wanted everyone to piss off so I could watch Match of the Day in piece and quiet. I adored my football, much more than anyone else I knew. The door bell rings, mum tells me to go and answer. I go down stairs reluctantly, wiping the tears off my face, open the door. Kevin Campbell! That’s right ladies and gentleman Kevin Campbell knocked on my door and is here for me. Stunned is an understatement.
It would be a bit like if the entire roster of the Victoria’s Secret models knocked on my door right now. He came in gave me a hug, said happy birthday and was lead inside by my mum to a crowd of kids. In hindsight thinking back all my friends were more interested in playing Castlevania and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the Nintendo (oh how I miss the days of just’ X’ and ‘O’ on the joypad). I didn’t care what any one was doing. I sat next to him the whole night gazing up at him and bombarded him with questions about Arsenal. Imagine you had Sanchez or Ozil at your dinner table and you could ask them anything you wanted, and you were eight. Amazing isn’t it. As the night drew to a close I watched as he talked and laughed with dad as they said their goodbyes. That was the best present a child could have asked for and my dad made it happen by simply asking him. Maybe this was dad’s plan on cementing me in to the Arsenal. If it was it sure worked.
I recently read a lovely article. An Arsenal fan became concerned that his son was swaying towards Liverpool. He constructed a letter pretending to be Arsene Wenger persuading his son to stick with the Gunners. Absolute genius. I salute you Sir and totally understand your fears. I want the world for my son. He can do what he wants in his life. Chose his friends, wear what he wants, marry who ever, woman, man or none, I don’t care. Just don’t bloody come home and tell me you support Spurs. Dear god PLEASE don’t let this happen otherwise I will kidnap an Arsenal player and make them come to his birthday.
After all these years I still really appreciate what Campbell did for me. I have admired many players through out the years. Wright, Bergkamp, Overmars, Kanu. To Vieira, Henry, Freddy and Pires, and most recently Alexis and Ozil.
It is Kevin Campbell though that will always be the most important Arsenal player to me. Thank you Kevin Campbell, my Arsenal hero.
Thanks for listening. That’s it!!