Earlier today I saw an image of the Leicester City team from the late 1990s and, within it, a fresh faced ex-Mariner. Proud of my knowledge (and sight – I need glasses now) I put it to Twitter to see who else was on my level. But to tell you the truth, you probably didn’t even have to look at the picture to take a guess at his identity, such is the dearth of talent we’ve acquired from what will soon be crowned England’s finest domestic team.
Ok, it could’ve been Ashley Chambers – we took him on loan from the Foxes. I’d forgotten about him (as had we all, until he returned to score against us for York).
Anyway, it was Stuart Campbell. Scottish by name, Scottish by nature (at least in the sense that his performances were of the underwhelming fashion that left fans shrugging shoulders and feeling a bit ‘meh’ about his inability to play to his potential). He didn’t wear a kilt or swig Irn Bru, to my knowledge – although he was fond of wearing an invisible cape.
Campbell was Mr Invisible. I’m not sure if it was Tony Butcher’s reports on Cod Almighty that first gave him that tag, or a description that all Town fans somehow reached unanimously, but it stuck. It was his ability to blend so effortlessly into nothingness, and disappear in matches that, oddly, made him stand out. While the rest of his teammates were being marked out of 10 by the fans, Campbell’s score wasn’t even a number – fans just marked the word ‘dunno’ next to his name.
We were never angry with his performances; just disappointed.
I felt a bit sorry for him, because when he originally joined on loan, in the 2000/01 season (making him a Lennie Lawrence signing), he showed promise. He’d earned international caps for the under-21s, and displayed some dynamism in a very cosmopolitan Town team that was knitted together in a hurry and battling for second division survival. Alongside Paul Groves in the centre of midfield, he initially looked the part, but then Lennie became obsessed with partnering him with Danny right-back-all-day-long Butterfield and the two of them looked a bit lost. I’m still not sure how that combination – with Ben Chapman on the left – ‘worked’ at Liverpool, you know.
I remember the 2002/3 season, sadly, when Campbell finished top scorer with eight goals. Those were the days. Podge scored eight before pre-season was over, and I’m not even joking. We might be non-league, but we’re nowhere near as shit as we were back then in relative terms.
To many, Campbell was an enigma. He was with us, he just did nothing for us. He stood out (bad turn of phrase) on the left wing to plug a gap in that relegation season, despite not having a left foot, or any pace, and having played most of his career up until that point in the centre.
I think that probably underlines how poor a squad we had that year. I still remember feeling excited about the signings of Steve Chettle and Darren Barnard, and not detecting any scent of the panicky nature those late-in-the-day moves actually represented. I got Campbell’s match shirt that summer in circumstances I cannot even recollect.
After leaving the Mariners following our relegation to the fourth division, Campbell moved to Bristol Rovers and captained them to promotion (before taking them back down as caretaker manager). Wikipedia describes him as ‘one of their most popular skippers’.
Everyone’s favourite research tool also tells me that he finished his playing career in the US with Tampa Bay Rowdies, and has since become their head coach – where, no doubt, he employs the managerial tactic favoured by Drop The Dead Donkey’s Gus Hedges (who for those who don’t know insisted that he remained invisible to the news team he was responsible for).
He made more than 150 appearances for the Mariners across four seasons, under four different managers – and he put in a wicked cross for Marlon Broomes to sweep home in that victory at Anfield.
Do you have a favourite Stuart Campbell memory? Bristol Rovers fans: what did you make of him?