A Tribute To Jorge Campos: A Genuine Footballing Maverick

Mexico's goalkeeper come striker leaped to attention at the 1994 World Cup. An athletic and daring shot stopper who knew where the goal was at the other end, what's not to love?
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Mexico's goalkeeper come striker leaped to attention at the 1994 World Cup. An athletic and daring shot stopper who knew where the goal was at the other end, what's not to love?

If there’s one thing the world of football loves it’s a maverick: a game changer who alters the way we appreciate the sport. Jorge Francisco Campos Navarrete, or Jorge Campos as he was commonly known, was just such a figure. A larger than life character with a smaller than expected stature, to whom convention did not seem to matter one jot. For the sixteen years his career spanned, football was richer for his presence, and that is reason enough to pay tribute to the man that was, in every sense, a riot of colour.

Born within spitting distance of the Pacific Ocean in the beach resort of Acapulco in 1966, Campos’ first and last love was always the sea. Though a keen sportsman from an early age, he did not begin playing competitive football until his early teens, preferring instead to spend his time with the sea, surfing amongst the miles and miles of glorious coastline that surrounds his home town. When he did play football as a youngster it was not as a goalkeeper, but rather the role of striker in which he cast himself for the playground kickabouts in which he partook.

At just 5 foot 8 inches it is easy to see why it was an outfield attacking role that Campos initially preferred. But as he began to play more and more competitive football it was his natural agility and athleticism, the very same facets that served him well as a forward, that identified him as such a talented goalkeeper. By the age of twenty-two Campos had agreed his first professional contract as a goalkeeper with Club Universidad Nacional – known affectionately as Pumas – one of Mexico’s most popular teams. Finding first team opportunities limited due to the presence of Mexican international Adolfo Rios, Campos found most of his playing time in his first season as a striker. Remarkably he scored 14 goals, a tally which saw him challenge for the title of the team’s top goal scorer.

Finding first team opportunities limited due to the presence of Mexican international Adolfo Rios, Campos found most of his playing time in his first season as a striker

By the 1990-91 season Campos had unseated Rios to become part of the title winning side of that year. Though now most commonly used between the sticks, forays in an attacking capacity were not unheard of. On a couple of occasions, typically when Pumas were trailing, Campos was moved up front with the substitute goalkeeper coming on to replace an outfield player. It was as a goalkeeper that Campos began to distinguish himself however, with a series of dramatic performances. Campos became the archetypal ‘sweeper-keeper’, able to advance of his line with breathtaking speed to break up opposition attacks. But even more than this, he would regularly march forward with the ball at this feet, and organise his defence from outside his box. He became, essentially, Pumas’ eleventh and twelfth man. Half goalkeeper, half libero.

It was at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.A that Campos first caught my eye. As an impressionable youngster who already fancied himself as something of goalkeeper, how could I not be enticed by this bizarre apparition? A daring and fearless shot-stopper, who frequently flirted with the reckless, all the while decorated like a packet of skittles; yes this was the role model for me. With each ludicrous save and each sighting of that kit I was drawn deeper in. Years later, when I discovered that Campos created his own kits and drew inspiration from his surfing days in his designs, he only rose further in my ‘cool’ estimation.

Between 1995 and 1998 Campos went on a trailblazing tour across Central and North America. Like the rock-and-roll star he was born to be, this tour featured highlights such as the bicycle kick he scored for Atlante, spells with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire in the opening seasons of Major League Soccer, and further exploits in an attacking capacity for Cruz Azul. Everywhere Campos went he ripped up the rule book. But there was never anything sinister about his antics. No prima donna tantrums or silly demands. These were simply the carefree actions of a man who loved football and loved life.

Campos featured for Mexico again at the 1998 World Cup, starting all four of their games as they reached the round of sixteen before falling to Germany. By the time he retired Campos had amassed an astonishing 129 caps for his country, and is the fourth most capped Mexican of all time. It seems an odd point to make about a goalkeeper, but strangely Campos never scored an international goal. After the 1998 World Cup he went on to play a further season for each of Pumas, Tigres, Pumas again and Atlante again, before finishing his career in 2004 with Puebla. His club career statistics of 34 goals in 433 games are nothing short of extraordinary.

When I discovered that Campos created his own kits and drew inspiration from his surfing days in his designs, he only rose further in my ‘cool’ estimation.

In 1999, as Campos competed in the New Year’s Cup with Mexico in Hong Kong, his father was abducted by armed bandits as he watched a football match on the Jorge Campos football field in Acapulco – named in his son’s honour – and held in captivity for six days before he was released unharmed. Campos flew straight home from the tournament to be with his family, and it was not disclosed whether or not a ransom fee was paid. After retirement Campos opened up a chain of fast food outlets – Sportortas-Campos – specialising in tacos, and worked intermittently as a pundit on Mexican television. With the ocean always close to him, Campos has also spent time campaigning extensively to raise awareness over environmental issues that are threatening the very coastline that he grew up alongside.

There’s an old story that tells how Campos would regularly take to the field with an outfield strip on underneath his goalkeeper’s shirt, primed and ready for action should circumstances dictate that his talents were needed up front. Such a story, coupled with his scintillating displays, made Campos a superhero to me, and many others. An entertainer in the truest sense of the word, he brightened every pitch he graced, and for that we pay tribute to him.

This first appeared on the cracking Five in Midfield

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