Club Heroes: The Legend Of Wigan Athletic’s Bobby Campbell

He was a hard drinking, chain smoking, old school footballer who stuck his head where others feared to put their boots. No wonder this Wigan Athletic fan loves Bobby Campbell.
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He was a hard drinking, chain smoking, old school footballer who stuck his head where others feared to put their boots. No wonder this Wigan Athletic fan loves Bobby Campbell.

They say you should never meet your heroes. I was 14 I think when Bobby Campbell signed for Latics. I even had a photo of me with him and I was wearing a shocking Ellgren kit we had. A few years ago the Supporters’ Club had a Past Players’ Dinner and all the players and most of the guests made their way across to Kudos nightclub when it finished. I of course offered to buy Bobby a drink. It was only when I saw that his chosen drink was the long forgotten alcopop Metz that a little part of the aura about the man faded…

I’ll not give you the stats, this piece is about memories not goal per game ratios. I don’t even want to look at Wikipedia or Soccerbase and if any of this isn’t how it was then I make no apology. It’s fair to say that when Bobby joined us he was in the twilight of his career but what a player he was. A hard living, hard drinking, chain smoking, indecipherable Ulsterman, it was no surprise that even in his prime he was never the sprightliest of footballers. It was often said he could head a ball as hard as most people could kick it. Indeed if he took penalties, he’d probably try and head one in. Nevertheless, what he lacked for pace, he made up for in speed of thought.

I remember one home game against Brentford where Bobby Campbell had the ball on the edge of the box, poised to shoot and two Brentford players and Bobby Mimms were all charging towards him to block the shot and Bobby just rolled it in the other corner cool as you like. He forged a useful partnership with a young Paul Jewell up front for Wigan in the late eighties in a great up and coming Latics team (soon to be dismantled but nothing new there) who went all the way to an FA Cup quarter final, back when it meant something.

It was the League Cup where Bobby stood out. A two legged tie versus Bolton Wanderers, they of the 4th Division, us of the 3rd. We go down 3-2 at home first leg, I used to have the video, with that horrible Bolton commentator on it – Dave Higson – who used to multi-orgasm his way through games ‘Oh John Thomas, what a great goal, what a super goal’. The second leg, Bolton scored another and we looked dead and buried only for Campbell to score a stunning second half hat trick, two screamers bouncing in off the bar, Geoff Hurst style. You can imagine how well this went down with the friendly Burnden Park and loveable Mr Higson: ‘What a pig of a referee, what a swine of a referee!’ as objects rain down on him at full time.

The old fashioned centre forward seems to be a dying breed. Heskey? Don’t make me laugh, he's not fit to roll Bobby’s baccy.

Another great memory was away at Alty in the FA Cup, a few years before we got knocked out there. A packed away terrace went wild as Bobby scored a stunning diving header to win the game. We made MOTD that evening and he was almost parallel to the goal line when flinging himself at it, yet he still nearly broke the net.

Bobby also played his part in the Mercantile Credit trophy at Wembley in 1987. This, you may recall was a sixteen team invitational tournament with eight clubs from Division One, four from Division Two and two from each of the bottom two divisions. Wembley had been segregated into sixteen “ends”. Different clubs reacted differently: the Liverpool & United sections were empty, their fans giving little credence to such a Mickey Mouse tournament. Palace, who had not had any success for a while brought thousands, as did Leeds, at the height of their notoriety. Some clubs like Leeds had booked the whole weekend but then subsequently were knocked out by lunchtime on the first day, as were Newcastle.

We’d got Sunderland first game and beat them on straight knock out penalties after drawing in normal time. The Newcastle fans in the next pen to us threw their scarves at us and mobbed Bobby. I’ve just got this wonderful image of his toothless grin looking up into the stands of Wembley to the adoring Geordies and Wiganers while some daft Geordie nearly throttles him while putting a black and white scarf around his neck.

Bobby was also revered at Bradford City, I knew this already but on acquiring a copy of the best of ‘The City Gent’ (Bradford’s long running fanzine) it was clear that everyone who met the man had a Bobby Campbell tale. My favourite involved Bradford’s diminutive blonde permed winger Mark Ellis winding Bobby up on the coach home after an away trip, until the Irishman snapped and took his tie off and used it to “hang him” from the bog door, the noose growing ever tighter every time the coach went around a corner…

His career after Wigan, well who knows? Like many of our current crop his spell at the club was only a year and a half but that was predominantly due to his age not cash gluttony. The rumour was that he was running a social club in Yorkshire, the proper occupation for an ex-footballer, sadly today’s footballer will have little need to consider putting a little away to get their own snug any more.

We’ve had some great number 9’s since then, most notably Graeme Jones, although the old fashioned centre forward seems to be a dying breed. Heskey? Don’t make me laugh, not fit to roll Bobby’s baccy.

Bobby Campbell. They don’t make them like that any more.

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