Bobby Campbell: The Big Interview

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On the eve of the 1982-83 season, newly-appointed Pompey boss and former Blues defender Bobby Campbell boldly predicted his side would win the third-division title.

After injury cut short his Fratton Park playing days in the 1960s, confident Campbell had gone on to enjoy two separate coaching spells at PO4 under George Smith and Frank Burrows – the man he succeeded on a caretaker basis at the end of the previous campaign.

And having led relegation-threatened Pompey to safety and a mid-table finish to land the permanent post, the outspoken manager shaped the team in his own ambitious image.

QPR central defender Ernie Howe and Middlesbrough’s former England winger Dave Thomas, both dropped down a division as part of the Fratton revolution.

Pompey’s pulling power continued as England under-21 international Neil Webb joined from Reading for an arbitrated £87,500 fee, then sought-after Everton hitman Alan Biley traded the top-flight for the third tier.

It was a recipe for success as a free-scoring Blues side duly delivered upon proud Campbell’s promise – winning the title with a then-record 91 points.

He said: ‘Pompey were in a relegation battle (1981-82 season) but then I took over and started to get some good players in.

‘Alan Biley, Ernie Howe, Dave Thomas and Webby, who went on to play for Manchester United and England, all joined the club.

‘That squad had good players within it already, though, like Welshman Steve Aizlewood.

‘He was a big strong centre-half but had a touch like a midwife, left foot and right foot – he was some player.

‘With the team we had built, I was confident of winning the league and had no problem with saying that at all.

‘If you think you can, you might.

‘If you don’t think you can, you’ve got no chance.

‘You’ve got to commit to what you want to do and get the players to believe that the club is in the business to win the league.’

United in success on the pitch, Campbell’s triumphant side also enjoyed a good camaraderie with one another away from events at Fratton Park.

And while the Blues boss knew how to work his troops, he also allowed his men a freedom to relax and enjoy the odd beer now and again, with the tight-knit Pompey community heavily involved in both aspects.

Campbell said: ‘They’re (the players) not all saints and they’re not all angels and you can’t win anything with choirboys.

‘So, I was more than happy for the players to interact with the fans and have a beer with them.

‘And to be fair, I would have thought that if any of the fans saw the players step out of line, they would put them straight – they’d do my job for me!

‘They (the fans) were dock labourers and proud ex-Navy men.

‘I have to say that in my time at the club, the Royal Marines also helped me a lot.

‘I used to use their training ground and would hand my players over to their fitness men – the PTIs and then take them back and do all of the coaching.

‘It was magnificent.’

Magnificent, though, the Blues were sadly not in Campbell’s ill-fated second season at the helm – finishing in a lowly 16th place in division two.

The Liverpool-born manager worked his magic in the transfer market again, landing out-of-contract Coventry and England under-21 striker Mark Hateley for £220,000 which raised expectation levels among fans.

But the eye-catching Hateley-Biley partnership could not compensate for an inability to keep the goals out at the other end as the club’s first second-division campaign in eight years ended with Campbell controversially dismissed by chairman John Deacon.

Hateley, who netted 25 goals in 44 appearances, became the first Pompey player to represent England since Jimmy Dickinson in 1956 before leaving for Italian giants AC Milan for £915,000.

Alan Ball, who played under Campbell at Arsenal and joined the Blues’ backroom staff on his say so, assumed the vacant managerial post – and his first act was to sanction Hateley’s sale.

Campbell, though, who received an out-of-court settlement for unfair dismissal, could leave with his head held high and the backing of many of the Fratton fans who felt he had gone too soon.

An impressive win percentage of 45.45, bettered only in the subsequent 30 years by 2008 FA Cup winning Blues boss Harry Redknapp (46.55), underlined why Campbell felt aggrieved.

Now aged 77, he holds no grudges about his entertaining, if short-lived, reign.

He said: ‘I liked a forward-thinking team who went out to entertain but nevertheless, I knew we had to keep it tight at the back.

‘We became very popular with the fans playing the way we did, though so maybe I got the sack because I became too popular!

‘It’s all history now.’

The first chapter of Campbell’s eventful Blues story began back in the early 1960s when former boss George Smith played a crucial role in his footballing development both on and off the field.

The half-back joined Liverpool straight from school at the age of 16, when he was captain of an England Youth side managed by future Pompey gaffer Smith.

Smith originally tried to sign the teenager when he was in charge at Crystal Palace but was forced to wait until he was Blues boss to lure the Liverpudlian down to the south coast.

Campbell said: ‘I was very pleased that someone like George Smith – who at that time was possibly the best coach in England – saw potential in me.

‘He was the same character as I was – no -nonsense, get on with it.

‘He said to me at the time that when he got a job at a club he was going to take me as a player.

‘In 1961, I went for the man, but fortunately, I went to a great club in Portsmouth as well.

‘I knew it was a big club but I didn’t realise how great it was.’

Campbell’s arrival coincided with the Blues’ third-division 1961-62 title winning season – a feat he repeated as boss 21 years later.

He said: ‘I was joining a team of greats – I suppose I am one of the only few alive who can say they played with Jimmy Dickinson.

‘Allan Brown and Johnny Gordon were also wonderful players.

‘I left Liverpool and I thought they were the greatest fans in the land, then I went down to Pompey, who, for me, still are.

‘Where in the world would you get more than 15,000 people watching a club in League Two?’

A cruciate ligament knee injury, though, put paid to Campbell’s playing career at the tender age of 27.

He said: ‘I injured my cruciate knee ligament – today they would have repaired it.

‘But in those days, if you damaged your cruciate ligament, your career was over.

‘It was only 27 and I tried to get fit. It took me 14 months before George said to me “Bobby, I think you’re finished.”

‘But he asked me to join the staff and be his coach.

‘I thought I was too young for that, so he fixed me up with a club for three months – if I could play I’d come back as a player but if I couldn’t I’d return as a coach.

‘So I went to Aldershot and I couldn’t even play in their team because my knees were so bad.’

Campbell – who played 67 games, scoring three goals in a five-year playing spell with the Blues – had coaching stints at QPR and Arsenal as well as spells in charge of Fulham and Chelsea in an impressive CV.

He is now an honorary member of staff at former club Chelsea but is still fondly remembered by most Blues fans who saw his team win promotion in a famous campaign.

BOBBY CAMPBELL ON...

...POMPEY’S PLIGHT

I’m very upset and sad about Pompey’s current situation.

In my opinion it’s a crime that they are now playing in the bottom division.

People talk to me about football clubs and buying football clubs.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said more than 10 times: If you’ve got any money go and buy Pompey!

If you could go and build a stadium with a 50,000 capacity – you’re buying 50,000 paying spectators every week, a 60,000-seater, then 60,000.

If the club got back into the Premier League they would be screaming from the rooftops.

For me, those passionate fans deserve far better than what they’ve got – those fans are Premier League.

...A CROWDED UPBRINGING

I’m one of 12 kids and in my house we were taught right from wrong – so when we were in the big outside world we knew how to conduct and look after ourselves.

For that part, I always had an opinion and was very honest in delivering it.

Some people like you – some people don’t – that was my managerial style.

...BEST WAS THE BEST

I went to Fulham in 1976 and managed a side containing Bobby Moore, Rodney Marsh and George Best, who I brought to the club.

You talk about Lionel Messi and these people but Georgie Best was the best player ever born.

He was an unbelievable footballer and as a a person as well, he was a great kid.

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