Kevin Campbell obituary

kevin campbell obituary

Kevin Campbell of Arsenal, right, getting the better of Lee Sharpe of Manchester United in 1993. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

The footballer Kevin Campbell, who has died aged 54 after a short illness, won a league title, the FA Cup, a League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup over a four-year period from 1990 until 1994 with Arsenal, the club he had supported, and joined, as a boy.

As a striker he scored eight times in 10 matches during the second half of the Division One championship in 1991, and during the victorious 1993–94 European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign he contributed four important goals across the knockout stages, including one in the semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain.

After he left Arsenal in 1995 Campbell never encountered the same level of success, but became a highly regarded figure – and club captain – at Everton, where he spent six years between 1999 and 2005. He was also well-liked at each of the four other clubs he appeared for across his 19-year career: at Nottingham Forest, the Turkish side Trabzonspor, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City.

Campbell was ebullient, intelligent and personable; however, his popularity stemmed not just from his personal attributes but also from his wholehearted, direct approach on the field. Speedy and muscular, 6ft 1in and 14 stone, he was a versatile forward and a committed team man.

Of Jamaican heritage, Campbell was born in Lambeth, south London, and grew up in Brixton. An Arsenal supporter as a youth, he had no money to go to home matches, so would wait outside Highbury on match days until the North Bank gates were opened before the final whistle and he could sneak in to watch the last part of a game. He signed for the club on schoolboy terms under Terry Neill as manager, quickly garnering attention with an abundance of goals.

At 18, after a winning appearance and a hat-trick in the 1988 FA Youth Cup final, he was handed a professional contract by the club’s new manager, George Graham, and his first team debut came soon afterwards against Everton.

Most of the time, however, he was playing in the reserves, and in 1989 he was sent on loan to the Division Four club Leyton Orient to get some game time. Quickly proving his worth, he scored nine goals in 16 appearances, but under the rules of the day had to return after three months to his home club. There was a further loan period with Leicester that year, and he was unable to make a full breakthrough into the Arsenal first team until the 1990-91 season.

Most of Campbell’s 15 league appearances during that campaign arrived in the later stages as Arsenal mounted a strong challenge for the title, and his burst of eight league goals between February and April was instrumental in securing the league championship by seven points from Liverpool.

In 1993 he scored four times in Arsenal’s run to a 2-1 victory against Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup final, in which he played upfront with Ian Wright, a pairing that was repeated in both matches of that year’s FA Cup final, also against Sheffield Wednesday – a 1-1 draw and a replay that was won 2-1 after extra time.

In the subsequent European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign of 1994, it was Campbell’s goal in the 1-0 semi-final second leg defeat of a strong PSG team that put them through to the final against Parma, which they won 1-0 in Copenhagen.

All those glories were under the managership of Graham, who had nurtured Campbell carefully since the early days. When Graham departed in 1995 there was no such chemistry with his successor, Bruce Rioch. “I was out of contract and was expecting to stay,” said Campbell. “But after one meeting with Bruce I knew I was off.”

Soon afterwards he decamped to Nottingham Forest, where, although his new team finished ninth in the Premier League in his first year, they were relegated the following 1996-97 season. He helped them bounce straight back up with 23 goals, but in a surprise move was then sold against his wishes to Trabzonspor in the Turkish league for £2.5m.

Campbell spent just seven months in Turkey before returning to the Premier League in early 1999 on loan to Everton. At Goodison Park he became an instant hero, almost singlehandedly saving the team from relegation at the end of the 1998-99 season with nine goals in his first eight starts. By the middle of 2001 he had signed a new long-term deal and had become club captain.

When that contract came to an end in 2005, he moved to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer, again taking part in a dramatic escape from Premier League relegation as the Baggies defied the odds with a late run under Bryan Robson as manager to avoid the drop. Eighteen months later he joined Cardiff City in the Championship before retiring at the age of 37 in 2007.

By the end of his career Campbell had played 521 times for his various clubs, with a tally of 149 goals. Frequently on the fringe of the England squad, he never quite made the national side but did represent his country at Under-21 and B-team levels.

After his playing days, he was in demand as a lively football commentator on TV and radio. He also co-owned a security company supplying personal protection to wealthy clients and ran his own small record label, 2 Wikid.

He is survived by his sons, Tyrese and Kyle.

• Kevin Joseph Campbell, footballer, born 4 February 1970; died 15 June 2024

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