Stuart Campbell

Former Player Remembers: Stuart Campbell

When Club Historian John Hutchinson drove to St. George’s Park, he took the opportunity to talk to the then Tampa Bay Rowdies Coach Stuart Campbell about his career in football.
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Stuart spent 10 years at Leicester City working his way through the ranks to the first team. Between 1996 and 2000, he made 51 appearances for Martin O’Neill’s Premier League side before playing in a total of more than 400 games for Grimsby Town and Bristol Rovers, where he was captain and where he had a spell as caretaker manager.

Relaxing after a midday meal with his Tampa Bay Rowdies team, Stuart reflected: “I have nothing but good and positive thoughts when I think of Leicester City. I spent 10 years there. I was born in Corby and played for Corby and Kettering Schools. A Leicester City scout approached myself and my dad about having a trial at Leicester. I went over there with another team-mate, had a trial and then went to act as a ball boy for a game against Stoke City. That was the first time I met Alan Birchenall. He made me do push ups for having my hands in my pockets. I was about 11 years of age. He made it very clear that even as a ball boy, if City were winning, you take your time!

“I went through the school boy ranks. I signed schoolboy papers when I was about 12 along with a certain Emile Heskey and Stuart Wilson. We had a real good team of local lads that was together for a number of years. When we turned 16, a lot us became YTS apprentices under Tony McAndrew and Kevin MacDonald.

"I’d just finished school, and moved from Corby to a house on Aylestone Road to live with Mr and Mrs Geddes along with eight or nine other non-local young players from all over the country. It was hard. At first I was homesick. We were allowed to go home every weekend. I’m not sure whether that was a good or a bad thing. At one point I had decided I wanted to leave and go home, but my family told me to stick it out because otherwise I would have passed on the chance of a life time.  

“I progressed into the reserves. I turned professional when I was 18 under Martin O’Neill. A lot of our youth team made it. My debut was when I came on as a sub in a League Cup game at Scarborough (September 1996).”

Stuart’s Premier League debut was against Manchester United at Old Trafford in November 1996.

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Stuart Campbell
Stuart Campbell

Stuart Campbell goes shoulder-to-shoulder with Premier League great Alan Shearer.

“I didn’t realise I would be playing until Martin O’Neill told me at five minutes to 2pm!," he said. "I was a Manchester United fan. I’m named Stuart Pearson Campbell after the United forward Stuart Pearson, the first goalscorer in the 1977 FA Cup Final against Liverpool.”

“We got to the ground at about 1:30pm. My room-mate was Stuart Wilson. We were staying, as two 18 year-olds in the Mottram Hotel in Manchester. We had the biggest English breakfast you could imagine. Then we had a big lunch as a pre-match meal. Then we stuffed our pockets with all the sweets in reception. We certainly weren’t expecting to play.

“Martin never named his team until just before 2pm. We all sat down in the changing room after having been on the pitch. He said: ‘Stuart, I bet you’d love to play here today wouldn’t you?’ Terrified I said: ‘Yes gaffer'. He then said: ‘Alright. You are playing’. The whole dressing room burst out laughing. He may have pre-warned some of the older guys. I was in absolute shock. It was classic Martin O’Neill man-management. You had to be in amongst it to realise how good it was. I can’t speak highly enough about how good a manager Martin is. I didn’t have time to be nervous. Before I knew it I was getting my boots on. If he had told me the night before, I would have been lying there all night thinking about it. We went out and gave a pretty good performance until late on in the game when United eventually ground us down.”

While at Leicester, Stuart became a Scotland Under-21s international.

“I was born in England, but my whole family is Scottish," he explained. "When Dave Sexton was the England Under-21s manager, England put a phone call to Leicester and got through to John Robertson (the Scottish Assistant Manager) to ask him about me playing for England. John Robertson told him: ‘No Chance!’ He then got straight onto the phone to Tommy Craig the Scotland Under-21s manager and before I knew it, I was called up to Scotland!

“I played in the European qualifiers. We had a decent team with players like Barry Ferguson but unfortunately we didn’t qualify but looking back it was a fantastic experience. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate it. I also didn’t fully appreciate being at Leicester City, a Premier League club, until I stepped away. I was so lucky and if I could just have one more of those days!

“When Martin left for Celtic in 2000, it wasn’t really a shock. We were expecting it. Everton and Leeds had already made approaches and at that time, Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement. Martin would have been a front runner for his job but then Ferguson changed his mind. Due to his background, Celtic meant a lot to Martin. For an Englishman it is difficult to appreciate what a big club Celtic is. The draw for him go there was huge.

“I loved Filbert Street with its big stand and the Kop. The atmosphere was incredible. Night matches were special.

“I remember the UEFA Cup game against Atlético Madrid. I came on as a sub in Madrid. When we got off the plane I couldn’t believe that Martin had arranged for our team bus to be driven over there by our bus driver ‘Oddjob’. That shows how much attention to detail he gave to things. We had a police escort for the bus ride from the hotel to the Stadium. It seemed as though we were going 100 mph!

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Stuart Campbell
Stuart Campbell

Stuart spent several seasons as Tampa Bay Rowdies Head Coach.

“We played really well. Ian Marshall scored but we lost 2-1. They were big spenders in Europe with players like Paulo Futre, Juninho, and Christian Vieri. Nobody gave us much of a chance, which played perfectly into our hands. In the return leg at Filbert Street, I was an unused sub that night and it was probably the worst refereeing performance I had ever seen. Muzzy [Izzet] had a stone wall penalty and Parks (Garry Parker) was sent off for taking a free kick too quickly. The atmosphere was unbelievable.

“When Peter Taylor came in I knew I wasn’t going to be a regular in the first team. I went on loan to Championship side Grimsby Town. Ex-Leicester City player Paul Groves was there as captain as was ex-Leicester City centre-half Richard Smith. I wouldn’t like to get into an argument with ‘Smudge’. He was nice and softly spoken but he was big and tough. After I’d been at Grimsby on loan they paid a fair bit of money for me, about £200,000. I loved playing every Saturday.”

Stuart then spent eight-and-a-half years at Bristol Rovers winning the Football League Trophy, promotion to League 1, and reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup. 

“At Bristol Rovers, I was captain," he said. "I got my coaching badges and became caretaker manager.

“It’s a bizarre story how I became Tampa’s coach in the new NASL, a second division league which was set up in the USA in 2011. In about 2004 or 2005 we went to Orlando on a family holiday. What a place! Loved it! Later, we decided that we would go back to Orlando for every holiday. Fast forward a few years. I was doing a player’s appearance at a school in Bristol. The headmaster there, a Bristol Rovers fan, said he would like to involved me with his school when I retired. I thanked him but told him I wanted eventually to live in Orlando. He said one of his old pupils worked out there, a guy called Patrick Dicks, the son of the old Bristol City manager Alan Dicks. That year, on holiday, we arranged to meet Patrick. We got on well, and built up a good friendship.

“Patrick was good friends with (ex-Luton Town and Leicester City player) Ricky Hill who was Head Coach at Tampa. When things came to an end at Bristol Rovers, Rick remembered me as a player and he offered me a job as a player-coach."

Stuart went on to say that he played for two years under Rick as player-coach. He then became his full-time assistant manager for a year. When Hill left, they appointed another coach Thomas Rongen who wanted Stuart to stay and when Rongan left the club in 2015, Stuart became Head Coach, a post he held until May 2018.

Stuart concluded by saying that when he was coaching at Tampa, he had been very impressed with the ex-Real Madrid star Raul who played for New York Cosmos.

“His attitude, his application, the way he worked, was excellent,” Stuart said. “He was an absolute credit to himself. If you look at the best players in the world, they are also the hardest workers. Just look at Leicester City!”

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