An Interview With Kevin Campbell

At the tail end of last season, I caught up with a former Forest frontman Kevin Campbell, he spoke at length regarding his move to the City Ground, Pierre Van Hooijdonk, non-tackling centre halves and the fear of being marooned on a desert island with Andy Johnson.

Despite numerous invites by Nottingham Forest over the past decade it always came at the wrong time for the former fans favourite to return to the City Ground.

His long-awaited return began with a public appearance Q&A with the NFFC fans before being guest of honour as the Reds hammered Swansea 5-1 en-route to Premier League promotion last season.

I ask if he was surprised at how well loved and revered, he still is by the Forest supporters?

“Of course, especially since being on Mr Dore’s channel. I’ve not been able to return to Nottingham for some time but thanks to Ben Dore, Lisa Fox, Malcolm Owen and Des Oldham for getting their heads together, and here I am.”

How seriously did you take the move and how focussed were you after joining Forest?

“I took it very seriously; Forest was the next stage of my career and I wanted to embrace it. There had been a notable change at Arsenal, the club I’ve supported all my life, with Bruce Rioch coming in as manager. He wasn’t my type of manager and we got off on the wrong foot straight away. I didn’t even know the man and yet the first thing he says to me is that I’m playing on the right, I told him that wasn’t happening, so it was never going to work.”

Campbell alluded to Rioch’s lack of managerial experience at the top and his lack of man management skills resulting in his downfall. “You’ve got to offer more than, you’re playing on the right!”

Given the calibre of the side he left, one that lifted the European Cup Winners Cup, I asked Kevin what he thought about the Forest squad he was joining up with?

“I was impressed for sure; we had the likes of Bohinen, Stone, Woan, Gemmill, Chettle, Lyttle and of course Pearcy. I was up front with Brian Roy who was a fantastic player. A great club with good playing staff, we hit the ground running because Forest played football the right way and I absolutely loved it!”

Pierre van Hooijdonk, what was he really like both on and off the field of play?

“Pierre was a great character who loved a laugh like the rest of us, but at times he could start a fight in a phone box, which seemed to be the Dutch way.” Campbell provided an insight to the psyche of his fellow striker, one that is totally believable given what we’ve seen of van Hooijdonk over the years. Campbell smiled broadly as he regaled up the following memory: “Dave Bassett brought in a goal keeping coach called Mike Kelly, just so Pierre could have a daily argument it seemed, Kelly was a proper cockney you know. He’d wind up Pierre by aggressively confronting him at training, shouting “do you actually fancy it today Pierre or what?” “Pierre would scream back at him “What are you talking about, of course I f***ing do!” Kelly would then turn to the rest of the squad and say, “You hear that lads, he fancies it today.” That was a good dynamic, one which helped Pierre to blow off some steam.

Off the pitch Pierre was a really nice guy, one who loved his football and of course a good laugh. We all socialised as a squad and Pierre was one of the main characters and that showed in his performances on the pitch as well, yep, he was one of the big characters for sure!”

Are you at liberty to reveal any funny dressing room stories?

Campbell placed his right hand his forehead before saying “One name….Andy Johnson! Honestly, I could write an encyclopaedia on the stuff he did, Andy Johnson was one of those characters who was brilliant for the dressing room. In those difficult moments where you need sense and sensibility he’d go and do something completely out of kilter and have the dressing room in stitches, management, players and backroom staff included. He broke the ice and managed to take the edge off tense situations, he was just great. Johnson, along with Geoff Thomas and Alan Rodgers were known as the terrible trio, you knew the score, fall asleep in front of those boys and your eyebrows were off!”

As a former NFFC striker and given the timing of the interview I probed Campbell upon the strikers at the club going into the play-offs. He was full of praise for the professionalism of Lewis Grabban and alluded to the sharing of goals across the forward line as opposed to a lone talisman. “Cooper obviously knows what Surridge can do from their previous time spent together but Davis has big potential in my eyes. When he was injury free, he’s unplayable and just requires more goals in addition to his hold up play.”

Given the changes happening in the modern game I asked Campbell if it would suit his style of play?

Before Kev could answer the question Mr Dore piped up in the background shouting “VAR!” Campbell jumped to his feet with a wry smile on his face replying, “Don’t you start Dore!” After composing himself once more Campbell’s face lit up as he answered with real enthusiasm. “The game has and hasn’t changed if you know what I mean, it’s still about good players doing the right thing on a football pitch, still a goal net at each end and whoever scores the most still wins the game so that hasn’t changed. The modern game is tailor made for me, because centre halves aren’t allowed to tackle, and the pitches are like bowling greens.” The very thought of which got Campbell all excited: “Oh my gosh, I’m salivating at the very thought of it, in fact, I’m off into town to get some boots after this interview if Steve Cooper fancies giving me fifteen minutes? To answer your question, I’d fit perfectly into the modern game.”

The next topic of conversation was Tyrese Campbell, Kevin’s son, who plays for Championship side Stoke City.

Again, at the time of writing the 2021-22 season was ending. “He had a bad injury, but he’s come back ok” explained Campbell. “The big test will be the next season (2022-23) he’s steady on the injured area and has done all the hard work and rehabilitation, he’s now hoping to hit the ground running again and we fully expect him to do that.

 I asked Campbell which former teammate would he least like to be stranded with on a desert island?

“ANDY JOHNSON, if he hadn’t already killed me, I’d probably die trying to escape from him. The very same is applicable to Gazza, Johnson is crazy, and Gazza is bonkers, they’re two of a kind.”

Which former teammate would you prefer to be marooned with on that desert island?

“Probably my old Arsenal teammate David Hillier, we came through the ranks together. He’s one of those guys that’d cook and pretty much do everything for you whilst you were there, he’s a great lad too!”

Those who’ve seen Kevin Campbell on Sky Sports will have noticed that he often wears a bow tie/Dickie bow. I asked about the reason for this, and Kevin explained that it was a tribute to a dear friend called Lisa who passed away very suddenly. Campbell explained that Lisa had been a big fan of the dickie bow when he first wore it to a function on a Thursday evening. “So, as a mark of respect to Lisa I often wear the dickie bow and especially on Thursday’s.

As Kevin Campbell got up to leave, I shook his hand firmly and firstly apologised for being late before thanking him immensely for giving up his precious time to provide myself and Nottingham Sport with such a candid and expressive interview. I mentioned that my good friend and former teammate of his Vance Warner asked me to say hello; this prompted Campbell to reciprocate the courtesy and then reminisce upon a Christmas, fancy dress party the Forest team had organised during their time together at the club. Campbell enquired as to whether Vance still had the photos of the bash and began laughing as he described what he wore that evening, “I had my dad’s, shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket, and hat on that night, Vance knows the score and I want to see those photos.”

Then Forest players Kevin Campbell (centre) with Vance Warner (left) & John Finnigan in fancy dress.

Kevin talking old times with our very own Steve Corry.

It was an honour and a pleasure to speak at length with Kevin Campbell who is simply the consummate gentleman. I am eternally grateful to Ben (Mr Dore) without whom this would simply not have been possible.

Steve Corry

*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Kevin Campbell with Steve Corry ahead of his interview.

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