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Kevin Campbell Dies at Age 54 – A Look Back at His Career in Full

On the 15th of June 2024, it was announced that Kevin Campbell had died following a short illness. Campbell was a hugely popular figure who began his career playing for Arsenal, turning out over 200 times for the Gunners.

Another of his former clubs, Everton, announced on the 2nd of June that they had been made aware that Campbell was “very unwell”. He had become ill in May and sadly was unable to recover. The big striker was not an elite player but he had a superb career and spent most of it in the top flight of English football, scoring plenty of goals. Here we take a look back at his career.

Campbell Born a Gunner

Campbell was born on the 4th of February 1970, meaning he died far too young at the age of just 54. He was born in Lambeth and supported the Gunners, joining the club as a schoolboy in 1985. He was brilliant for the Academy side, managing a massive 59 goals in a single season and went on to win the FA Youth Cup with the club in 1988.

He made his debut for the senior side at the very end of the 1987/88 campaign, fittingly that bow coming against the team he is also hugely associated with, Everton. A successful loan spell with Leyton Orient, where he netted nine league goals in 16 outings, was followed by another decent loan spell with Leicester, for whom he scored six goals in 12 games in all competitions.

He began to establish himself with Arsenal towards the end of the 1990/91 campaign and his goals helped the club claim the league title. He appeared 22 times in the old First Division that term, bagging nine goals and two assists but that does not tell the whole story.

Campbell recorded nine of those goal involvements (eight goals) between February and mid-April. That included the only goals of the game in a big 2-0 win over Leeds United, strikes in a 1-1 draw with Forest and a 2-2 stalemate with Man City; plus an important goal away at Sheffield United that helped the Gunners to a 2-0 win. His overall return was especially impressive as it was only during his scoring spell when he started, having often been used from the bench.

Over the next three seasons, he was a first-choice player, netting 13 times in 31 appearances in 1991/92, and then playing 37 times in each of the following two campaigns, the first two of the Premier League era. 19 goals in all competitions was a good return in 1993/94 but the following season appearances and goals were less frequent, and in 1995 he moved to Nottingham Forest. In all his spell at Arsenal yielded 59 goals from 213 games.

Mixed Time at Forest

Nottingham Forest LogoThe Gunners sold their striker for around £2.5m, a reasonable sum at the time. He scored just three times in his first season at the club and the following campaign his return of six from 17 matches was insufficient to secure Forest’s top-flight status.

However, in the 1997/98 campaign, spent in the second tier, the powerful hitman was superb. Campbell scored 22 league goals to help the club win the league and secure an instant return to the PL. What should have been a great summer soon turned sour though.

Brief Spell in Turkey

Trabzonspor logoDespite his brilliant performances and against the wishes of the Forest manager, Campbell was sold to Turkish outfit Trabzonspor. The deal went through for around £2.5m and his former teammate, Dutch ace Pierre van Hooijdonk, briefly went on strike in support of Campbell, believing his former teammate had been mistreated.

The Lambeth-born player made just 18 appearances in Turkey though, scoring five times. He left suddenly in March 1999 after Mehmet Ali Yılmaz, the club president, referred to him as a cannibal and also discoloured. He said, “We bought a cannibal who calls himself a striker”, afterwards asking journalists not to publish his comments.

Campbell was obviously furious, stating that, “… no apology, can heal the injury. It would be better if I was allowed to leave with my pride.” He also commented that, “Routine criticism doesn’t bother me but when comments are made about my race, football is no longer important.” His agent did a very good job of getting him out of the club quickly, agreeing to what turned out to be a perfect deal for both the striker and his new club.

Dream Start with Toffees the Start of a Beautiful Relationship

Goodison Park - Everton Stadium

The incident with Trabzonspor happened at the end of February 1999 and the following month Campbell joined Everton, initially on loan. The Toffees were in trouble at the time and despite an assist on his debut, after his second game with the club they sat just a point and a place clear of the relegation zone.

However, Super Kev then banged in two goals in each of Everton’s next three games, his six strikes helping them to three consecutive wins and earning him the PL Player of the Month for April. He began May with a hat-trick and in the end the Blues finished 14th, with much of the credit going to their new striker, who had notched nine goals in eight games when it mattered most.

The club signed him permanently for a fee of £3m and whilst he never quite hit those heights again he was hugely popular at Goodison. A winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield certainly helped, whilst he was Everton’s top scorer for three seasons in a row, including that incredible debut campaign when he played just eight matches!

He would become Everton’s first black captain and remains their fifth-highest PL goalscorer. In all he netted 39 times in 151 appearances for the club, only playing, and scoring, more, for the Gunners.

End of Career

Shortly before turning 35, Campbell joined West Brom on a free transfer in January 2005. He scored three goals in 16 games and helped them become the first team in Premier League history to beat the “Christmas Curse” (being bottom on Christmas Day but staying up). He was unable to help the Baggies stay up the following season and then joined Cardiff in the Championship.

In 2006/07 he played twice for the Welsh outfit but failed to find the back of the net. He was released at the end of the season and retired. In all he played 569 games, scoring 164 goals, spending most of his career in the top tier of English football. His tally of 83 Premier League goals (though he also scored in the top flight prior to the inception of the PL) is the most by any player not to receive a full senior international cap. A kind, energetic, popular player, he was one of football’s good guys and a fine player to boot.