Express & Star

West Brom stars remember life of ‘top guy’ Kevin Campbell

Albion favourites Paul Robinson and Andy Johnson told of how Kevin Campbell’s “smile lit up the room” after the death of the Baggies’ Great Escape hero.

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Former striker Campbell had been battling ill health this month and his passing was confirmed on Saturday, aged 54.

Checking into The Hawthorns as an experienced striker in January 2005 under Bryan Robson, Campbell is hailed as the catalyst behind an improbable survival from top-flight relegation, the first time the feat had been achieved for a club bottom on Christmas Day.

Former left-back Robinson told the Express & Star: “He was an unbelievable character. When you came through the door at West Brom you could feel his presence, his smile, experience, leadership qualities, and we needed it at the time as we were low as a squad.

“Kev was the man and he lit everyone up. He got everyone believing. He had a mutual respect for everybody and was demanding when things weren’t right, which is why he played where he did.

“It’s devastating. I was so shocked when he fell ill having watched him on TV and heard him on the radio so recently. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Midfielder Johnson, who faced Campbell as a junior in his formative years, said: “I first properly met Kev when I signed for Forest and what a character, his smile lit up every room. Everybody was included, he never left anybody out.

“He was loved by all everywhere he played. He went to Everton and practically saved them by keeping them up and he will never be forgotten for that.

“The Forest fans loved him, he and Pierre van Hooijdonk struck a partnership and they scored goals for fun.

“And then obviously he was our captain when we did the Great Escape and the West Brom fans will never forget him for that either.

“He was the type of man that everywhere he goes he touches people, that kind of character and person with time for everybody. He brought a smile to everyone’s face.”

Campbell, an Arsenal youth graduate who scored more than 50 goals in 219 games for the Gunners, was a regular scorer with Nottingham Forest and Everton before he arrived at Albion shortly before his 35th birthday.

He netted three times in the remainder of 2004/05 as the Baggies somehow clawed their way to survival. All three goals came at The Hawthorns, including hugely significant wins against Manchester City and Blues.

“He was so positive with everything he did,” Johnson recalled. “He was in the dressing room saying ‘come on we can do this’, ‘let’s put a positive on it and give it our all’. He was infectious around the place for that enthusiasm he showed.

“He certainly helped everybody, players around him who were low, even if he was going through a bad stage himself on the pitch. He got the best out of everybody around him.”

The Welshman added: “We were really down when he arrived. He had a special relationship with the whole group. He was funny, he brought a sense of humour while being the ultimate professional as we had a job to do.

“He did everything with class. He knew when to have a joke and when to know it was the business end. He was the ultimate guy.”

Robinson, a regular in that survival campaign, believes Albion’s achievements in avoiding the drop are not spoken about enough.

“He created the atmosphere with us, the spirit and the togetherness,” said the full-back turned coach. “If it wasn’t for him would we have stayed up and created one of the best memories in Premier League history?

“And it doesn’t get spoken about enough. It’s frustrating, with everything Kev did, that would’ve been one of his highlights and the Albion days don’t get mentioned enough. He left a legacy at The Hawthorns by leading a group of players.”

Robinson added: “When Kev spoke everyone listened. When Kev was around the training ground everyone wanted to be in his presence and listen to his stories and experience. How can you not learn off someone like that?

“I definitely fed off the energy he gave me. We always had little chats, he’d say ‘Robbo I you can do this, so why don’t you do it?’ and that was so big because as a footballer sometimes you hold back, afraid to make a mistake.

“Kev was never like that, he said not to worry about it. He was so bubbly and his smile lit up the room.”

Robinson remembered a trip across the Atlantic and the responsibility of looking after Campbell’s credit card just weeks into the latter’s arrival at the club.

“He said he wanted one favour from me, and it was to look after his black American Express card,” Robinson smiled. “He gave it to me for two days, said to do what I wanted with it but not to lose it. I said ‘are you sure Kev?’ I’d never held one before!

“It was a test. Unfortunately I got carried away and spent a little bit too much, but Kev loved that. After he said it was on him and was happy we had a good time, then said it was time we kicked on and did our job in the Premier League.

“I called him King Kev every time we spoke because of the way he was with me as a person.”