Friday, 3 March 2017

Interview: Andy Campbell

25th May 2003.

A day etched into record books as one of the greatest moments in Cardiff City history.

This was the day that City ended an 18-year absence from the First Division by beating QPR 1-0 in the play-off final.

Cardiff, who finished sixth and beat Bristol City to get to the Millennium Stadium finale, were spearheaded that season by division top scorer Robert Earnshaw, who netted 35 times.

But, on this occasion, it was to be Earnshaw's replacement that stole the show in South Wales.

Andy Campbell, the Middlesbrough-born forward who replaced 'Earnie', lobbed keeper Chris Day with only six minutes left in extra-time to seal Cardiff's promotion in their home city.

Campbell is now quite rightly considered a cult hero at the club and any time a Cardiff v QPR clash is on the horizon, memories of that strike resurface.

Ahead of Saturday's meeting between the two sides at Loftus Road, we talked to Andy about that goal, his opinion of Cardiff as a city and just how good Neil Warnock is.

Andy Campbell scored Cardiff's winner in the final.Credit: Getty

First of all, if we go back to your childhood, who was your footballing hero growing up?

Being a Middlesbrough fan, I was a regular on the terraces of Ayrsome Park. My hero was Bernie Slaven. I also loved watching England - Gary Lineker made me dream of one day playing for my country. 

You had a terrific loan spell at Cardiff (scoring six goals in your first four games) before joining permanently in 2002. Was the decision to move away from Middlesbrough and your local club a tough one?

Bryan Robson had lost his job and was replaced by Steve McClaren. I felt from day one that I wasn't given a fair crack so the only real option was to leave. Once Lennie Lawrence showed an interest there was only one club I was going to sign for. 

Lennie was at Boro when you were on your verge of coming through. What was your relationship like?

Lennie was great with me. A real gentleman and someone I fully respect within football and I owe that man a lot for what he's done for me. He's a real football man and thoroughly enjoyed my time playing for him and tried my best every game for him. 

You played in an England U21 side that featured the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand. What was it like to play in a side like that?

A dream come true to play for my country and to play with those names was a fantastic achievement. I knew straight away that they were top players and were all heading for the top. 

Andy with Lampard, Gerrard, Ferdinand at England U21 level. Credit:@Carra23

Just how big of an impact did Lennie have on the team to steer them to promotion? And when did the players start to believe that they could go up?

He was great. Always calm even when we didn't get the results we needed or didn't perform the way which he and the fans expected. He always believed we would go up and passed that on to us as players and the belief was so strong in the group there was only going to be one winner in the play-off final. 

Regarding that occasion at the Millennium Stadium, what were your pre-match emotions?

Happy to be involved. I'd had a hernia operation around a month before and was struggling up until around five days before the game. The buzz around the hotel and the build up was amazing. It was great to be involved with such a great bunch of lads. 

Can you remember what was going through your head when you saw Gareth Whalley play that ball over the top?

Gaz knew I lived a ball over the top and he swung his weaker foot at the ball and played a peach of a through ball. The rest they say is history. 

You scored one of the most crucial goals in the Bluebird's history, but how important are the club and the city itself to you?

The city and club played a huge part in my life. The club gave me a platform to enjoy my football and progress. My eldest daughter was born in Cardiff so I'm extremely proud that her roots are where my best footballing moment happened. It means we come back more often and it's great to show and explain to her how amazing the city is. 

Would you say that Cardiff was the most enjoyable time in your career?

I loved my time there. It didn't end great but I had a blast from the moment I walked through the gates at Ninian Park. The club and fans were amazing with me and have been ever since and it's always great to be able to reminisce with them about good old days. 

Moving on to present times, the club is now on an upward curve after a dreadful start. How well has Neil Warnock done and how far do you think he can take this club?

For me, he's a fantastic manager. One of the best in the Championship. His record speaks for itself and I firmly believe that he will get us promoted next season. He's taken his time to assess the squad he inherited and has now brought in players who he trusts will do a job for him and progress the club forward. Good luck to him and I hope he achieves everything he wants to do for our amazing club.