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Alan Campbell – From Milltown to La Liga

 

 

I’m sure former Shamrock Rovers player [and current Dundee resident] Alan Campbell would be delighted to be compared to a fine wine. I don’t drink much of the stuff myself – I’m more of a Guinness man – but whenever I’m lucky enough to have a glass of Rioja in front of me, Alan comes to mind.

First things first. The Alan Campbell I’m writing about here isn’t to be confused with the current Motherwell player Allan Campbell or the Scottish footballer Alan Campbell who spent his entire career in England [with Charlton Athletic, Birmingham City, Cardiff City and Carlisle United]. No, this is about an Irish striker who played in Ireland, in Scotland, in Belgium and in Spain.

The wine connection? Well, back in 1986-87 Alan played in Spain’s second tier for CD Logrones, scoring 9 goals in 32 games. Alan had been a high-profile League of Ireland player with Shamrock Rovers and had just spent two seasons in Spain’s top tier with Racing de Santander [these days La Liga is actually sponsored by Santander, the Spanish multinational commercial bank that was founded in Santander in 1857] before arriving in Logrones, and I was trying to follow his career as best I could in those pre-internet days.

On the rare occasions that you could find mention of Logrones in a sporting publication, they would sometimes be referred to as ‘the Riojans’. I thought this was their nickname until I realized it was a type of wine; Logrono is a city in northern Spain, on the Ebro River, and is the capital of the province of La Rioja, the famous wine-producing region.

Alan’s one season at the club was the best-ever in their history at that point. They finished second in the second tier and gained promotion to the top flight for the first time ever, and also reached the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, the furthest they had ever got in that competition. Alan moved on to Belgium at this point, but the club went on to enjoy 9 seasons in the top flight. Sadly they are now defunct but SD Logrones and UD Logrones currently represent the city in Spain’s pyramid.

Alan’s agent was Belgian and so a move to Belgium was a logical one for a player who wanted to continue on the continent, something that was a rarity for Irish players in those days [especially someone who had come from League of Ireland; Liam Brady’s time in Italy and Michael Robinson’s in Spain had come about courtesy of their exploits with English clubs].

Alan stayed with K. Berchem Sport – a club in Antwerp – for two seasons [the ‘K’ stands for ‘Koninklijk’, which is Dutch for ‘Royal’; up until 1967 the club were Royal Berchem Sport]. The club were in the second tier of Belgian football at the time, having just come down from the top flight when Alan arrived [these days the club play in the Belgian Second Amateur Division, Belgium’s fourth tier].

After Antwerp Alan arrived in Scottish football, playing a season [1989-90] in the Scottish Premier Division with Dundee [where he made his home] that saw him score twice in 15 starts. Dundee were relegated and Alan moved on to Forfar Athletic in the Scottish First Division [now the Championship] for two seasons before hanging up his boots.

Going all the way back to the start of his career, Alan arrived at Milltown in 1978 to play for a Shamrock Rovers side under the stewardship of Johnny Giles. Giles had come back from a long and distinguished career in England [he had played for Manchester United, Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, and had also managed the latter] and had brought Irish veterans of the English game like Eamon Dunphy, Paddy Mulligan and Ray Treacy back with him to help bring through young players such as Alan. In fact, Alan’s career overlapped with some of these greats – Giles, for instance, was still playing for Rovers aged 40 in 1980.

Alan was still only 18 when he scored on his League of Ireland debut for Rovers, against Galway in March 1979. The following season, 1979-80, saw him finish as the League’s top scorer, with 22 goals. He eventually formed a potent Rovers front line with Liam Buckley, and the side won the title in 1984, with Alan contributing 24 goals.

Spain came calling at this point, in the shape of Racing de Santander, a club newly-promoted to the top flight at that point. During his two years at the club Alan contributed a respectable 15 goals in 63 starts, often operating as a loan striker [which must have taken some getting used to after being used to partnering Buckley]. He had no Spanish on his arrival in the country, and faced having his opportunities on the field limited by the ‘three foreigner’ rule [2 overseas players in the starting line-up and 1 on the bench were all that were permitted at the time] but he made a great success of his time there, and earned 3 full caps for the Republic of Ireland in 1985 under Eoin Hand.

Interviewed in The42 a few years back about his career, Alan mentioned how he found the reminiscing very nostalgic. I’ve certainly found it nostalgic writing this. Alan’s heroics for Rovers in 1979-80 were a time when Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ was constantly on rotation in many houses in Ireland – it celebrated its 40th anniversary this week, and always brings me right back to 1979 / 80 when I give it a spin. I have fond memories too of time spent in Bray Public Library looking through newspapers and magazines trying to keep up with soccer from near and far – you don’t need to look beyond your phone screen these days.

Brian Quigley

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