Richard Sutcliffe: The night when Bobby Campbell replaced Dalglish as my hero

Bobby Campbell book cover
Bobby Campbell book cover
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FOR this then seven-year-old, the night began with a crushing sense of disappointment.

Kenny Dalglish, my first true sporting hero along with Billy Hamilton, and Liverpool had been drawn to face Bradford City in the League Cup second round so from the moment the draw had been made I’d pestered dad to take me.

To be fair, he’d not needed much persuading due to his team Burnley having just been relegated to the Third Division for the first time in their history – meaning the chance to see English football’s best team in the flesh was not one to be passed up.

So, not only did he secure tickets for the old main stand at Valley Parade for the first leg, but also seats for the return at Anfield. That meant two opportunities to see Dalglish in action. What more could a football-mad youngster want?

Come that first leg, however, those dreams of watching Liverpool’s No 7 were shattered via the reading of the line-ups over the PA system.

I’d not been listening, instead being too busy looking round in awe at the sheer size of the crowd as the 22 names were read out.

So, it was left to dad to break the bad news. Dalglish wasn’t in the Liverpool team.

“He must be injured,” was the best he could offer by way of explanation, these being the days long before squad rotation had found its way into English football.

I was distraught. I’d told everyone for weeks of how I was going to watch my hero score at least three goals against Fourth Division Bradford and yet now he was nowhere to be seen.

No doubt, if I’d known at the time that the Valley Parade game was the first Dalglish had missed since joining the Reds from Celtic three years – and 180 games – earlier, I’d have felt even more upset.

Reassuring words were offered about how Dalglish would “definitely” play when we went to Anfield a couple of weeks later for the second leg – though it did little good, not least because even at seven I wasn’t overly convinced dad actually had much of a say in Liverpool’s team selection policy.

Soon, though, the game was under way and all thoughts of Dalglish were forgotten – oh, the fickleness of youth – as the 16,232 crowd produced noise levels that, to these young ears, seemed louder than a jumbo jet.

It probably helped that the match was a belter, too, as City kept the League champions at bay. Then, with about 10 minutes to go, the unbelievable happened and Bradford went ahead.

A fierce free-kick by Terry Dolan brought a block save from Ray Clemence. As the ball bounced back towards a scrum of players, Bobby Campbell reacted quicker than both Clemence and Alan Hansen to smash the rebound into the net.

Valley Parade erupted as Campbell wheeled away in celebration at the Bradford End and, suddenly, I had a new hero. Who was this striker? How did he beat the England goalkeeper? And how the hell did Bradford beat the team my dad had said before kick-off were the best in Europe.

Dad filled in a few gaps during the car journey home. Campbell was a bit of a rogue, who loved a drink. He’d also been banned for life by Northern Ireland. I liked him immediately and spent the build-up to the return leg, which Liverpool won 4-0 to go through comfortably on aggregate, talking about Campbell. Dalglish, who would score twice at Anfield, hardly got a mention.

My fascination with the Irishman has endured over the intervening 32 or so years, which is why when a new biography on Campbell landed on my desk at YP Towers a few weeks ago I couldn’t wait to start thumbing through the pages.

I was not to be disappointed, with author and lifelong Bradford fan Paul Firth having done a marvellous job in They Don’t Make Them Like Him Any More.

Peppered with quotes from not only Campbell but also a host of key figures from his career, Firth does justice to one of football’s great characters with the various highs and lows of his career – and there are plenty of both – brought to life excellently.

Campbell’s early life in Belfast, where his neighbours included Bobby Sands, is also well chronicled, while the former striker has plenty to say about the modern day player – and particularly their inability to head the ball properly, something that could never be said about the Irishman.

With Bradford staging arguably their biggest Cup tie since that 1980 win over Liverpool in a few days time against Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, is it too much to ask that one of the current crop can write their place into City folklore by inspiring another massive upset? Let’s hope not.

Bobby Campbell: They Don’t Make Them Like Him Any More, by Paul Firth (£12, bantamspast).