Another great opportunity for academy players from Billingham Synthonia FC to listen to the journey of a professional footballer and get some great advice. This time it was Andy Campbell who provided a wonderful insight into the life of a professional footballer.
Andy played for Middlesbrough FC, Cardiff City FC and Halifax Town FC amongst his clubs, which included some enjoyable loan spells. His most famous goal secured promotion to The Championship for Cardiff City at The Millennium Stadium in 2003.
Andy talked about how his mum took him down to Marton where he played football as a junior with some very good players. He explained how he would look to play really well when scouts were at games, especially the Boro scouts. Boro was the team he wanted to play for and when the Boro scouts were around he looked to get feedback from them as to how he played.
Boro was the team we all wanted to play for.
Interestingly Andy talked about enjoying signing a YTS for Boro but thinking he was just making up the numbers. This prompted him to work harder, learn from others and generally try to make a good impression. He talked about how he would look to learn as much as possible. This included training, various games, watching other players and working on improving areas of his game.
Andy talked about the importance of making sacrifices early in his football career such as staying in when his friends were going out, not getting involved in drinking and getting to bed early the day before a game.
I made a conscious decision around 16 not to drink like many my age were doing. I wanted a certain lifestyle and I knew what I needed to do to achieve it.
There was no such thing as ‘stepping up’ back then as such, although Andy did mention that Jonathan Woodgate played in the year above his age group. Andy played school junior football at a young age, including in the same team as his older brother Neil. In addition to this he played a lot of football in the park with Neil and his mates. This in a sense, was ‘stepping up’. Perhaps this was where Andy got his determination to fight and work hard to be recognised as a player and not be intimidated or bullied by anyone on the pitch.
I had flaws to my game, I wasn’t naturally gifted but I had pace and a desire to play to the best of my ability.
The two occasions Andy played against his brother Neil, who went on to play for various clubs such as York City, Scarborough, Southend & Doncaster, Andy got the better of him. On one occasion Neil was sent off for a tackle on Andy and the other in a North Riding Cup Final Andy’s team won.
I always wanted to do better than Neil but at the same time I wanted us both to have good careers and be the best that we could be. That was the most important thing for me.
Importance of Education & Learning
When on a YTS with Boro Andy had to attend college 1 day a week (no academies) and he admitted that he never really put in the same effort with education as he did his football. Attending college was seen as a get together for a laugh and carry on with other players, including some from other clubs.
Andy felt that he would have benefited if his education as a young player had been part of a club rather than a separate college. He also indicated that players would benefit from better support to transition away from the game whether that be as their career comes to a natural end or through injury.
I was lost, I didn’t know where I was going to go (after football). Thankfully I was pointed in the direction of Richard Jobson and Stuart Barlow of the PFA.
Having left school with nothing and subsequently leaving football not sure what to do he eventually started going to night classes and studying towards GCSE’s. This opened up more of the world for Andy and he went on to study at the Open University where he completed a Foundation Degree and an Honours Degree that he is extremely proud off. The attributes that served him well as a professional footballer probably helped him when taking on the demands of doing an online degree.
Talking about advise to young players in academies now Andy is adamant about the importance of education. To the point where he talks about it potentially being more important than the football.
Education is paramount over football. Nobody can ever take your qualifications away from you. Football doesn’t last forever.
Scoring at The Millennium Stadium
Andy explained that he came on after 60 mins and he was dreading penalties. He can’t remember the last 6 minutes of the game and had to watch them on the TV to see what happened. He also mentioned that the dressing room was strangely quiet after the game because everyone was shattered. They had left everything on the pitch. The goal itself was special and the noise was deafening.
I have never heard a noise like I did at the Millennium Stadium. The Cardiff City fans were amazing that day. It was certainly the highlight of my career.
Dedication & Fitness
Andy specified the importance of having a good base level of fitness and indicated that he would have the odd nutritional treat that he felt he had earned. He talked about how different types of running, swimming and cycling helped him build up a good level of fitness. He also mentioned the importance of resting and commented on how players are coping with the current lockdown situation.
Looking at social media there are a lot players who are using lockdown to get in serious shape. There are some players going to come out of lockdown very fit.
From the viewpoint of a manager he talked about being as fit as possible something that he would demand of players but also how much he valued fitness as player.
As a player the last thing you want to be doing is playing against people who are fitter than you.
Andy was clear about the importance of young players developing as footballers but also mentioned the importance of playing competitive mens football at the right stage of their development.
He talked about how different the mens games is for pace, passion and desire compared to academy football. In academy football there is a focus on technical elements of the game and development of players but with a lower intensity compared to mens football.
Bryan Robson encouraged me to go out on loan to play competitive football against men and I really enjoyed my time at Sheffield United. I feel it helped me develop as a player and be more competitive.
Talking specifically about academy players at Synners Andy welcomed the chance that some of the academy players will have of playing in the Wearside League in addition to academy football, if they are not playing in the Northern League for Synners.
Andy’s career was sadly cut short due to a bad Achilles injury that he suffered while playing for Halifax and Andy mentioned how having the right people around him helped him come to terms with the bad news.
Following on from a discussion about the managers / coaches role Andy encouraged the academy players to ask questions if they were not sure what they were meant to be doing.
As a manager you send players out onto the pitch with a plan. If any player isn’t sure of that plan it isn’t going to work. Good managers and coaches want players to ask questions if they are unsure, so I would encourage all players to ask questions.
What is Andy doing now?
Andy explained about his work at Black Diamond Sports Agency and his weekly podcast on a Monday evening called The Andy Campbell Show at ACEPodcastNation
Check out the link above for more details. Well worth a listen for anyone interested in football.