1988 - 1991
Appointed on 9 May 1988, initially for a two-year ‘caretaker’ period, Bobby Campbell was the right man for a difficult moment in the club’s history.
Ken Bates had previously announced he would not hand his friend and confidant the management job, but the squabbles on and off the pitch and poor results under John Hollins and his coach Ernie Walley eventually forced the chairman’s hand.
Liverpudlian Campbell, with a CV featuring Fulham and Portsmouth, had originally been brought in to replace Walley three months earlier. His most recent duties were with the QPR reserve team and Hollins’ swift resignation prompted another job promotion. A talented and demoralised squad nevertheless fell foul of the play-off system of the day and Campbell’s first task was to face a queue of relegated players wanting to leave.
Renowned for his physically and mentally demanding approach, Campbell bought judiciously – notably the powerful central defender and captain Graham Roberts. His side played fast, direct football, efficient at set-plays, to soar straight out of the second tier with a record points haul of 99. With 15 goals, a dozen of them penalties, Roberts was second top scorer to the revived striker Kerry Dixon.
Campbell’s pragmatic football had only marginally less impact in the First Division, and fifth in 1989/90 was the best finishing position since 1970. Chelsea’s second success in the Full Members (now ZDS) Cup final came the same season.
Cracks began to appear the following campaign, though, especially in a 0-7 thrashing at Forest and a disappointing League Cup semi-final defeat by Sheffield Wednesday. Still, the manager was bringing through youngsters such as Jason Cundy and Graham Stuart while presaging the cosmopolitan flavour to come with the signatures of Ken Monkou from the Netherlands and Norwegian Erland Johnsen, alongside British stars such as Dennis Wise and Andy Townsend.
While the parts seemed in place, the chemistry and consistency was lacking: moments of glory such as ending Arsenal’s 23-match unbeaten run in February 1991 were all too rare. That summer Campbell moved ‘upstairs’ and Ian Porterfield, a coach under him a few years earlier, returned in the number one slot.