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Bobby Campbell 1937-2015

Chelsea Football Club is greatly saddened to announce the passing of our former manager Bobby Campbell at the age of 78...

Chelsea Football Club is greatly saddened to announce the passing of our former manager Bobby Campbell at the age of 78.

All at the club send our deepest condolences to Bobby’s family and friends and our players will wear black armbands in his memory at today’s game at Stoke.

Campbell was Chelsea manager from 1988 to 1991 and secured two major achievements.

He guided us to promotion back to the top flight in 1989 at the first time of asking, and once reinstalled in the First Division his team immediately achieved a fifth-place finish, our highest position in 20 years. 

It was the first of those successful seasons that Campbell in later years would talk about as his proudest and most important accomplishment. Like one of his predecessors, John Neal five years earlier, Campbell won promotion knowing that failure to do so would place a big question mark over Chelsea’s very survival and, similar to Neal’s Blues, the class of 88/89 went up as Second Division champions, this time with a club-record 99 points. 


Campbell was a manager not short on experience when appointed. Born in the Scotland Road district of inner-city Liverpool, he became a professional player at Liverpool Football Club before leaving Anfield and his home town to join Portsmouth and then Aldershot. His playing career was cut short by injury so he took the natural step for someone enthused by the game and moved into coaching, working as an assistant at Portsmouth, Queens Park Rangers and at Arsenal, under Bertie Mee.

He became a manager in his own right at Fulham in the mid-1970s and then Portsmouth in the early 1980s and brought an opposition team to Stamford Bridge on more than one occasion in the old Second Division. He had become an acquaintance of Ken Bates, our chairman at the time, with Bates famously revealing in his 1984 book ‘My Year’ that Campbell had twice been considered for the Chelsea job but on the basis you can’t have friends in business, he would never be appointed.

Yet it was to Campbell that Bates turned, four years later, when faced with a dramatic slide in the team’s fortunes following a brief golden period that had restored our pride and top-flight status in the early 1980s.

Under young manager John Hollins, who had replaced Neal, the Blues were dropping rapidly into relegation danger. Campbell was initially introduced to replace controversial assistant Ernie Walley in the spring of 1988 and provide fresh help for Hollins, but a 4-4 draw at Oxford in March that season, when the Blues surrendered a 3-0 half-time lead, was the tipping point. Campbell was handed complete control for the final weeks of the season.

It was a Chelsea squad with no shortage of quality but with more than its fair share of rifts and doubt and it proved too late to save that season, as the Blues were relegated via the short-lived play-off process.

During the summer of 1988 Campbell truly came into his own. Although the club took the decision not to renew Pat Nevin's contract and cashed in on our star winger, other international-class players such as Tony Dorigo, Kerry Dixon, Gordon Durie and Steve Clarke were persuaded their futures lay at Stamford Bridge.

To bring steel and more experience to the defence, Campbell signed former England international Graham Roberts and for the midfield, a similar warrior from Wales was recruited in the shape of Peter Nicholas. Midway through the season that followed, he significantly strengthened his goalkeeping options by persuading Dave Beasant to drop down a division from Newcastle United. 


Not even a bad start to the quest for a quick bounce-back to the top flight could derail the season and with confidence throughout the squad steadily restored, a 27-game league unbeaten run saw off all challengers. The goals began to flow once more for centre-forward Dixon and the Second Division championship was won with 17 points more than the second-placed side and Chelsea have remained in the top division ever since.

'Bobby was great,' said Dixon as he later reflected on the 1988/89 season. 'He didn't panic when the team went down and he was given the opportunity to rebuild and he brought in solid, experienced players to add to what we had, and he managed very well. He built a solid team.'

So poor were the training ground facilities at the time that Campbell resorted to a local hotel for his office space and use of a telephone, but he was able to guide the team to a very impressive return to the big time.

He was unusually flexible in his tactics in an era when English football was seemingly wed to a standard 4-4-2. He found ways to accommodate three goalscorers in Dixon, Durie and Kevin Wilson and made the most of impressive attacking full-backs Clarke and Dorigo.

In the 1989/90 season, Campbell played three men at the back including a sweeper and in the November, a win at Everton placed Chelsea at the top of the league table for the first time in a generation.

A run of defeats before Christmas were a reality check and tested resolve but there was now strength of character in this Chelsea side and Everton, once again, and Millwall were defeated at the climax of the campaign to secure a top-five finish.

The season also had a Wembley appearance to enjoy.

For the second time in five seasons we won the Full Members Cup with Middlesbrough defeated in the final in front of 76,000 fans, thanks to a fine Dorigo free-kick.

Campbell had already set the tone for the many continental signings to come under future managers by bringing in defenders Ken Monkou from Feyenoord and Erland Johnsen from Bayern Munich, but in the summer of 1990 he turned to the English league to make Chelsea’s first two £1 million-plus signings – Dennis Wise and Andy Townsend, who would both go on to captain the team.

Though the promotion team of 1988/89 had been full of experience, youth was now blooded with the likes of Frank Sinclair, David Lee and Graeme Le Saux emerging. Following a run of poor results, three junior homegrowns were successfully handed starts in a live televised win at Old Trafford in November 1990. They were Jason Cundy, Graham Stuart and Damien Matthew.

An undoubted highlight of Campbell’s third full season as Chelsea manager was a League Cup quarter-final replay away against a Tottenham team that had Gazza in his pomp. Spurs were played off the White Hart Lane pitch by the Blues that night as we recorded a 3-0 win.

Following an 11th-place finish in the league, Campbell relinquished the reins with his former assistant Ian Porterfield returning to take on the manager’s role. Campbell initially accepted a backroom role with Bates before returning to more active coaching in the Middle East.

In the later years of his retirement he made his home just a short walk from Stamford Bridge. He was welcomed back into the fold with open arms by Mr Abramovich and was a regular around the club and would enjoy reminiscing about his days in charge. He was also a frequent guest of the owner and Chelsea directors at home matches. 


However, such was Campbell’s passion for football and affection for the Blues, he was just as likely to be seen at Cobham watching with interest the progress of our Academy sides. Indeed although seriously ill, he remained a spectator at these games until only a few weeks ago.

Chelsea was very close to Bobby Campbell’s heart and he will always be close to ours. 


- Chelsea TV's tribute video to Bobby Campbell can be viewed below.

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