'I lived the dream' – Ex-Newcastle United striker Adam Campbell recalls his black and white debut and his 'goal-laden' Gateshead future
The summer of 2012 was a curious time for Newcastle United.
The elation of the unexpected fifth-placed finish in the Premier League had evaporated as an all-too-familiar malaise set in at St James Park during the close-season.
Transfer activity was restricted as Mike Ashley tightened the purse strings in response to an unfulfilled promise to deliver Champions League football in return for funds to sign Papiss Demba Cisse six months earlier.
The likes of Jan Vertonghen, Olivier Giroud and Virgil Van Dijk were all linked with a summer move to Tyneside – but additions to Alan Pardew’s senior ranks were limited to a £6.7million deal for Ajax midfielder Vurnon Anita.
Young trio Romain Amalfitano, Curtis Good and Gael Bigirimana also joined the club, and the trio were quickly identified as key benefactors of United’s participation in the Europa League.
Academy products Sammy Ameobi and James Tavernier would also see competitive action in Europe – but it was another youngster that made club history in the opening Europa League tie that season.
Playing in a fourth qualifying round tie on a dusty, sun-baked pitch in sweltering temperatures in North West Athens may not seem like the stuff of fantasy – but for young Geordie striker Adam Campbell a late appearance as a substitute for fellow frontman Cisse was the realisation of a schoolboy dream.
He told The Gazette: “No matter where I end up, no matter what happens over the rest of my career, no matter what people say or do, nobody can take that away from me.
“I lived the dream of what most people dream of doing as a kid in the North East and did something I dreamt of doing as a kid.
“I made my debut as a 17-year-old at Newcastle in a European tie, nobody can take it away from me.
“It was such a proud moment, and I will always reflect on it with overwhelming pride.”
Over the following nine months, Campbell’s involvement amongst United’s senior men was limited to four more appearances from the bench.
He came off the bench to replace French defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in a 1-0 home defeat against Arsenal on the final day of the 2012/13 campaign – it would be his final competitive appearance for his boyhood club.
Loan moves to Carlisle United, St Mirren, Fleetwood Town, Hartlepool United and Gateshead were relatively unsuccessful – although three goals in eight games with the latter captured the attention of several Football League clubs.
Campbell’s time at Newcastle was officially ended in June 2015 when he was released – although he remained a Magpie after signing a two-year deal at Notts County a month later.
After two seasons at Meadow Lane, he went on to sign a similar deal with Morecambe before moving back to the North East to join National League North club Darlington.
That meant Campbell would experience non-league football for the first time since his loan stint at Gateshead and also saw the 24-year-old move into the part-time game for the first time in his career.
Whereas many former Premier League players may see the switch to the second tier of non-league as a major stepdown, Campbell admitted he has never felt happier during his career.
“It’s tough, and it depends which way you look at it,” he explained.
“In terms of what could have been, yes, I could have been a Premier League player for years on end and earned a decent amount of money.
“But, after dropping into the Football League, and then into the National League North, this is probably the happiest I have been since I left Newcastle.
“I feel more at home being around players like these lads and company like I am in at these clubs.
“The clubs are more family orientated, they are more welcoming, and I feel like I am playing the best football I have played since I left Newcastle as well.
“Obviously, you do think what could have been, but I have everything I want now.
“That is playing football every week, I am settled, and I am happy.”
Campbell’s move to Darlington saw him working under another former United player that struggled to make the breakthrough into the club’s first-team environment.
Twenty years before Campbell’s senior debut in Greece, Alun Armstrong was training alongside the likes of Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole as the Blaydon-born striker looked to force his way into Kevin Keegan’s plans.
A senior debut would never arrive for Armstrong – but his experience with his boyhood club did help him revive Campbell’s career during his time with the Quakers.
“I love Alun,” said Campbell.
“From where I was at Morecambe to where I am now, that’s down to Alun and Daz (Darlington assistant manager Darren Holloway).
“I could have quit football when I left Morecambe, I wasn’t happy, I hadn’t played in a year and a half.
“I was struggling for form and confidence, but when I met Alun, I knew I wanted to play for him and he got me back playing and enjoying myself.
“I couldn’t speak any higher of him.”
Campbell spent two disrupted seasons at Blackwell Meadows as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with the non-league game.
However, he was still able to help Darlington reach the ‘proper rounds’ of the FA Cup during both campaigns and became a regular goalscorer once again.
Now, almost nine years on from his senior debut, Campbell in back on Tyneside, back on familiar ground and back in the professional game after being persuaded to join Gateshead by former United team-mate Mike Williamson.
The forward is relishing the prospect of helping the Heed challenge for promotion into the National League and believes that a settled lifestyle can help him flourish once again at the International Stadium.
“I am really excited to get going with Gateshead, I’ve never given up on getting back to a professional club.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be challenging at the top end of the league with the squad we have now.
“You look at the players we have, we have to look at the top end of the table and there is no reason why we can’t.
“I am settled, I’ve got my missus, I’ve got my house, I’ve got my cat and I am happy.
“Now it’s all about getting back playing and scoring goals for Gateshead.”