Interview: DJ Campbell: “Blackpool’s the club which is closest to my heart”

DJ Campbell has spoken about his three spells with Blackpool, confessing that it’s the club where he holds the happiest memories from throughout his career. The London-born striker stole the hearts of the tangerine faithful during his three spells in tangerine, and has finally confessed that the feelings are mutual.

DJ was speaking to the club’s official media team recently. He scored 36 goals in 70 games between 2009-11, including the infamous hat-trick at the City Ground to send the club to Wembley in 2010.

The now-39-year-old had three separate spells with the club – two on loan before finally signing for the Premier League season, then went on to play for boyhood club QPR in 2011. His first spell came in January 2008, when he signed for Blackpool under the stewardship of Tony Parkes and Steve Thompson. DJ bagged 9 goals in 20 games to help the club to survival in the Championship in his first season.

Recalling his time with the Pool, he said: “The things that we achieved was great. It was a great time… It was a relief that I could go to a club that appreciates me as a person and as a footballer. When you’re in that kind of environment it only benefits you as a footballer.”

After a successful loan spell, he returned to parent club Leicester, but re-signed at Bloomfield Road the following January, having spent the first part of the 2009-10 season with Derby County where he’d scored three goals in six games. He signed for the club who were now managed by Ian Holloway, a man who’d managed him previously at Leicester where the two didn’t necessarily see eye to eye.

“Ian rang me and apologised, he said sorry for not giving me the opportunity at Leicester and that was the end of it – that’s when I decided to come back to Blackpool. I had a few other offers but the time I had first time round, I loved the club and I loved Blackpool. It just fit everything I wanted to do at that time. I decided to go back and that was it, it was a great decision on my behalf.

“Ian is a great man manager. Even when he came to Leicester, I wanted to work with him. The move to appoint him by Blackpool was exactly what they needed at the time – it was always positive and it rubbed off on other players. That’s what the key was and it all clicked.”

Having kept the club in the Championship the previous season, DJ had noted a mentality shift to look upwards rather than down, but he didn’t actually think the club could achieve promotion to the Premier League until the back end of the season.

“To be honest, we were doing ok through the season, but towards the end of the year we started winning every week. When we did that, you start to realise. It was more of a late run, but the character from the boys – we knew we were capable of it and we had the quality, but it was just about getting the consistency. When we got into the play-offs, we always believed we could get promoted. Nobody fancied playing us.”

The play-offs meant a two-legged affair with Nottingham Forest, who Blackpool had already beaten twice in the regular season. DJ went on to score a hat-trick in the second leg to help the club to a thrilling 4-3 win.

“My wife is from Nottingham so she was there and all my family, so it was a special night. It was the stuff made of dreams really. We’d beat Forest before so we knew we could go and do it. It was a tough place to go, but the whole occasion and the way we did it, obviously to score three was special. I’d dislocated my elbow the game before so I wasn’t sure I could play but it was just amazing.”

“We always knew we could score goals. That was our thing. We knew we could score, but could we outscore them? Thankfully enough it worked out. Every man was brilliant on the night.”

Then came a visit to Wembley for the final, against Cardiff, as Pool earned promotion to the Premier League after a 3-2 win.

“I remember Seamus (Coleman) on the coach on the way down. He said ‘You’re never nervous, are you not nervous?’. I said ‘No, why would I be nervous? Our careers are short so we have to embrace it. At the time he was nervous but after I spoke to him, he was fine.

“Even with Brett scoring on the day, it was a special day. Obviously I wanted to score too but I did my damage in the second leg so I was so happy for the boys. It was a great day out, it was just special.”

DJ signed in the September after having returned to Leicester and doing pre-season back at his parent club, but had his heart set on a return up to the North West.

“Leicester got a new manager – Paolo Sousa – who loved me and wanted to sign a new deal. If I tell you the offer, you’d cry, and I got on well with Paolo in pre-season. I was scoring goals and it was the best I’d felt in my time there, but the memories I had at Blackpool, it was a ‘thank you but no thank you’ and I signed for Blackpool. Obviously we got relegated which wasn’t nice, but the time we had in the Premier League was great. We’ll remember that season. It was just something that I wanted to do – I felt at home at Blackpool and the memories we’d created, all that stuff, I wanted to continue it.

“The relegation hit us hard because we had such a good group, but we kind of knew that if it was to happen, a few of the boys would have to leave. It was sad because we had such a tight-knit group, it was tough. All of the memories are really positive – we should never have been there in most people’s eyes. To do it with players like myself who came through non-league and Matty (Phillips), Gilks, Baps and Vaughany – nobody’s ever heard of us so to compete with these teams, was great.”

DJ endeared himself to Blackpool with his iconic celebration, where he put the badge in his mouth after scoring a goal. So how did that come about?

“I used to get stick because I tried to do the same thing at QPR. What it was, when I was at Leicester I had such a tough time so because it went so well, my love for the club grew and grew. That was the reason behind that. They gave me a second chance and it was my appreciation to the fans, the club and that’s how it came about. Going onto QPR was my boyhood club, so that was close to my heart too, so that’s the reasons for both really.

Pool achieved 39 points in the Premier League – a total which would’ve kept us up in each of the nine seasons since, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to keep us up.

“We knew we could beat Bolton and we did that, but when you’ve got Man Utd away, it’s tough. We came really close, but it’s a tough place to go. To play away at Old Trafford was a tough ask. The points we finished on, any other season we stay up, but maybe that was our destiny. I don’t know. But it was a special season and it was so close.

“When we did the End of Season awards, it was kind of a day that was one of the saddest days. We all went in the back room and had a meeting, and there were a lot of tears, a lot of uncertainty. A lot of these boys were together for a while, we became good friends and we achieved more than we thought we ever could. It just felt like that day, it was over, which was sad because we knew the group was going to split up. At the end of it, we said ‘look what we’ve achieved, who thought we could do this?’ and it was kind of about cherishing the memories we had. If we had stayed in the Prem, maybe it would’ve been different. It was meant to be a positive night, but there were a lot of tears.”

So how does his time in tangerine compare to the other 15 clubs he represented?

“It’s got to be up there, the club where I had the most success and the club which is closest to my heart. Every day was great memories for me and even up to this day people can’t believe what we achieved. It’s definitely the fondest memories I’ve got.”

“I was meant to come to a meet and greet but that was put on hold for the lockdown. I’ll definitely be back up there. We’re all going through the same thing in this pandemic but we all have to be positive because it will be over soon.”

You can listen to the full chat between DJ and the club in the video above or on the club’s official website.

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Image: Sky Sports

Published by Tom Johnson

Seaside exile living in Leeds. Been watching the Pool home and away since 2001

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