The ‘Tallaght generation’ talk of the heroes Gary Twigg, Jack Byrne etc. but Milltown had it’s share too. For many of us, the memories are so clear that special occasions and events seem like only yesterday. Alan Campbell gave us plenty to cheer about during his time in the green and white hoops. Sunday, 13th April 1980 was a unique one in itself.
On 25th April 1971, the Hoops faced Cork Hibernians in a play-off for the league title. They came agonisingly close to capturing a record 11th title but it wasn’t to be as they lost 3-1 on the day. Following the ‘Coad’s Colts’ era of the 50s and the Six-in-a-Row of the 60s, the following decade was mostly an unproductive one for Shamrock Rovers. The elderly Joe and Mary Jane Cunningham sold their interests in the club to the largely unknown Kilcoyne bothers. The period that followed saw the fans drift away with many of them traumatised at the state the once-great club had fallen into.
A change in direction by the Kilcoynes in 1977/78 led to an uplift in the fortunes of the Hoops. The return of John Giles as player-coach from a similar position the Dubliner had held at West Bromwich Albion was the catalyst for a sea change at Milltown. Giles not only brought his own experience but also that of other well-established Irish players such as Ray Treacy, Paddy Mulligan and believe it or not Eamonn Dunphy. But the ‘maestro’ didn’t just build his squad on such experience. A corner plank of his rebuilding programme at Milltown was the establishment of a scheme similar to the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) that was in place at all of the top clubs across the water.
This enabled Giles to entice talented young stars to Shamrock Rovers; players who were on the radar and who might have chosen to commit elsewhere had such a scheme not being in place. These youngsters would train with the first team at Glenmalure Park in the morning and then do their studies in the afternoon. Probably the best known amongst them were Richie Bayly, Pierce O’Leary, Alan Campbell, and Liam Buckley. The latter two were to progress as the top strikers at the club in the period that followed. Both were key assets on the Hoops team that won the league title in 1983/84 – Jim McLaughlin’s first season at the helm.
Between them, Campbell and Buckley scored 138 league goals. They joined the club around the same period – and left too within months of each other. They were the perfect match; the dynamic duo as it were. Campbell was from Ballybrack, Co. Dublin and signed for the Hoops from local club St. Joseph’s Boys. Buckley hailed from Manor Estate, Dublin 12 and had previously been on the youth squad at Shelbourne. Both established themselves very quickly as first-team players at Milltown.
The 1979/80 season had promised so much at Milltown and yet delivered so little. The final game at home in the league was played on Sunday, 13th April. Limerick and Dundalk were vying for the title with just a handful of games to be played. A recent run of lukewarm performances had left the Hoops out of the running. There was still something at stake for Alan Campbell though. The monthly Soccer Reporter publication (published in a tabloid format) had, at the start of the season, put up a prize of £1,000 for the first player to reach 20 league goals. Going into the game against UCD at Milltown on 13th April, Alan Campbell was on 18. Limerick’s Tony Morris was on 19. In Campbell’s favour was the fact that Rovers were playing at home to a UCD side that had struggled in their first season as members of the League of Ireland and the Hoops were expected to win comfortably. Limerick were playing the lowly Home Farm whose form during the season had only marginally been better than that of UCD.
With the season having more or less faded out for the Hoops and nothing at stake the fans had obviously decided to take advantage of the fine weather and engage in other activities. A sparse attendance was witnessed at Glenmalure Park but with the weather being so fine those who did attend were spread around the ground, many sitting on the terraces soaking up the sun. All eyes were on the lad from Ballybrack, especially in the 27th minute when Bernard McDonnell took down Robbie Gaffney in the box. Campbell stood up and successfully netted from the penalty spot – his first such goal for Shamrock Rovers. Now he was level with Tony Morris. Just eight minutes later and it was eureka for Campbell who got onto a header from Mick Gannon and slotted past College ‘keeper Jim McCabe to make it 2-0. Everyone in the crowd cheered the special moment, none more excited than the young striker’s father, Noel, who was located along the perimeter wall on the car park side. The celebrations on the pitch were, as expected, mighty also as Campbell’s teammates rushed to congratulate him. Limerick took a 2-0 half time lead in their game against the ‘Farm but Morris was not amongst the scorers. Campbell had won the race.
Campbell added two more with Buckley also scoring twice and Kieran Maher once in a game that finished 7-1 to the Hoops. Martin Moran got a consolation goal for UCD from the spot late in the game. Everyone present at Glenmalure Park was delighted for the young Campbell. Just 19 and in his first season at senior level in Irish football. His tally that season was completed at 22 but he was to go even better four years later when he found the net 24 times in that first league-winning season under McLaughlin.
The Hoops had to plan without Campbell for 1984/85 though as Spanish First Division side (then the top flight in Spain) Racing Club de Santander successfully completed a transfer deal with Rovers for the striker. Alan Campbell was a quiet-spoken type of lad but when it came to being in front of goal his boots spoke out aloud!