IT “could be a canny summer”, says John Campbell. It could start on Saturday.
Around a year ago, the Walker-born 22-year-old was playing for West Allotment Northumberland Arms, in the Cramlington and District Sunday League. Before then he had been at Newcastle United as a teen, and Manchester City on YTS terms.
Yet rather than find himself alongside the likes of fellow locals Shola Ameobi, Steven Taylor and Michael Richardson (another formerly of Walker Central), or Balotelli, Tevez and Dzeko, Campbell started this season in the Northern League, with Newcastle Benfield.
Such talent would only be denied a bigger stage for so long.
Having netted 25 goals for Paul Baker’s side, and after trials with Scunthorpe United, Swindon Town and Leyton Orient, Campbell joined Darlington on an 18-month deal in January, determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Four goals from seven starts have followed, and though Campbell insists Quakers fans will not see the best of him until next season, he is so excited by the prospect of ending this one at Wembley, that on the rare occasions he has managed a good night’s sleep of late, he has dreamed of scoring the winner in tomorrow’s FA Trophy final against Mansfield Town. “My first game of the season was at Benfield, and my last could be at Wembley,” he said. “I never thought anything like that could happen. I started the season against Sunderland RCA, I scored four in that game (a 5-0 win) but this is a world away from that.
“I haven’t slept for a week, although when I have done, the other night I had a dream that I came on and scored the winner. That would be amazing but just being a part of it would be unbelievable. I never thought I’d get another chance in the game, so it’s a big bonus for me.
“I was at Manchester City, and things didn’t work out. My mind wasn’t on it because it was the first time I’d ever been away from home, and we’d just had a little boy, Layton.
“I was 18 and stopped playing completely for a year, a full season. I thought I wasn’t going to play again. But my mam Paula and dad Hughie have been a great help and helped me through some hard times, I owe them a lot. I came back, played well and started scoring goals again. Now I’ve been handed this second chance I’m determined to make the most of it.
“This is it now, and next season is hopefully going to be a big one for me, with a full pre-season behind me. Darlington definitely haven’t seen the best of me yet. I’m still not 100 per cent match fit. When I get a full pre-season behind me I think I’ll do well. I’m really enjoying life as a full-time pro. Just waking up and coming to do what you love doing, playing football, is unreal. Saturday is going to be unbelievable and hopefully we can win and I’m involved. Then I’ve got another baby on the way in June, so it could be a canny summer.”
Meanwhile, Benfield boss Baker added: “I’m over the moon for John. “The guy was playing Northern League football with 60 blokes and a dog watching, and all of a sudden he’s going to Wembley. He’s probably pinching himself.”
A very limited number of tickets priced £30 for adults and £15 for concessions are available from the Northern Echo Arena (a £1.40 booking fee per ticket, and standard credit card charges apply), but no longer from Ticketmaster. For coach travel at £30 per seat, contact the Arena in person or on 01325 387 000. Fans yet to receive their tickets should contact the club to have original purchases cancelled, rendering them void. Ticketmaster will then issue new tickets which will be available from the Wembley box office tomorrow.