Johnny (and Robert) Campbell

Johnny Campbell's life was short and in the end rather brutal. He would die aged just thirty-six, a Spirit Merchant, a publican, in Sunderland and probably of the drink. And he had begun life in 1869 as the illegitimate son not a Renton girl but of Jane Middleton in Edinburgh.  

However, in between he had luck. His mother was to meet a widower, Robert Campbell, from Kirkintilloch and marry him in Bonhill in 1871. He was to bring three sons into the marriage, the youngest of whom was Robert, five years older than Johnny, and he and Jane were to have seven more children.      

At sixteen Robert Campbell was a Factory Labourer with no obvious indication of footballing prowess. Johnny then was still at school but clearly already a promising player. He was not in the Renton team in 1885 or 1886 but he was there in 1888 up front alongside Harry Campbell, the pair replacing Grant and McIntyre, Johnny just eighteen. 

In fact Johnny Campbell would remain in the Renton First Team for two seasons, this as many of his team-mates would move on, several South, one, Donald McKechnie in 1889, to Sunderland. And it would be to that same team that the next season three more would follow, Johnny Harvey, David Hannah and Johnny himself.     

In fact on Wearside the three would remain close. In 1893 Harvey would be best-man at Hannah's wedding. And prior to that Harvey and Campbell shared digs, te former a Fitter, the latter a Machinist. Indeed the pair of them were boarding with none other than Tom Watson and his family, Watson being the then Secretary of Sunderland F.C.. Moreover there was a third tenant, the man who would in 1893 fill Watson's position, as he left for Liverpool. He was Robert Campbell, recorded that day as a Storekeeper. And it was also from this address that Johnny in 1892 returned to Scotland to marry. His bride was a Renton girl, Mary Leslie. They were in 1895 to have a son, named Robert.

Johnny Campbell would stay seven seasons at Sunderland, scoring one hundred and thirty-three goals in one hundred and eighty-six League starts. In doing so he would take three League titles and in 1895 a second World Championship. He was also the First Division top-scorer in three seasons. But there would, of course, be no caps. Until 1896, for plying his trade down South, he was ineligible. And this was before in 1897, the year his mother died in Renton, he was moved on, with John Harvey, by his half-brother to Newcastle. Now aged twenty-seven he should have been at his peak but the reality was that he was on the wane. On Tyneside over two seasons he managed just twenty-three games and nine goals before at not quite thirty he hung his boots. 

In 1899 Robert Campbell left Sunderland to join Bristol City. Johnny, however, remained on Wearside where now he was  joined briefly by his step-father. He would die in the city in 1905. And Johnny followed him only a year later, to be buried at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery. As for Mary no more can be traced. She does not seem to have returned to Scotland, at least not identifiably so. Robert, however, is different. He was married in Hawick in 1924 and died there in 1954. And his uncle Robert is known after management at Bradford and Clapton Orient to have returned to Sunderland, where he sold advertising. And he may well have died there in 1935.     

Birth Locator:

1869 - Royal Maternity Hospital,  Edinburgh, Middlothian


Residence Locations:

1871 - Arthurston, Jamestown, Dunbartonshire 

1881 - 46, Back St., Renton, Dumbartonshire

1891 - 17, Warwick St. Sunderland

1892 - 17, Warwick St. Sunderland

1894 - 6, May St., Sunderland

1901 - N/A

1916 - Sunderland


Death Locator:

1916 - Sunderland


Burial Locator:

Bishopwearmouth Cemetery, Sunderland


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