Kenneth Campbell’s unique life story: Part I

May 7, 1921
When seventeen clubs wanted me to sign on.
My remarkable discovery and capture by Liverpool F.C.

By Kenneth Campbell

Kenneth Campbell, the famous goalkeeper for Partick Thistle and Scotland, begin here the story of his wonderful football career. In the very front rank among professional players, Campbell, although still quite a young man, yet has had great experience in the highest class of football. Joining Liverpool when a lad, as understudy to the renowned Sam Hardy, the prince of English goalkeepers. Kenneth by brilliant exposition, ultimately succeeded in displacing Hardy, who was transferred to Aston Villa. For several seasons the young and clever Scot was the idol of the Liverpool crowd, and one of the stalwarts of a notable team. A year ago he was chosen to guard Scotia’s goal against England, and shortly afterwards he joined Partick Thistle. This season Campbell has played brilliantly for his club, and against Wales and Ireland.

Ken Campbell 1921 life story I

Just right here and now, before I begin to tell you the story of my football career, I should like to mention that I have not re-signed for Partick Thistle for next season. That does not necessary mean that I will not be at Firhill again. I have nothing but good to say of my association with the “Jags.” Everybody has treated me with kindness, and, supposing I did not re-engage, I could look back to me connection with the club with the greatest possible pleasure. It falls to the lot of very few players to win a Scottish Cup medal in their first season with a club. But that has been my happy experience, and I can honestly say that I am extremely proud of the honour.

I have been asked by the Thistle to re-engage, and am to give their request every consideration. As you are, no doubt, aware, I have had offers to go to America, and my wife and family are resident in Liverpool. These matters I must not lose sight of in giving thought to my future. At the moment no more need to be said on that score. But I may tell you that I am writing this, the opening chapter of my story, in the train bound for Liverpool. I had a telegram this morning telling me that my home on Merseyside had been entered by burglars, and a number of articles removed. That is why I am Liverpool bound, and it is in Liverpool that I hope to spend most of the close season. For that famous seaport I have a very warm regard, for, perhaps more reasons than one. It was here, at any rate, that I blossomed into a First League goalkeeper, and I was still with Liverpool when I was chosen to guard the Scottish goal against England at Sheffield last year.

Sweet seventeen.
Of my very early days as a player I will have something to say. I want to tell you of some of my escapades as a juvenile, but these I hold over for the moment, because I wish to write now of my discovery by senior clubs, and my ultimate capture by Liverpool.

At that time I was about seventeen years old. I am now something over twenty-one. But I still feel just one and twenty, and sometimes, especially after a victory, I am told that I do not look any more. Maybe I don’t, but I’m not getting younger, anyway.

I had left Rutherglen Glencairn – the junior club which has given, among others, Jimmy McMenemy, Alec Bennett, Marshall Macewan, and Tom Sinclair to senior football – I had just left the “Glens” and got comfortably settled with Cambuslang Rangers when a host of clubs came on my track. Before that representatives of senior clubs had been after me, but chiefly on account of my youth I refused to consider any overtures made to get me to take the senior professional ticket.

At this time I was an amateur, and had resolved that I should wait for two or three seasons before I became a senior and a full blown pro. But fate had decided otherwise. If I had played pretty well with the Rutherglen team and given satisfaction to the critics, I seemed to improve immensely as a Cambuslang junior, judging from the attention I received from senior clubs. And only one season was I with the Cambuslang club – the season of 1910-11. But into it were practically all the honours the Scottish Junior Football Association and the Glasgow Junior League had to bestow in the way of cups. I played for the Association against the Irish Juniors in Belfast, and against the English juniors at Firhill. I also kept goal for the young Scots against the Newcastle Juniors, was in the Glasgow League eleven that met the Irish League, and in the representative Scottish team that opposed the select of the Irish Junior League. Besides, Cambuslang Rangers were that season the winners of the Glasgow League Championship. To get so many honours in one season naturally drew me into greater prominence than ever, and I was wooed by several Scottish League clubs. But I was not at all keen to leave Cambuslang and the juniors in order to try my fortune in senior circles.

Wanted by seventeen clubs.
There were Celtic, Clyde, Raith Rovers, and my present club (Partick Thistle) all on the hunt. Then English clubs came along, and at one time there were no fewer than seventeen clubs altogether seeking my signature. I was in rather an unenviable position. I kept getting communications; I was in receipt of repeated offers. Representatives of certain clubs sought me out and tempted me with all manner of promises. Bradford, Bury, Woolwich Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United were among the English clubs whom I knew were disposed to sign me on.

But I never heard anything of Liverpool. It seems, however, that one of the Directors came north to see a half-back who had been recommended to them. He was a half-back in Cambuslang Rangers. It so happened that in this particular match I played a good game. My play impressed the Director so much that, having signed the half-back, he returned to Liverpool and submitted a very glowing account of my goalkeeping. Soon after this Mr. Tom Watson, then manager of Liverpool, came north to see me himself. Mr. Watson, now dead and gone, was a very shrewd judge of a player. His judgment was generally unerring, but, as I shall show you, it proved to be a fault in my case.

Tom Watson takes my measure.
I had not the remotest idea that he was to be on the ground to watch me. Therefore I was no way embarrassed. Our opponents that afternoon were, I think, Burnbank Athletic, a very clever junior team, between whom and the Rangers there was a close and keen rivalry. A large crowd watched the contest, and Mr. Tom Watson was one of the interested spectators. A little gentleman, with a ruddy complexion and white moustache, he was never seen in the throng, but if he was interested he was, I rather think, also disgusted.

Had I known that he was looking on and taking my particular measure, I should not have been surprised had I faltered and created no very favourable impression. But I was entirely ignorant of his presence, there was really no excuse for my failure. For I failed that afternoon if ever I have failed on the football field. I let slip into the net two of the softest shots imaginable – simple shots which a blind man might have saved – shots which got goals that cost us the match.

When I could have kicked myself.
And when I learned afterwards that the manager of Liverpool had been watching m performance, I could have kicked myself. I can fancy what the dear old chap said to himself going home. His remarks had not been complimentary to yours truly. Yet I don’t know, for Mr. Tom Watson was not guilty of saying very hard things of players, even though he had travelled many hundreds of miles to see them play and been disappointed. But I do know what he said when he met his Directors.
I saw that Scotch lad, Campbell, play on Saturday, and, candidly, he is not up to our standard, not by a long way. I wouldn’t give him four shilling a week, let alone £4.

But that was not sufficient to knock out of the Director, who had first seen me play, the belief that I was good enough for Liverpool. I had evidently created a deep impression in his mind – so deep that he determined to come north again and have another look at me between the posts. I didn’t know that he was coming, and in the interval I had played some games good enough to draw suggestions from other English clubs. In fact, round about this particular period I appeared to be wooed in a manner most assiduous. So much was this the case that, on the advice of a friend, I decided at last to think about accepting an offer. Just then the Liverpool Director re-appeared, and at the close of a game, in which I must have impressed him as much as I did on the first occasion, he approached me and made known his desire.

I sign for Liverpool.
How would I like to join Liverpool club?” said he, after we had exchanged the usual introductory greetings.
Perhaps I wouldn’t mind,” said I, remembering that I had relations in that city, and that Donald Mackinlay, whose folks lived close to mine at Hallside, was then as now, one of the stalwarts of the Liverpool team.
I’m sure you wouldn’t,” remarked the Director, who thereupon began to paint a pretty picture of my future as a professional in the ranks of Liverpool.

Now, that director impressed me, as I had, apparently, him. I liked the gentleman, and the sequel was that I agreed to sign a contract for Liverpool for one year. Everything was soon ready, and I signed. My terms were £4 per week all the year round, and £10 for signing – not bad terms, seeing that I was still a youth in my teens.

This was, I later learned, a rather daring move on the part of the Director. He had come north, not with the consent of his fellows, not at the suggestion of Mr. Watson, who firmly believed that I was not what I had been represented to be. Therefore, the Director in question had acted contrary to custom, and on his own responsibility had signed me, giving me the maximum wage. That, however, did not seem to trouble him, for he left me in the most cheery mood imaginable, with my contract form safely packed in his pocket-book.

Tongues begin to war.
What happened when he unfolded the truth to his co-Directors and Mr. Tom Watson, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that there were grave doubts expressed at the action of the gentleman who had violated an unwritten law. Fortunately for me, at any rate, the others did not offer any serious opposition to a most unusual practice of one of their board, and I am fain to believe that I fully justified the conduct of the erring Director.

My signing for Liverpool set many tongues wagging. Stories went round that Liverpool and other English clubs who had been competing for my services had been guilty of abusing the regulations governing the payment of players. These stories in due time reached the ears of the English League. These ears were at once cooked, and it was not long until that body got a move on. They began to institute inquiries. Messrs. Charles Sutcliffe and Tom Charnley were the investigators. They did their work thoroughly, but discovered no abuse, because none had been committed, and all was well that ended well.

That, then, is the story of my discovery by Liverpool and my signing for that club. I was discovered in a curious manner, and my signing-on was not less curious. But my decision to join the Merseyside club from a list running well into teens I have never regretted.

From Cambuslang Rangers I proceeded in August, 1911, to Anfield Road as the understudy, and, as it proved, the successor to Sam Hardy, one of the greatest goalkeepers England has ever had. I succeeded on August R. Beeby, who had been reserve to Sam for some time. Beeby was transferred to Manchester City, and when the season began I came at once under fire in the A team.

Next week I shall introduce some further notable incidents in my football career.
(The Weekly News, 07-05-1921)

Ken Campbell 1921 life story II



  1. This is simply marvelous, Kjell. It’s a pity, though, that Kenny didn’t identify the director who signed him.

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