Lennie Lawrence (left) with Cardiff City owner Sam Hammam after their 2003 League One play-off final success. Pic: Getty Images.

Bluebirds’ Andy Back In Wales On Martyrs Mission

Andy Campbell has a unique place in Cardiff City folklore. 

The former Bluebirds striker is the only player ever to score a play-off final winner for the Welsh club – and he’s returning to South Wales for an evening of chat and questions at Merthyr Town FC.

Substitute Campbell, sent on for Robert Earnshaw, lobbed the only goal in Cardiff’s 1-0 win against Queens Park Rangers at the Millennium Stadium 15 years ago.

“That was absolutely amazing,” he says. “The noise when the goal went in was incredible. 

“If the roof had been close it would have been blown off the stadium. 

“Seeing the joy and ecstasy behind that goal was mind-blowing. The celebrations on the bench too. Amazing.”

Campbell returns to South Wales when he is the guest speaker for a dinner at Merthyr Town’s MetCoaches Stadium (Penydarren Park) on Friday, November 2.

He will be in Merthyr for an evening of stories and chat, while comedian Leroy Britto will also be appearing (see ticket details below).

Campbell’s strike lifted City into the Championship after an 18-year absence and paved the way for their two promotions into Premier League football since.

Post-match celebrations were held in a small restaurant opposite the stadium and drinks were flowing freely as I, in my role of reporting on the Bluebirds for the South Wales Echo, tried with varying degrees of success to interview players.

Many tipped more beer over me – either by accident or design! – than they were drinking, while the celebrations developed so quickly an official event at the Cardiff Marriott Hotel was missed by some.

To top it all the Bluebirds players had forgotten the play-off winners trophy and left it in their changing room at the stadium.

It was spotted during a final check that everything had been cleared up by kitman Ian Lanning – and was later locked in the Ninian Park boot room for a couple of days.

Campbell knows the heartache of losing in the play-offs and the delirious ecstasy of that goal for the Bluebirds in front of so many supporters will live with him for ever.”

The former Middlesbrough striker, born and bred in the North East, will never need to buy another pint in Cardiff ever again after scoring the goal that ignited the Millennium Stadium 24 minutes into extra time.

Matchwinner Andy Campbell celebrates promotion, holding the trophy later forgotten by the team! (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

He is now and will forever be a Bluebirds icon.

“It was an almost perfect situation for me,” said Campbell. “I went on as a late sub. I had fresh legs and could sense everybody else was tiring a bit.

“I knew that it there was a ball over the top I had a real chance. Then, in the second half of extra time, a ball sailed over and suddenly I was clear.

“ I lobbed the keeper and as the ball dropped in the place just exploded. It was brilliant.

“Then the whistle blew and the whole place just went crazy. That was incredible.”

Cardiff had finished sixth in what was then Division Two, finishing on 81 points, two behind third-placed Bristol City and QPR in fourth spot.

They defeated Bristol’s Robins 1-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals and saw off QPR in the final.

Ggoalkeeper Neil Alexander, now goalkeeping coach at Dundee United, kept three clean sheets for Cardiff in the 2003 play-offs. Pic: Getty Images.

“Lennie Lawrence was fantastic, so calm and laid back,” said Campbell. “He took the pressure off.

“He told us to go out, socialise together and relax. Go to the cinema, go for a meal or even for a quiet pint.

“It worked and took the edge off.”

The final was on Sunday – the day after future Cardiff manager Dave Jones had steered Wolves to their play-off final victory at the Millennium – and manager Lawrence named the team on Thursday. 

“I was on the bench and a bit surprised because I’d been out injured,” he says. “I’d had an operation a few weeks before only just started to get back up to speed. I was touch and go.

“I put an arm around the lads who had missed out and sympathised, but behind closed doors I was punching the air. I was over the moon. I was playing in the final.

Robert Earnshaw, now coaching at Fresno Falcons in California, made way for substitute Andy Campbell in the play-off final. Pic: Getty Images.

“It was a big, brave call by Lennie when he took off top scorer Robbie Earnshaw local hero and sent on a lad fresh from surgery and a few cameos off the bench.

“That is the brilliant thing about football. All it takes is a second.

“If you pop up and score in that magic moment then you are a hero. Everyone forgets the ones you missed.

“And if you score in a big game like that then you are part of people’s memories and in the history of the club for ever.

Cardiff City: Alexander, Weston (Croft 70), Gabbidon, Prior, Barker, Boland, Kavanagh, Whalley, Legg (Bonner 116), Earnshaw (Campbell 79), Thorne.  Subs not used: Margetson, Bowen. 

QPR: Day, Kelly, Shittu, Carlisle, Padula (Williams 79), Gallen, Bircham, Palmer, McLeod, Pacquette (Thomson 60), Furlong. Subs not used: Culkin, Angell, Forbes. 

Attendance: 66,096

Referee: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire). 

Tickets for Andy Campbell’s night at the Martyrs are £25 per person, including chicken and chips, and can be purchased from Richard on 0785 2950486.

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