“I was happy to pass it on 15 or 20 years ago!” exclaims Kevin Campbell of his place in history as the last man to score a Merseyside derby winner for Everton at Anfield. It was back in September 1999 that the Toffees number nine struck to down the Reds. While he is supremely proud of the achievement, Campbell is more than ready for a current Blue to take the mantle.
“I always used to say I don’t want it and for 21 years Everton haven’t won, so if I say I want to keep it, we might end up winning the game,” he jokes in an exclusive interview with The Sportsman ahead of this Saturday’s Mersey clash. “It’s got to finish, come on, it’s about time!”
Everton fans had already taken ‘Super Kev’ to their hearts when the striker arrived on loan from Trabzonspor and scored nine goals in eight games to virtually save the Toffees from relegation in the 1998-99 campaign.
“It was just a match made in heaven and I think we needed each other to be honest,” he says of the instant bond he forged with fans. “When you’ve been at Everton, and Everton have touched you, you know the feeling. I just want the fans to be happy, they’ve always been tremendous to me. There’s nothing better than when you see Evertonians happy for beating Liverpool and I want them to feel that again, it’s been a long time.”
Netting at Anfield gave Campbell God-like status and the former striker, who turned 51 this month, vividly remembers what went through his mind when the ball was played through.
“Just hit it!” he remembers telling himself. “The game is so quick, if you take a touch it’s going to get taken off your toes. As the ball got played into Franny Jeffers and he reversed it to me, it bounced at an awkward height, but I thought ‘hit it down as best you can’ and luckily for me it caught the goalkeeper unawares.
“It was at the Kop End and my view, which will live with me until the day I die, is the Blues in the Kop going crazy. You don’t expect Blues to be in the Kop but when the ball hit the back of the net you see the little pockets of Blues jumping up. That was, and still is, one of my favourite memories in football.
“That’s the unique and special thing, there’s a lot of banter that flies around, but families are split down the middle. The lads in the away end, they’re anti-Liverpool, but everybody’s got someone in their family who’s a Red or Blue. I was so proud, we scored early and held out. What a game!”
The rivalry, the match, the build-up, it was all explained to Campbell upon his arrival just what the derby meant to the blue half of the city.
“You’ve got to win but you can’t lose,” he tells us. “All the guys among the backroom staff were Blues and they drill it into you, they grab you. I’m sure James Rodriguez has had the riot act read to him about the derby.”
It means so much that tempers can flare and tensions spill over. That was the case in ‘99, with three players being sent off. Steven Gerrard walked for a rash challenge on Campbell after Everton striker Francis Jeffers and Reds goalkeeper Sander Westerveld had a scrap in the area.
“I know it can happen but I didn't expect Franny to throw a couple of Haymakers as well!” laughs Campbell. “Franny, he’s a Blue through and through and he was standing his ground, which is great. I thought the referee could have shown two yellows and given them a stern talking to but because there were blows thrown from both players he didn't have a choice.”
Desperately trying to get back into the match, Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier had made all three of his substitutions when Westerveld was dismissed, and so Irish defender Steve Staunton was forced to don the gloves for the final 15 minutes.
“I thought, let’s get some more shots at him!” Campbell says, rubbing his hands together. In the end Staunton wasn’t beaten, but neither was Paul Gerrard in the Everton net and the Toffees held on for a famous, now storied, victory.
After the game, Campbell somehow ended up in the famous Anfield Boot Room with Everton captain Dave Watson, who was a Liverpool youth long before lifting the FA Cup as a Blue in 1995.
“I was with ‘Waggy’ [Watson] and I don’t know how I found myself in there but we were all just having a laugh, the old Boot Room boys, and it was very respectful,” explains Campbell. “[Liverpool assistant manager] Phil Thompson had a face like thunder and Dave Watson said ‘Phil, we’re pleased we won but I’m going in for an operation tomorrow’…’What’s the problem, anything serious?’ Phil asked. ‘No, it’s just to get this smile off my face!’
“Phil Thompson!” Campbell laughs, “You could see the steam! Brilliant. The banter was always good because, whoever wins, you’re still going to see each other.”
That they did. Campbell bumped into a future Liverpool legend much sooner than he anticipated when he and the Everton team celebrated the win in the city.
“It wasn’t planned, but we went down to the Docks. We were having a chilled evening, nothing too strenuous. I went to the loo and as I walked in, it was weird, there was just one person at the urinal and he looked familiar...so I’ve walked up and I’ve checked him. He’s turned and looked…”
It was Steven Gerrard. The man sent off for Liverpool, shocked at the sight of the Everton match-winner he had fouled. Just the two of them.
“‘Oh no, Kev, I’m sorry’, he said. We had a laugh about it; he wasn’t as happy as I was but it’s quite ironic how these things work that me and him are the only ones in this toilet. Listen, he was a young lad and had made a bad challenge, but we ended up winning. I didn’t feel it, especially after a couple of beers.”
Campbell left Goodison Park in 2005 and has watched on as Everton team after Everton team has failed to replicate the Class of 1999. What’s the reason, we ask?
“Belief,” he reckons. “The majority of reasons are belief. It’s not an easy place to go if we’re honest. They're very strong at home. They’re a good side and if you go there without the belief, more likely than not you’re not going to win. It is very difficult.
“Sometimes a lack of quality couldn’t propel them to a win and sometimes it was sheer bad luck. A couple of years ago, Everton were the better team but the ball bounced on the bar, it came down and they win the game. Absolutely gutting, it sickens you, but sometimes it can work the other way and hopefully it works for us.
“I think Everton are equipped to win now, we know they can blow hot and cold, but I think they’ll be right up for the game.”
So, what’s Kevin’s prediction for Saturday? “I’d love a win, I want a win, we need a win, so let’s go 1-0 Everton like the last time!”
‘Super Kev’ will forever go down in Everton history but he will be delighted if he can hand over his Anfield record to a modern Blue this weekend.