Bolton fans are running out of ways to describe this man because everything that can be said about his unrivaled passion, his incredible talent, his illustrious career and his world famous hair has already been said. Nearly a decade on, we still treat him like one of our own because, in many ways, he is and always will be. Despite being Bolton Wanderers through and through, he hails from the Bay of Biscay and funnily, hundreds of miles from ‘home’, his time with us embodied the motto of his birthplace – ‘Ganadas por fidelidad, nobleza y lealtad’, which means ‘Earnt by fidelity, nobility and loyalty’. His faithfulness and honour as a player can be called into doubt by no one and and his legendary status is unimpeachable.
Try as we might to find new ways to describe just how brilliant he was - we will all be telling our grandchildren stories about Ivan Campo.
He started his playing career in the lower tiers of Spanish football in the youth system of CD Logroñés, moving to Deportivo Alavés in 1993 when he was 19. He made his professional debut at the club and went on to make 55 appearances, scoring 4 goals for the Segunda B side. In both seasons, his efforts ensured they were top of the table but only in 1995 did they win promotion to the Segunda Division.
Campo left the Basque club in 1995 to join Valencia, for a fee, and was immediately loaned out to the Castillian outfit Real Valladolid, for whom he played 24 times. After impressing on loan, he was given a chance in Valencia’s first team the following season, playing under three managers: Brazilian legend Carlos Alberto Parreira, caretaker Jose Manuel Rielo and then future Spanish national manager Luis Aragones.
After the 1996-97 season, he was released and recruited by Héctor Cúper as he attempted to build a Mallorca team fit for survival in La Liga. During his time at the Balearic Islands, Ivan Campo formed a formidable defensive partnership with Marcelino. Their strength at the back allowed the side to outperform all expectations, finishing fifth in the league and reaching the final of the Copa Del Rey, having knocked out his former home Alavés in the semis. The final itself, in which Mallorca were beaten 5-4 on penalties by Catalonian giants Barcelona, was played in Campo’s old home, the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia.
That summer, Campo was called up to represent Spain in the 1998 World Cup but the team failed to make it out of the group stages. He was later replaced by Marcelino in the starting line-up. In total, Campo won 4 caps for Spain.
However, Campo’s performances caught the eyes of Los Blancos and he signed in the summer of 1998 for £6m. He played under both Guus Hiddink and the legendary Vincente Del Bosque and went on to win two European Cups, a league title, a Copa Del Rey and an Intercontinental Cup. Whilst the greats of the game whom he played with received the headlines, with characters like Luís Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Raúl becoming legends, it was widely acknowledged his work at the back made it all possible. In the European Cup final of 2000, when Real beat Valenica 3-0, Campo played the full 90 minutes in a back three with Helguera and the former Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka, keeping the likes of Miguel Ángel Angulo and Claudio López at bay.
His time at Real Madrid came to an end in 2002 when he was loaned out to a small, at the time, Premier League outfit called Bolton Wanderers. The Donostiarran was recruited by Sam Allardyce, after a long chase in the transfer window, on the understanding it would be a short term deal. However, after making an instant impact at the club, scoring on his home debut against Liverpool and helping the club finish 17th and condemning West Ham to the Championship, he chose to stay, turning down arguably the biggest club in world football because he preferred life in our humble town. He would later refer to Big Sam as his ‘adoptive father’.
In total, Campo made 171 appearances for Bolton and scored 13 goals, pushing the club to new heights. Bolton recorded consecutive top-eight finishes between 2004 and 2007, reached a League Cup final in 2004 and qualified for the Europa League, reaching the last 32. He was pushed up from the defence to play in a defensive midfield position, where he arguably played the best football of his career. His passing play help bring the team together and his ruggedness would come to be emblematic of an infamously gritty Bolton side, his willingness to get stuck in won him the most red and yellow cards of any player in the Premier League in the 2006-07 season. Campo’s individual moments of brilliance live long in the memory with his strike at West Ham, his through ball against Arsenal and lobbing Paul Robinson all becoming folklore.
Unfortunately, once Big Sam left the club and Sammy Lee replaced him, Campo no longer had a place in the team and things only got worse when Gary Megson took over. The way the club handled his departure remains an embarrassment and the open letter he penned to say goodbye to the fans he loved so dearly remains poignant to this day.
After leaving, he joined the Championship side Ipswich Town and made 17 appearances, scoring once in a 3-0 victory over Barnsley. Manager Roy Keane then released him, meaning that Campo ended his playing career in Cyrpus.
Campo, in 2012, penned another letter offering to return to the club to help bring back the ‘glory days’, however he was never taken up on his kind offer.
The man is an unrivaled hero and we thank him once again for his service.