by JAKE NUTTING
As is the case in most industries, having a far-reaching network of connections at your disposal can help you get a lot of things done in professional soccer. An example of this theory’s validity is the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ preseason trip to England this year, which might not have come together if it were not for the roots of head coach Stuart Campbell.
The Rowdies have spent the first half of their 11-day trip utilizing the training grounds of Nottingham Forest FC. While Campbell may not have ever played for Forest during his lengthy career in England before moving stateside in 2012 to join the Rowdies, he does have a connection to the Championship side through the club’s assistant manager Lennie Lawrence.
Campbell first played under Lawrence at Grimsby Town, when the manager paid what the Rowdies boss describes as “a decent chunk of money” to acquire him on loan from Leicester City in the Premier League in 2000.
“It was great,” Campbell says of his time at Grimsby. “[Lennie] had the confidence in me to come and be a regular starter for him, which I loved because I’d gotten into the routine of being a sub or fringe player at Leicester. Where you played a game, you missed a game, you played a game and you missed a game. So under Lennie at Grimsby it was really the first time I was regarded as a starter.”
Lawrence was released by Grimsby in 2001, but Campbell took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him during his loan and impressed enough to earn a three-year contract with the club.
“I’ve got an enormous amount of respect for Lennie,” says Campbell. “Not just for what he’s done for me on a personal level, but for what he’s achieved in the professional game over here.”
The two crossed paths again at Campbell’s next stop, Bristol Rovers. Campbell was well established as Bristol’s captain when Lawrence was appointed Director of Football in 2007. The reunion was a quick success, as the club earned promotion to League One after claiming victory in the League Two playoffs.
“He was definitely influential for my career. To steal the phrase he used when I introduced him to the other coaches, he said he saved my career twice. That’s what he said!” Campbell chuckles.
Campbell says he and Lawrence have maintained a relationship over the years. So it made sense for Campbell to turn to a familiar face when deciding how he’d prepare for his first chance at an offseason after two previous stints as an interim coach.
“Lennie was a great help in regards to putting together this trip,” he says. “He helped arrange the game against Nottingham Forest, but he also helped arrange for us to use their training facility, which we’ve been using all week, and they’re honesty great.”
The Rowdies will end their stay in Nottingham on Saturday when they depart for St George’s Park, where they’ll to face a mixture of reserves and first-team players from Premier League side Stoke City FC on March 15.
IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES