The former Science Hill and ETSU soccer player has found a niche playing professionally in Southeast Asia.
After a year playing in Thailand, Campbell spent last season in Cambodia. This year, he’s moved to another Cambodian team and will be playing for Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC when the season begins in March.
Campbell received quite a surprise when he found out that one of the five spots on his team’s roster reserved for “foreigners” would be taken by Charlie Machell, another former ETSU player. Machell, an Englishman, had played in Denmark and the Faroe Islands before moving to Cambodia.
Q: You’re on a team 9,000 miles from Johnson City and yet you find one of your teammates is from ETSU. What was your reaction and did you know Charlie previously?
A: It’s a crazy coincidence that this happened. I actually knew who Charlie was and we had met at ETSU before, but he played after I had already graduated so we didn’t know each other well. We stayed in contact and followed each other’s careers. Charlie’s agent had contacted my head coach without Charlie knowing that this team is the same team I’ve already signed for.
Q: How nice is it to have someone from home (even if he is from England) to have on your team? I expect you guys will likely spend a lot of time together off the field.
A: It’s been brilliant so far because we both have so much in common. Plus, we are both on the same football journey trying to progress our careers as high in the football world as we can. Now we will be able to push each other on and off the field.
Q: This is your third year in Southeast Asia. What do you like about that part of the world?
A: I love the culture and lifestyle. The people are very welcoming and support you. Since I’m a foreign player, I’m treated a lot better than I would be in the USA leagues. Also, I love exploring and traveling. It’s so eye opening to see other parts of the world.
Q: How is the level of soccer in Cambodia?
A: The level of football is consistently rising in this country. Every year more money is getting invested into the league and teams are becoming more educated and stronger. The league still has a lot of catching up to do, especially when you compare it to Thailand’s league (which is looked at as the top league in ASEAN countries).
Q: In your three years in Thailand and Cambodia, have you found it tough or fun to adjust to different cultures, food, way of life, language, etc.?
A: It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve had my negatives, such as getting used to the food and dealing with being sick at times, but overall my experiences have been all positive. The language in Cambodia is much more difficult than the Thai language, so I haven’t learned as much Khmer as I have Thai even though I’ve been in Cambodia longer. The food in both countries is very delicious, but of course being a foreigner you always have to be careful what you eat. The way of life is very relaxed and easy going which I really like.
Q: What’s your favorite Cambodian food?
A: I have two Cambodian foods that I love a lot, and they’re very similar. My favorite is the Cambodian chicken curry which usually comes in a coconut that’s been cut in half. My second favorite is called ‘Amok’ which also comes in a coconut, but is made a bit differently and it can be filled with fish, chicken or a different meat.
Q: What keeps you going as far as soccer is concerned?
A: It’s my passion and it’s what I love to do. I’m extremely blessed that God has given me this opportunity to play this sport professionally and be able to encourage and motivate people around the world who follow my career. It’s given me that platform to encourage and help others, which is something I’m very passionate about. I want to be able to help people live a more positive, happy and loving life if I can.
Q: You’re obviously still chasing the dream. Are you hoping a big season here can help you move on to big things?
A: Yes, of course. The goal is to always continue making positive steps forward in my football career. I had the opportunity to move into a different country for this upcoming season after last year, but I would’ve had to go through trials, because that’s how Southeast Asia works. Therefore, when I was offered a direct contract from Cambodia to sign, and after having numerous conversations with the head coach, I decided it’s best for me to play another season in Cambodia. I didn’t feel like going through the trial process, because it’s always difficult and nothing is 100 percent guaranteed.
Q: In a perfect world, where would you be playing in three years?
A: I really love Southeast Asia, so I’m not sure exactly, but I’d like to break into Thai League 1, Malaysia Super League or the Top League in Indonesia. Those three places are on my list of countries and leagues I would love to compete in.
Q: Your dad owns a music store (Campbell’s Morrell Music in downtown Johnson City). What instruments can you play?
A: I grew up learning the drums, but I stopped playing and focused on sports. Eventually, it turned into only football because that was the game I loved the most.
Q: How often do you get home?
A: I don’t get to go home often, but I’m in constant contact with my father and grandmother. In 2018, I was home for less than one month, which isn’t ideal. I have an incredible support system from my father and grandmother and all of my friends back home. I’m chasing my dreams and they understand.