Campbell's soccer career on hold in Cambodia

Joe Avento • Mar 25, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Jonny Campbell is half a world away from home and his professional soccer career is on hold, but he knows there are more important things than the game he loves and plays for a living.

Campbell, a Johnson City native who played at Science Hill High School and East Tennessee State, is in his third season in Cambodia. When the coronavirus pandemic began to hit his adopted home in Southeast Asia, it put soccer and life in general into perspective.

“I never expected to see anything like this,” Campbell said. “I believe it’s very important that we do what the doctors are telling us and try to prevent the spread of this virus as much as we can. It would break my heart to see myself lose people I love or see others lose people they love, which is already happening all over the world.

“So my career on hold is the last of my worries at the moment.”

It appeared to take a while for COVID-19 to begin to spread in Cambodia, but now travelers from several countries, including the United States, are banned for 30 days.

“Recently, it’s become very serious,” said Campbell, who graduated from ETSU in 2013. “Businesses have closed, including gyms, movie theaters and now a lot of restaurants are either closing or only doing takeaway.

“No one has tested positive connected with my club or any of the clubs as far as I know. But I imagine there will be some who will eventually get it. It seems inevitable.”

While the country takes measures to slow the spread, soccer is not being played for the time being. Campbell’s team, Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC, played its last match more than a week ago.

“The real challenge is staying at home to protect my teammates and other people I’ll be in contact with whenever we continue training again,” he said. “We have been given a home workout plan, so I’ve been doing workouts for my lower and upper body, then going on runs as well to maintain my fitness levels. It’s not easy when you’re not training (with the team) regularly.”

Campbell was part of history last season when the team won the Cambodian League championship. They started the season with a 25-game unbeaten streak that included 20 wins and five draws. They lost the final game of the season to end a chance at an unbeaten year.

“Becoming a champion of this country last season was an incredible feeling and going 25 games without losing was something unheard of in Cambodian football,” he said. “I’m extremely happy with what we managed to accomplish last season. For me, it was so sad to lose the final game because I grew up supporting Arsenal FC of the English Premier League and they did a 49-game unbeaten run. To finish the season undefeated would have been a dream.”

Before play was stopped, the team had played five games in the Cambodian League and three the AFC Cup Group stage.

Since leaving Johnson City, Campbell played in Philadelphia, Seattle, Charlotte and Miami before heading overseas. He played in Thailand before landing in Cambodia.

“Without a doubt, after I retire from football, I’ll have plenty of stories to tell,” he said. “Also a lot of exposure to cultures and countries that most people never have the opportunity to visit or experience.”

Campbell hopes to be back on the field sooner than later, but until then he just hopes everybody back home stays safe.

“I’m more worried for my father and grandmother in the USA, and other older people, than I am worried about myself,” he said.



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