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Friday 30 Jul 2021
William Campbell hangs up his Irish FA boots after 38 years

The Irish Football Association’s longest serving member of staff, William Campbell, has hung up his boots after working for the association for nearly four decades.

A familiar figure in football circles across Northern Ireland, Campbell leaves the association after 38 years’ service. His most recent role was Head of the Chief Executive’s Office but he has held several other positions in the organisation.

“I have been honoured and privileged to serve the IFA over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed the long journey, but now is the time to move on,” he said.

“I have had the privilege of serving under seven presidents (Cavan, Walker, Boyce, Kennedy, Shaw, Martin and Kirkwood briefly), eight international managers (Bingham, Hamilton, McMenemy, McIlroy, Sanchez, Worthington, O’Neill and Baraclough) but only four General Secretaries/Chief Executives (Drennan briefly, Bowen, Wells and Nelson).

“There has always been the mystery and wonder of the games and that has remained throughout my time in the IFA and I trust for many years to come.”

When he first joined the organisation William’s role was administrative officer. Subsequently he became Head of Finance and Personnel and then Head of Operations before taking up the position of Head of the Chief Executive’s Office.

The Mallusk man also served as match co-ordinator/match manager for 110 A internationals between 1983 and 2013. 

His first match was Northern Ireland v Austria and his last match was a World Cup qualifier against Portugal in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. He was responsible for the allocation and sale of more than one million tickets for those 110 matches. 

He further revealed: “Among my most memorable internationals was what and many others refer to as the Healy match v England in 2005. There was something about the day. Coming into Belfast in the morning I remember seeing folk in Northern Ireland tops walking to work a full 12 hours before kick-off. I also remember seeing boys the next morning still in their Northern Ireland tops! 

“Then there was the win against Spain a year later and the Healy hat-trick. And there was Poland in 2009 – the Artur Boruc air kick match. I also have fond memories of the Hungary game in 2015 in which Chris Baird was sent off and Kyle Lafferty scored the 95th minute equaliser to almost ensure our qualification for the Euros.

“I also have a soft spot for the Denmark match in 2007 – the one played in a deluge. I was with the referee when he found the driest spot on the pitch to bounce and roll the ball to rule the pitch playable.”

Being part of the backroom team at the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 is another fond memory from his time at the Irish FA.

“Working with Billy Bingham and that special group of players was great, particularly with heroes such as Pat Jennings. Having a World Cup on my CV is a special thing,” he said. 

“I have been fortunate to have travelled across Europe and to Japan, USA, Mexico and Peru. In my early days I was fortunate to travel with the youth teams under Roy Millar and learnt a lot about the technical side of the game from him. I am also proud to have been responsible for refereeing and to have helped develop the refereeing structures in Northern Ireland.”

William acts as a delegate for UEFA and will continue with that role (supervising the organisation of matches) following his departure from the association.

He is also the longest serving member of the IFAB, the game’s lawmaking body. He organised the hosting in Belfast of seven IFAB AGMs, most recently in 2015 and 2020. 

He was responsible for the introduction of the ‘equalisation rule in the taking of penalties from the penalty mark’ whereby if one team enters a penalty shootout with less than 11 players (either due to a sending off or injury) the other side will reduce their numbers to be equal with them.

“I am proud to have continued the work of my predecessors such as Harry Cavan and Joe McBride at IFAB,” he said. 

Naturally, he has enjoyed many funny moments during his career, however one in particular stands out: “When driving in from the airport in Guadalajara to the team hotel in 1986 in Mexico the team cavalcade, with the usual outriders and police cars, was forced to swerve to avoid a dead donkey in the middle of the road.”

He said he would miss the daily interaction with other staff members and with the various board and committee members: “Memories are all about the people and the wonderful mix that is the IFA. Football creates interest in every part of society. I once was invited to a school reunion where the invite said ‘No one is allowed to talk about their jobs – apart from William’!

“Thanks to my mentors and friends David Bowen, Eddie Barry, David Martin and Patrick Nelson, and to all my colleagues and friends over 38 years. And I would also like to mention my good friend Craig Stanfield who sadly is no longer with us.”