Ian ‘Cambo’ Campbell loved with all his heart, and was beloved by so many in return. That love he had for his family, friends, and the entire Cardinia Cricket Club was legendary, and no doubt it fueled the fire for his fight – right until the very end. Cambo had battled serious health issues for years, and ultimately passed away in hospital on Tuesday last week. He was just 61. Yet even in his final hours, the incredible strength of that famous ticker of his continually shone through, as sports editor RUSSELL BENNETT explains in this special tribute …
“He had this aura about him – he was like a magnet that drew everything to him, with cricket and life more generally,” Dave Webster on his great mate of more than four decades, Ian Campbell.
Four times Ian ‘Cambo’ Campbell suffered a cardiac arrest last Monday, only for him to fight back each time.
He fought harder than most could imagine possible, and that’s because he had the spirit of all of those he’d influenced throughout the decades spurring him on.
Sporting clubs, and indeed whole communities, revolve around people like Cambo – people who get so much sheer joy – so much life – out of watching others flourish.
A Cardinia Crickete Club life member and club legend, Cambo was one who laid the foundation for the Bulls to build from.
But, truth be told, players from far beyond the Bullpen were nurtured by him – and not only as cricketers or footballers, but as people.
He had a guiding hand in the lives of generations of sportspeople, and many of those now lead other clubs in their own right.
He featured prominently at the Bulls’ 50th Anniversary Gala in February last year – named in the club’s all-decade ‘Team of the ‘80s’.
A talented all-rounder, he won the club’s bowling award for the 1983/84 season, and played an integral role in the Bulls making their way into A Grade with the 1987/88 premiership. Cardinia has remained in the top flight of the WGCA ever since, and Cambo’s role as an influential coach gives a real insight as to why.
While he also played in the E Grade premiership-winning sides of 1991/92 and 1998/99 later in his career, his sporting feats went far beyond the cricket field. At one stage, he held an official javelin world record at the age of just 12.
But those he guided along their own sporting journeys truly felt his biggest impact.
Cambo coached the Cardinia juniors to back-to-back under-16 premierships in 1996/97 and 1997/98, and to this day those players proudly remember him as one of the best coaches and mentors they’ve ever had.
His mantra was always one of encouragement, of inclusivity, and – above all else – of having fun.
Cambo also served with distinction on the Cardinia Cricket Club committee for years – including a stint as president in the 1990s.
But so much of his work was done behind the scenes. He was a trusted selector for the teams named at the Bulls’ gala function last year – including the prestigious team of the club’s first 50 years.
And there’s a very good reason why.
His love for the Bulls extended to his incredible encyclopedic knowledge. Not only could he remember just about every single game he played in, he would individually tailor handwritten scorecards as prized keepsakes for players who reached milestones with bat or ball.
It was his way of making sure they felt special – making sure they were truly appreciated.
And boy did they appreciate him in return.
Current Cardinia Cricket Club president Luke Turner – a life member and club legend in his own right as a wicket-keeper batsman – paid a special tribute to his great mate.
“If it wasn’t for Cambo, my life would be completely different – I honestly wouldn’t have had the chance to live the life I’m living right now,” he explained.
The pair first met when Turner was playing his junior cricket at Tooradin and Cambo was coaching the Rythdale juniors, as they were known back then.
“It was really when he started coaching those junior interleague sides when I really got to know him,” Turner said.
“He’d just want to make you feel comfortable, and spoke to you like you were just one of the boys. I know even at interleague he made it feel like we’d played our whole lives together.”
It was a few years later, at the footy at Tooradin, that Cambo convinced Turner to make the move that would change his life.
“He was the main reason I came across in the first place,” Turner said.
“I knew him and the way he went about things, and I thought if everyone was the same as Cambo at the club, I’d have an incredible time there.
“I think about it now, and if he didn’t push me to come across to Cardinia, my life would be completely different.”
Turner said Cambo’s sheer love of the game, and its people, is what set him apart.
“The love he had for the club was ridiculous – he knew everything that was going on,” he said.
“There was this one game where I hadn’t seen him for a few months – he’d moved away – but he saw me and asked how many dismissals I had for the day.
“I said five, and he just says ‘oh, that takes it to 300 then’.”
Cambo knew exactly because, even from afar, he’d keep record.
He ultimately even presented Turner and champion spinner Dwayne Doig – now the Bulls’ vice-president – a book outlining all their combined dismissals. It featured everything from the opposing sides, to the batsmen’s names, to the runs they scored, to what round of what season it was.
And after Cambo found out that Turner’s first two centuries with the bat went by under the radar, he presented him with handwritten scorecards for each innings.
“He just loved the game, and loved the club more than anything – and we loved him back,” Turner said.
“When I first turned 18, he was the bus driver taking us on pub crawls – he wouldn’t drink, he’d just drove us around.
“He loved doing anything for the club. He just loved seeing everyone enjoying themselves.”
Turner’s partner Kim was also introduced to cricket when Cambo encouraged her to play … in a competition made up almost entirely of boys.
“He encouraged her, and just said she had the same opportunity to play as everyone else, that she had every right,” Turner said proudly.
“Everyone was exactly the same at the club, when it came to Cambo.
“He treated everyone the same – with respect – and it was just such an easy time with him around.”
Doig’s early memories of Cambo were through junior footy at Cranbourne, and when he later made the switch to play his cricket at Cardinia, their paths crossed again.
While Doig is known by many as a champion spinner, it was during his footy career that Cambo was a particular influence.
“Cambo actually got me the job as senior playing coach at Lang Lang, and he was my chairman of selectors in 2005,” he recalled.
“The support he gave me over so many years through both cricket and footy – he’d definitely meant something very special to me.”
And Doig knows he’s part of an expansive club, in that regard.
“What’s clear through some of the Facebook stories that people have been telling about him is that he made time for anyone – he’d always put the effort into people, and that reflects on what people have said about him,” Doig said.
“I just remember on the Thursday nights sitting around the selection table at the footy club – the laughs we had that year were something I’ll always remember.
“I took it pretty tough once the news (of his passing) came through, because even if it was the smallest thing, he’d make the effort with people.
“The way he treated people really rubbed off on me – everyone deserves to be given some time, and to be spoken to respectfully. That’s rubbed off in a big way on his family too.”
Dave Webster is another life member at Cardinia whose name is synonymous with the Bulls.
He spoke with sheer pride and adoration of his great mate of more than 45 years, Cambo.
“He was a life member, a past president, he coached, he played… but his impact was more than that,” Webster said.
“When some of our best players first got the club as juniors, Cambo said not to train them on Mondays or Wednesdays – to train them on the same nights as the seniors,” he said.
“So many of their parents started playing and got involved as a direct result of that. “That was just one little thing that made such a massive impact to the make-up of our club.”
Webster vividly remembers batting with Cambo, and – unsurprisingly, given his love of detail – each time he’d know exactly how many runs he was on during his innings.
“He knew to the exact run – it’s how he concentrated,” Webster said.
“He was an outstanding player, too – he could bat just as well left-handed as he could right, and when he got the oldest ball out at training he’d swing it all over the place.”
But Cambo’s biggest impact was felt when his playing days were over, and he moved further down the player development path.
“He’d get the likes of Lukey Turner to the club, and just keep encouraging them no matter what,” Webster said.
“And now look at what Luke’s done for our club for such a long period of time.
“Our club is just so much better off for what Cambo did for everyone.”
Webster spoke with genuine emotion about just what Cambo meant to him, as a mate.
“He’d always have your back and would do anything for you – no matter what,” he said.
“He was one of those blokes loved by everyone. He really was.
“He had this aura about him – he was like a magnet that drew everything to him, with cricket and life more generally.”
Along with the likes of Webster and Wayne Snooks, Trevor ‘Guv’ Hobson had a 40-plus year friendship with Cambo.
He spoke about his sheer passion for everything he loved – his family, his mates, and his sporting community.
“Anyone who wanted to know anything about our club only had to go to Cambo for the answer,” he said.
“He sadly couldn’t be there for our gala night last year, but of all the memorabilia around the room 90 per cent of it came from him.
“He was living up in Bairnsdale at the time, and Ricky (Cambo’s son) would bring back a ute full of containers packed with memorabilia and information to go through.
“It took us weeks to look through it all.”
And Guv also remembered Cambo, the batsman.
“He was an outstanding player, he really was, but later in his career we did used to joke that he had a way of turning threes into ones,” he said with a laugh.
“If it wasn’t a four, he’d only run a single.
“But in his prime, he batted in a very similar way to Benny Darose. Once they got a start, they’d score quickly.
“All of Cambo’s shots were straight out of the textbook, but when he hit them they’d definitely stay hit. It was just a pleasure to watch him bat in full flight.”
Guv and Webster both lamented the fact that so many people would miss out on the chance to say their goodbyes to Cambo at his funeral – due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“No doubt we’ll all get together on the other side of this thing and give him a huge send-off, but just imagine how many people would be there at his funeral if we could all go,” Guv said.
“Cambo never had a bad word to say about anyone, and he was always full of respect for everyone.
“He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, and once he put his heart and soul into something, he was all the way in – putting others first, and himself second.”
Truthfully, Cambo’s legacy at the Bulls will continue to be felt for generations to come. The mark he made was truly an indelible one – and not just in cricketing, or sporting circles.
His involvement in the community football landscape at clubs including Beaconsfield (as a player), and later at ROC, Cranbourne, and Lang Lang in an off-field capacity is also fondly remembered – particularly closely following the fortunes of his nephew, Luke Rus, and another player close to his heart, Justin Berry.
One of Cambo’s proudest moments came with the Cardinia Cricket Club presenting Ricky his own life membership.
He, too, is a genuine people’s person with a passion for youth development.
“Dad’s main legacy was the way he coached the kids as they were learning the game,” Ricky said.
“He was just so passionate – whether it was at the footy at Cranny, in the WGCA interleague program with the under-12s and under-14s, or coaching Cardy to back-to-back flags in the under-16s.
“He was just so proud that of all the kids he coached, the majority of them went on to play first XI cricket.
“And we’d drive around all over the place, to the middle of nowhere, to watch a game of footy that one of his former players was playing in. He’d do it just to show his support.
“He’d do those sorts of things, and all these other things no one knew about, just to show he cared – and I loved being Dad’s shadow.
“In the past few days, it’s just been a privilege for me to be able to see how many people’s lives he truly had a positive impact on.
“It’s been hard to read the comments on social media, but I’ve just got an overwhelming sense of pride for how many people have reached out to us.”
Ian Campbell is survived by his wife Karen; his children Lisa, Nicole, Daniel, Ricky, Samantha, and Jamie; and his 17 grandchildren.
Due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place, sadly not all of those Cambo influenced will be there to send him off this Friday in Traralgon. But the service to celebrate his life will be live-streamed from 11am.
Head to latrobevalleyfunerals.com.au, click the link at the top of the page for ‘Funeral Notices’, search for Ian Wayne Campbell, and follow the links.