Name the last Frenchman to score a goal at the Aviva Stadium and the chances are that if you correctly guessed Achille Campion it’s unlikely you know the full story behind the recently turned thirty year old currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Business Administration who was initially brought to the League of Ireland by then Sligo Rovers manager Dave Robertson in 2016 and is forever a hero to Cork City fans.
Hailing from Northern France, the striker spoke to extratime.ie about the education system in France, his views on schooling and his time in the US College system.
Having broken into his local first team, Dunkirk based USL Dunquerke, at the age of seventeen, he did preseason the following summer with a Ligue 1 side with a view to earning a contract, however this fell through due to injury. “Every pro club (in France) has an academy, basically it’s a boarding school where you play football every day...in France if you are in the Academies you’re not going to college.
“So (because I didn’t make the Ligue 1 trial) I considered schooling as I believe it’s super, super important”. For Campion, this meant moving to the United States of America to further his education. “By moving to the (United) States you’re opening yourself to the world, you get way more people to see you, with football you learn so much about team building, discipline etc, with a degree the world is yours”.
Unlike many others, Campion had to go through the NAIA College route as he had played adult level football in France. As such, he ended up with Belhaven. “Our goalkeeper there was previously at Manchester City training alongside Joe Hart and Kasper Schmeichel.” (Greg Hartley is the keeper in question and by a strange twist of fate he recently played alongside Campion's ex-double winning team-mate Steven Beattie at Chattanooga Red Wolves).
At Belhaven, Campion reached consecutive national finals appearances in 2010 and 2011 – a period in which he also completed a Business degree (minor in Finance) in eighteen months, less than half the usual four year term. At the same time he was playing, and scoring regularly for Baton Rouge Capitals. He moved to Santa Barbara to study Global Studies in the University of California while also transferring to UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
His impressive form took him to Swedish side Norrby, from where Port Vale's Micky Adams signed him at the end of the 2014 summer window. His first goal for the side came in February 2015 when he slotted past future England netminder Jordan Pickford as Port Vale drew 2-2 with Bradford City.
Despite a prolific record for Port Vale’s reserve side, the 2015/16 season saw a month loan to Torquay United where a combination of bad luck (postponements) and injury (broken nose) saw the frontman's first team involvement curtailed to just a handful of appearances. The summer of 2016 saw his release from Port Vale and he joined up with Dave Robertson at Sligo Rovers, netting on his debut away to Wexford Youths, before scoring against the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Galway Utd and Dundalk.
He ended up signing for Cork City in 2017 and scored within 5 minutes of appearing as a substitute against former side Sligo Rovers in May. Following the departure of Seán Maguire to Preston in the summer of 2017, Karl Sheppard took over the centre forward spot. However, the 6’2 Frenchman was not to be denied his place in Cork City folklore as it was his extra time strike which took the FAI Cup Final to penalties and allowed the Leesiders to complete a famous league and cup double.
January 2018 saw a loan move to the NIPL with David Healy’s Linfield and the summer saw a subsequent return to the League of Ireland, this time with St Patrick’s Athletic – ironically his Pat’s debut came against former side Cork City less than a week after guesting for the Munstermen in a friendly against Burnley.
Speaking about his time in the League of Ireland, Campion has many positives about the system, including praise for the partnership between UCC and Cork City. Speaking about the league itself he said, “Football is a crazy industry and you need to be sharp, in Ireland a lot of players get their chance, in France the fourth division is reserve teams from Ligue 1 but (the League of Ireland), it’s a league where young players get a chance.”
Incidentally, Campion returned to Leeside last autumn to play in Alan Bennett's testimonial – the skipper with whom he won an historic double. While Cork City's current number 9 (Conor Davis) is a former Student, it’s a previous title winning number 9 who has returned to the books to continue his career less ordinary – this time off the field.