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The Cult: Jorge Campos

A colourful eccentric, Jorge Campos was a revolutionary in the world of goalkeeping. The Mexican was a legend inside his box – and often outside it, too.

by Djatmiko Waluyo
05 July 2016, 11:29am

Illustration by Dan Evans

This week's inductee to The Cult was one of the most colourful and eccentric players of the nineties, making him a legend of the Mexico national team both at home and abroad. You can read previous entries here.

Cult Grade: The Splash of Colour

We are forever being told to do things differently. We must break the mould, think outside the box, or "just do it". Yet, for the most part, we end up doing exactly what is expected of us. How can we truly break free? How can we cross that line and step outside the box?

Perhaps it would be wise to take some lessons from Jorge Campos. The man from Acapulco – who was shaped by "the ranch, horses and surfing" – was a revolutionary in the world of goalkeeping. Campos was a legend inside his box – and often outside it, too.

Standing a mere 5ft 7in, Campos always did things differently. He would fly out to meet on-coming strikers, and hang from the crossbar after jumping to catch a ball. He regularly broke free from the limitations of his six-yard box, that little comfort zone in which goalkeepers are practically untouchable. It was as if he had come from the Argentinian lineage of arqueros líberos – that dashing style of goalkeeping made famous by the likes of Amadeo Carrizo and Hugo Gatti. Campos saw the whole field as his area, never waiting for the game to come to him and instead actively seeking it out.

READ MORE: The Cult – Gianluigi Buffon

In the 1940s, Carrizo changed what it meant to be a goalkeeper, rejecting the idea that his penalty area was home and instead racing out to meet opponents and snatch away the ball. He explained this approach: "The goalkeeper suffers a bit because he is a man who is almost static in his position. He can't let off steam fighting for the ball or dribbling through the defenders to make his way toward the goal".

Campos never suffered in this way: like Carrizo, he simply decided to go out and approach the game like everyone else on the pitch. It was a habit he developed as a kid, when he was told to play in goal but really wanted to go up the other end and score. It was natural, therefore, that he'd bag 14 goals in his second professional season with Mexican side UNAM Pumas. It was also natural for him to believe that, as goalkeeper, he had the opportunity to do something different. He too could go out and play.

Point of Entry: High

Acapulco is now a fallen resort city on Mexico's Pacific Coast, but during the fifties it enjoyed a fashionable reputation, attracting the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra.

It was here, in his home town, that Campos and a friend drew up designs for his goalkeeper shirts. "He was a surfer as well, so he understood me", Campos later explained. Having grown up surrounded by the colours of the coast and dressing in surfer gear, the Mexican rapidly became an icon of the weird, wonderful nineties, a colourful time in need of colourful idols. It was just a matter of placing a shade here, a diamond there and a few squares on top. The result was something from another world. Campos left a permanent mark on the game and, at his peak, the most prestigious sporting brands craved a splash of his design genius.

PA Images

On the field, Campos won two Gold Cups (1993 and '96), Mexico's only Confederations Cup in 1999, and was part of the team that took gold at the Pan American Games that same year. In Mexico's first appearance at the Copa America, in 1993, the team went all the way to the final against Argentina, establishing their reputation as "uncomfortable guests" at the South American tournament. Representing Mexico's "ya merito" (so close) generation, Campos played alongside guys like Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Luis Hernandez. They built a team that gave their fans reason to dream, but in the end they came back from the 1994 and 1998 World Cups with the country's permanent and unofficial slogan: "We played like never before and lost like always".

READ MORE: The Cult – Roberto Carlos

Still, Campos and his generation of players added a personal flourish to Mexican football. They dared to dream and feared no one. For many, the 1994 national team is still the most important the country has ever produced.

After Hugo Sanchez and before Rafa Marquez, Campos was the face of Mexican football and, to some extent, he still holds cultural and sporting significance in the country. He didn't lift the most important trophies or wear the colours of an elite club, yet he always found himself spoken of among the best goalkeepers in the world. Campos became an icon for the Mexican game. He made a dramatic fashion statement, and was regularly asked to play for "Rest of the World" teams in friendly matches, lining up alongside players like Messi, Ronaldinho and Beckham. In these, he would typically start out in goal before changing jersey and ending the game as a forward. Campos stood side-by-side with the greats. Yes, he would stand on top of the ball, as he always did for team photos so he wouldn't end up being the shortest guy around. But without a doubt, Campos could comfortably take his place alongside the biggest football stars of the '90s.

Campos' farewell friendly saw his team kitted out in appropriate attire // Reuters

The Moment: Mexico vs. Bulgaria, 1994 World Cup

Mexico were absent from Italia '90 after FIFA handed the country a two-year ban for using players over 20 years of age during the 1989 U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia. It was devastating and humiliating, so tensions were high when they reappeared as unofficial locals at the 1994 World Cup in the USA. They began on the wrong foot, losing 1-0 to Norway, but beat Ireland 2-1 with a brace from Luis Garcia and several vital saves from Campos in game two. By drawing 1-1 with Italy, they earned a spot in the round-of-16. Their opponents would be Bulgaria.

The clock had just hit six minutes when Bulgarian captain and talisman Hristo Stoichkov received a through ball, flew past the Mexican defence and gave his side a 1-0 lead. Only 12 minutes later, the Mexican-Brazilian, Zague, was fighting for a ball in the penalty area when Emil Kremenliev grabbed hold of him. Mexico won a penalty, which Alberto Garcia Aspe cooly converted. 1-1. Campos and his Bulgarian counterpart Borislav Mikhailov now became the chief protagonists as they kept the opposition strikers at bay to send the game to a penalty shootout.

READ MORE: The Cult – Rivaldo

Mexico won the toss and went first. Aspe once again faced Mikhailov, but this time the ball flew wide; a piece of Mexican hope went with it.

Campos took his spot, but he seemed well outside his comfort zone. The Mexican goalkeeper's major attributes disappeared in a penalty shootout: he couldn't rush out and break free from his box, taking the ball at his feet to start an attack from the back. His short stature didn't help much either. Faced with a penalty, Campos was forced to conform, staying fixed to the spot as he faced Krassimir Balakov. Nevertheless, with a small feint and a lunge, he stretched out to the right and made the save. He closed his fists and let out a confident cry, one that was in perfect sync with every Mexican fan on the planet. He'd given them hope once more.

But, as the shootout continued, Mikhailov stopped shots from Marcelino Bernal and Jorge Rodríguez. Campos could not repeat the trick. Mexico had played like never before but lost as always. Their goalkeeper, however, had assured his place in the country's history books.

Closing Statements

When head coach Miguel Mejia Baron insisted Campos try out for Pumas, the Acapulco native arrived with his own style. He never left this behind and it became essential to his legacy in the game. "They used to call me 'surfer' or 'Acapulco' [in Mexico City]," recalled Campos. "You know, my habit of always wearing sandals and shorts and stuff like that – it's something that I lived. Surfers are always different. We're very secluded. The waves, the sea – it's just another world".

Words: @DjatmikoWaluyoIllustration: @DanDraws

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we played like never before and lost like always