My best teacher

13th October 2006 at 01:00
I was brought up on a council estate in Sale, near Manchester, and my first school, Cherry Manor primary, was opposite our house. I learnt to play chess at Cherry Manor. I was quite decent at it.

My mum wanted me to go to Princess Road primary in Moss Side so I could learn a bit about our culture, black culture. My mum was a single parent and was conscious that I shouldn't grow up naive. She didn't want me to be soft.

I'm glad I went to Princess Road. It helped me see life differently and realise that people are products of their environments and some get stuck in a rut. Stealing cars, or whatever, seems normal if it's normal where you grow up. Moss Side was like that. It's part of the reason I set up Street Athletics.

Princess Road was a good school, and it's where I realised I was good at sport. I started running at eight, going to Sale Harriers on Tuesdays and Sunday mornings. And I played everything else at school - badminton, basketball, football.

Then I moved back to Sale for secondary, to Ashton-on-Mersey county high school. Having come from Moss Side where most kids were black and Asian, I was the only black person in my year. It was a bit of a shock. I didn't get problems - the estate I came from had a bit of a reputation - but I was conscious of it.

I realised then that sport is a great equaliser. I was football captain and in all the teams, so everyone knew me. The PE teacher there was a special person. His name was Dennis Law, and for years I thought he was the actual Denis Law (1960s Manchester United footballer). He had blondish hair like the real Denis Law and it was amazing what he could do with a football, so he was instantly my hero and commanded the respect of us all.

The great thing was, he was able to discipline us as well as encourage us.

He knew early on that athletics was the way I was going to make my mark. I was good at football, but he didn't push me. He used to arrange for me to miss lessons or exams when I was away competing - I was representing England when I was 15 - and that made my life a lot easier.

At one stage I was playing so much sport that I let my education go. At the end of the first year I was in the bottom group, so my mum banned me from sport for a year. It was traumatic at the time, but Mr Law supported Mum because he knew I could do well academically. I had to learn that school work was as important as sport. I went from bottom group to top group.

My maths teacher, Mr McGowan, was important too. Maths is a a family subject: my uncle took maths O-level when he was 13, my Mum's a chartered accountant, I always found it easy and my son finds it easy.

I doubted my ability at secondary school and tended to be disruptive in class: I was the lad at the back making everyone laugh. One day, Mr McGowan had had enough and took me out. I think even at the time I realised, "this guy cares". He was Scottish, a tough guy, but he saw the best in me and got my respect.

When I was representing England I met my other great teacher Linford Christie, and I remember thinking he was the nicest person I'd ever met. I was young, but he made me laugh and feel special. I decided then that I wanted to be like him. I saw how he was as a person and in athletics. He was the perfect role model and moulded me to become the person I am off the track as well as on it.

Darren Campbell, Olympic gold medal winning sprinter, was talking to Matthew Brown. He will present a Teaching Award at the national ceremony on Sunday October 15 (5.55pm, BBC2). You can nominate a teacher for the 2007 Teaching Awards at


September 12 1973 Born Withington, Greater Manchester

1978 Cherry Manor primary, Sale, Greater Manchester

1981 Princess Road primary, Moss Side, Manchester

1985 Ashton-on-Mersey county high school, Sale

1991 First Briton to win 100m and 200m in European Junior championships

1992 First Briton to win silver medals at 100m and 200m at World Junior championships 1993-1996 Plays football for Argyle, Cwmbran, Plymouth, Weymouth and Newport FC

1998 European 100m champion

2000 Olympic 200m silver medal in Sydney

2002 Commonwealth Games 200m bronze medal, European 100m silver

2003 World Championships100m bronze medal

2004 Olympic gold in 4x100m relay, Athens

2005 Awarded MBE; sets up Street Athletics for children in deprived areas with Linford Christie (

2006 Retires from international athletics; government backs Street Athletics; presents Teaching Award

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