Renton, Dunbartonshire born centre forward Johnny Campbell began his football career with Renton Union and played for Renton in 1888 before joining Football League club Sunderland in July 1889, making his senior debut for Sunderland in an FA Cup first round defeat at Blackburn Rovers in January 1890. When Sunderland joined The Football League later the same year, Campbell scored on his League debut against Burnley that September and marked his first season with 4 goals in a 5-2 win at Bolton Wanderers the next month and a hat-trick in a win over Aston Villa in January 1891. He scored in their FA Cup semi final against Notts County and played in the replay, which was lost at Bramall Lane, finishing the season as Sunderland’s leading goalscorer with 20 goals in the campaign.
He became central to Sunderland’s “Team of All Talents” and again top scored for the next two seasons as Sunderland won the League Championship in both 1891-92 and 1892-93, only being pipped by a single goal from again being top scorer in 1893-94. In 1891-92 he scored an incredible 40 goals in 31 appearances including 4 goal bursts against Derby County and Blackburn Rovers, a League hat-trick at Darwen and an FA Cup hat-trick against Accrington. Besides winning the League he also played as they lost the 1892 FA Cup semi final to Aston Villa at Bramall Lane. He scored 33 goals the following campaign including hat-tricks in wins at Accrington and Nottingham Forest.
In 1893-94 Sunderland finished runners up in the League Championship but they made it three League titles in four years in 1894-95 as Campbell again top-scored with 24 goals in the campaign. Campbell also won the 1894-95 World Championship with the team, scoring a brace in the final for Heart of Midlothian at Tynecastle in April 1895.
Thereafter his prolific goalscoring record waned as did Sunderland’s League record, although he remained their top scorer in 1895-96 with 17 goals. In May 1897 he was sold to Second Division Newcastle United with team mate John Harvey for £40, and he helped Newcastle gain promotion to the First Division, scoring against Blackburn Rovers in the deciding Test Match, scoring 12 goals in the campaign from 27 matches, playing only twice more in top flight matches before retiring in October 1898.
Because of the ban on Anglo-Scots playing for Scotland he only represented Scotland in unofficial matches.
He was the brother of Sunderland, Bristol City, Bradford City and Clapton Orient manager Robert Campbell.