Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad catches up with Blues striker DJ Campbell, who has just turned 25 and yet has more life experience than most of his contemporaries.
Nobody acquires an honours degree merely for playing non-League football but, in one sense, there is no worthier education.
Ask DJ Campbell. Here is a man who learnt that to fully appreciate the celebrity of life at the top, you have to first appreciate the anonymity of life at the bottom.
When he joined Birmingham City on January 31, 2006, he looked like somebody who had actually spent time on planet earth. Not many of his team-mates carried that same hungered expression.
Campbell had lived a life — a real life, which involved expending energy in a warehouse for #280 a week.
"The people closest to me know how hard I have worked," he says. "They have seen me take the knock-backs. It has been nice showing those who doubted me that, yes, I am good enough. I was right about myself, even if I was a bugger way back then."
Dudley Campbell Junior celebrated his 25th birthday this week and he is still walking on air. Birmingham might have endured relegation last April, they they might have suffered a setback when they lost to Norwich City last month, but Campbell still strolls around as if he is the luckiest man on earth.
In his eyes, he is. Only 18 months ago, he was playing non-League for Yeading and was seemingly no closer to a career in professional football than the thousands of men up and down the country who dared to dream.
"I would have said, two or three years ago, that it was impossible for non-League players to get a breakthrough in the Premiership," Campbell says. "I am not saying I have changed things but I think I have helped.
"It is surprising to me how much things have changed in the past year or so. In any case, to go from non-League to the Football League was big enough; to go from the Football League to the Premiership was something else altogether. It has been a big ride for me."
Existing in non-League football can be tough. Campbell had to train twice a week on top of his full-time job in the warehouse. On erratic pitches, in front of low crowds, and against hardened defenders, he hoped that the right person would be watching.
He performed well enough for Yeading against Newcastle United in the FA Cup two seasons ago and aroused the interest of Brentford, his local club.
A year on, his performances for Brentford against Sunderland, again in the FA Cup, caught the eye of Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, who needed a striker at the right price. The right price in this case was #500,000, which was a hundred times what Brenford had paid Yeading for him.
"I would say that the happiest moment, certainly in my career, was the day I signed for Birmingham," Campbell says. "This is life-changing, not just for me; for my daughter, my girlfriend — everyone is happy.
"I have had so many great moments in my career, and I am only at the start. Even joining Yeading was important, because I was down in the dumps before that. The chance to play at Yeading made me happy again and that was such a big thing for me."
Campbell is good at spotting the pivotal moments in his life. He has learnt to turn obstacles into opportunities, even when Birmingham have endured a difficult time.
The 1-0 defeat to Norwich on October 17, described by Bruce as the worst moment for Birmingham in five years, carried positive implications for Campbell.
"There is a part of me that looks at the Norwich match and regards it as a blessing in disguise," he says. "The form since then [five successive victories] has been exceptional. Maybe you need things like that to give you a kick up the arse. And it has done that.
"It has been a strange year and a good learning curve. It has been a good learning curve for the gaffer, too, because of the relegation last April. When I came to Birmingham, we were in a difficult situation. But I am sure we can bounce back. We have picked it up again. It is up to us to prove we are a Premiership club.
"This league is tough because everyone seems to beat everyone else. That is what it is all about. But if we keep doing as we have been, we will be right up there at the end of the season."
Since arriving at St Andrew's, Campbell has watched the club change dramatically. Relegation hastened the departure of players like Emile Heskey, Mario Melchiot, Chris Sutton, Stan Lazaridis, Kenny Cunningham, Jiri Jarosik, and Jermaine Pennant. It was a revolution.
"It is strange," Campbell says. "I was talking to one of the lads and I told him that, all of a sudden, I was one of the older players in the squad. It is funny. But all I can do is talk to the youngsters. That is all you can do.
"I haven't been at the clubs that they have been at. But I know other things and I have this appreciation. In training, they will see how enthusiastic I am. I just want to be there every day. They see that enthusiasm.
"It is the same club, the same settings, but the players seem so different. Yes, it almost feels like a different team. Obviously last year, because I only came in January, I didn't have much chance to play with the lads.
"These players are hungry and want to get back into the Premiership. The cups are a bonus but I am sure the gaffer is largely interested in getting back into the top flight.
"I made my debut against Arsenal last season and that gave me the taste for it. And that taste can drive you that little bit harder. I am in a good situation, at a lovely club with lovely people, but I am determined to be back in the Premiership."
The contrasts between life in a warehouse and life at a leading football club would challenge any man. To his credit, Campbell has not changed much. There are, of course, the inevitable transformations — he is richer, more famous, and professionally content — but they are largely artificial.
The Campbell of 2006 is no different from the Campbell of 2005.
"I am still me and people see that," he says. "I still go to London and do the things I did in the past, when I was with Yeading and Brentford. I've still got the same friends. The only thing is now I live in a better house.
"And, yes, I sign more autographs now. And there is more money. So what do you do with it? Well, you support your family, your kids, your girlfriend. But I am still me. At least now my family doesn't have to struggle.
"And it makes all the sacrifices worthwhile. To see people around you happy and smiling. I think I am a much better player now. In non-League, I would train twice a week, usually after I came home from work. Making the step-up to Brentford, where we trained every day, was tough at the start. But I got used to it. And I liked it, because that is what I had been striving for.
"Then to go to training every day with Brentford to training every day with Birmingham was another big step-up again. Suddenly, I was alongside the likes of Emile Heskey and Jiri Jarosik.
"Given my background in non-League football, I learnt that you are not given anything. You have to earn everything and that gives you a certain work ethic. That is why I know I can achieve at this club.
"From having nothing to having something, you do appreciate that little bit more what you have got. I am not saying Premiership players don't appreciate what they have got. But I think I have learnt to appreciate it more.
"Maybe it is difficult for people to realise what it is like when you don't have the money that you have here. I am sure there are some players who do not realise it. They have never been in a situation where they don't have money.
"But I have been there and it has made me stronger and made me appreciate things."
Campbell, who spent time as a junior with Aston Villa, and also played for Chesham, Stevenage, and Billericay, never felt the weight of expectation at St Andrew's, even when relegation was staring the club in the face.
"When I arrived in January, all I could do was do my best," he says. "It was a massive ask, coming to Birmingham and helping the team to avoid relegation, and it was a big thing for me. Coming here was such a thrill, being alongside so many great players, never mind the ones at other clubs whom I was playing against.
"It was a great achievement for me, personally, because the Premiership is every boy's dream. Unfortunately, we got relegated. It was a sad moment. But we are doing our utmost to get back there, where we belong.
"It was definitely the right club for me. I am still happy and loving every minute of it. It is still a dream for me, coming here every day. It is a pleasure and, when I leave — and I hope I don't leave — I will never forget this place."