Interview: Colin Cameron – I gave everything for Wolves
"I can’t believe it’s been 15 years – it just shows how old I’m starting to get!"
For many the memories of May 26, 2003, when Wolves beat Sheffield United 3-0 to win the play-off final and reach the top flight for the first time since 1984, are as vivid now as they were at the time.
And Colin Cameron is no different. The Scot ranks it at the top of his career, alongside the cups he won in Scotland with Raith Rovers (against Celtic) and Hearts (against Rangers).
"Memories from that day will always be at the forefront of my mind," he told the Express & Star.
"It was a special, special day, made even sweeter by what had happened the season before."
Ah yes, the season before. Wolves were 11 points clear of you-know-who and blew it at the death. They made up for it a year later.
"It was polar opposites between the two seasons," Cameron said. "The first season we were flying high and just couldn’t get over the line, so we went into the play-offs on a downer.
"The following year, we had a bit of a hangover and then from the turn of the year, the Newcastle FA Cup win (a famous 3-2 victory over Bobby Robson's team, Alan Shearer et al) gave us confidence and we only lost two games and went into the play-offs on a high.
"We believed we were going to get to the final and win. Then we blew Sheffield United away in the first half.
"There was only going to be one outcome that day. For me it ranks up there with winning the League Cup with Raith Rovers against Celtic and the Scottish Cup with Hearts against Rangers. Oh I’d better say the birth of the three kids as well!
"You’re in the game for moments like that. I class myself as very fortunate to achieve things like that."
During the 1990s Wolves longed for a dynamic, all-action central midfield partnership. Some great players passed in and out the Molineux door but they always seemed to be crying out for combative midfielders to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Come 2002, they had three.
Cameron, Alex Rae and Paul Ince would have got into most Premier League sides at that time. Three blokes who not only had bucketloads of ability, but also as much heart, determination and courage as you could ever ask for.
Dave Jones was spoilt for choice.
"It could have its own issues, which it did, but we quickly sorted it out" Cameron said of the trio.
"None of us would give or take, we demanded the highest of everyone and we knew each other’s abilities.
"If anyone wasn’t pulling their weight, we’d tell each other."
That squad was littered with big names and big personalities.
It was a dressing room that a younger Cameron may have struggled in, but when he made the move south of the border aged 27 he was ready for everything.
"It was an easy move for me," he added. "I’d just split up with my ex-wife in March, there was a chance of manager at Hearts with Craig Levein coming in.
"He wanted me to sign a new deal with a testimonial at the end and build the team around me. But I was 27 and I needed a new challenge, down south was the only place to do that.
"I flew down with my agent to Molineux and agreed straightaway, it was an easy decision.
"When I joined it was only the start of some big changes in the dressing room.
"Paul Butler was already there, you had myself, Mark Kennedy, Kenny Miller, Alex Rae, Nathan Blake all coming in.
"Considering we were top of the league after all those changes to the team said a lot for the boys.
"There were a lot of strong characters and personalities. I think the fact I was 27 helped me, I was fine with it."
After that unforgettable day in Cardiff, there was an expectation that, aided by Sir Jack Hayward's millions, Wolves would finally establish themselves back in the top flight after so many years away.
However, the £20m Jones wanted to add Premier League quality (David James, Robbie Fowler and Trevor Sinclair were among the signings lined up) ended up being a paltry £3m.
Wolves were duly relegated, albeit not without a fight. Cameron stayed for two more years but, despite enjoying a great relationship with the fans, left in 2006 under a cloud. That cloud was Glenn Hoddle.
The former England boss sent Cameron out on loan that year, but recalled him shortly after supporters had sung Cameron's name during a 2-0 defeat at Plymouth.
The Scot returned for what would be his Wolves swansong, playing in the final five games of that campaign – scoring on his comeback – before his contract ran out and a derisory offer was rejected.
"We could have achieved more and stayed in the Premier League," Cameron says, reflecting on his five years at the club.
"It’s not a regret for me that we didn’t – the players we had gave everything so we can’t have regrets.
"The only bugbear is that the gaffer didn’t get enough money for some more quality players and experience.
"I had a fantastic relationship with the fans. My first three clubs, I spent five years at each one and I can’t praise the fans highly enough at all of them.
"I think it’s basically down to the fact I was brought up to work hard for everything I achieved.
"I knew if I was going to achieve anything I needed to work 110 per cent. I tried to do that every time I crossed the white line.
"All fans want a player who’s prepared to die for a cause, I feel I was one of those type of players.
"I had some great times at Wolves and apart from the play-off final a few games still stand out.
"The Leicester 4-3 game (after being 3-0 down at half-time) was a great comeback but probably the Manchester City game (a 1-0 win) a couple of weeks earlier for the simple reason of a collector’s item – I didn’t score many headers!
"Their keeper David Seaman had been England's number one a year earlier and also it was our first victory in the Premier League.
"The other one that sticks out was in my final season, when Mr Hoddle decided I wasn't part of his plans. He sent me out to Millwall on loan, I enjoyed my time there and got recalled early.
"My first game back was against Coventry, we drew 2-2 and I scored.
"Just walking out, the reception I got was very heartwarming.
"I played the last five games and unfortunately I never had a proper chance to say goodbye to the fans because I was sent off in my last game for two yellows at Norwich.
"There was a contract offer after that, but in any line of work if you're offered a third of what you're on...they could say they offered me a contract and I didn't accept it. But Mr Hoddle didn't want me and they forced me out the door, it's as simple as that."
A sad end then, but overall Cameron and the fans fondly remember his time at Wolves, which comprised 188 games and 25 goals.
Now, like so many of his generation, Cameron is delighted that Wolves look finally set for 'lift off' under Fosun.
"It's exciting times," he said. "They've got quality throughout the team and I expect them to finish in the top half.
"The fans have always been there, that's the thing with this club, they've always been there waiting for this moment.
"Hopefully they can now establish themselves."