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Colin Cameron finally gets his Wolves goodbye

Colin Cameron was the half time guest as Wolves rounded off their home Premier League season against Norwich last weekend.

Colin Cameron celebrates his goal
Colin Cameron celebrates his goal

And the rousing reception he received on taking to the pitch and the response from supporters elsewhere on the day provided far happier memories of Wolves/Canaries clashes than from Cameron’s past that’s for sure!

It was a trip to Carrow Road which signalled Cameron’s final appearance for Wolves after a difficult final 2005/06 season in which he was also despatched on loan to Millwall.

Wolves won 2-1, but Cameron was sent off, and, in later rejecting a contract offer which was vastly reduced from his previous terms, never got a proper chance to say a proper goodbye to the Molineux faithful.

There is worse though.

Dean Sturridge takes a piggy back from Colin Cameron.

At the end of the affable Scot’s first Wolves season, now – thankfully – 20 years past, came the play-off semi-final defeat to Norwich after being overhauled by West Bromwich Albion in the race for automatic promotion.

Yes, that was the worst, but the best wasn’t too far away. Namely, in the season which immediately followed.

But even now, two decades on, fan frustration lingers that some of the exhilarating football played during that 2001/02 campaign, Cameron’s first south of the border, finished not only without reward but copious amounts of anger and frustration.

“We played some unbelievable football that season,” Cameron recalls.

“Do you know what? I think we played better football that season than the season we actually went up.

“We played some really entertaining stuff, and it is so difficult to explain where it went wrong.

“I don’t think it was a specific game or a specific incident in a game but we couldn’t keep it going and lost form just at the wrong time.

Hearts Neil McCann (left) and Colin Cameron celebrate after their two one win against Rangers at the Celtic Park ground in Glasgow today (Saturday) Photo by David Cheskin/PA..

“Albion went on a great run and ended up pipping us which didn’t make it any easier to deal with as players or the fans.

“But what that disappointment at the end of that season did do was shape things for the next one.”

Cameron, widely known as ‘Mickey’, had checked in at Wolves from Heart of Midlothian for £1.75million in the August of 2001, by this point a talented and experienced 28-year-old midfielder who had become hot property in his native Scotland.

Brought up in the Links area of Kirkcaldy, he launched his career very close to home with Raith Rovers, enjoying a loan spell in Ireland with Sligo Rovers before really establishing himself in the Rovers’ engine room.

He amassed well over 150 appearances for Raith and was involved in a couple of Scottish Division One title triumphs, with a relegation in between, as well as being part of the team which famously defeated Celtic on penalties to lift the 1994/95 League Cup.

With Raith, Cameron played, and scored, in the UEFA Cup, and played in both legs as they were ultimately defeated by Bayern Munich, complete with Jurgen Klinsmann and company, in 1995.

A move to Hearts followed, as did more silverware, Cameron also scoring from the penalty spot in a 2-1 Scottish Cup Final success against Rangers.

His appearance tally with the Jambos was approaching 200 by the time Wolves came calling.

“For me to move down to Wolves was 100 per cent the right thing to do at the time,” Cameron explains.

Colin Cameron listens as Glenn Hoddle makes hand signals

“Craig Levein had taken over at Hearts halfway through the previous season and had said that he wanted to build a team around me.

“I was captain at the time, but I also felt that for me and my career it was the right time to move.

“I was at the right age, and was ready, and if I had stayed any longer at Hearts, I don’t think I was going to get any benefit and I don’t think they were going to get any benefit either.

“I was getting fed up of playing against the same teams four, five, six games a season, and I needed a wee challenge to push myself, you know?

“During the pre-season Craig just said to me that he would help me if I would help him and I just had to carry on playing as I normally did.

“I started the season well and scored a few goals including against Dundee when I think the gaffer (Wolves manager Dave Jones) was there watching.

“I then got a phone call in the week from my agent to say Wolves had put a bid in and there was a chance it could happen.

“And it just took off from there.”

Colin Cameron being sent off by referee Iain Willamson.

Those were exciting times at Wolves with a rebuilding job orchestrated by Jones which saw plenty of seasoned and high-profile players brought to the club, alongside the emergence of younger talents from the Academy.

Mark Kennedy and Shaun Newton had arrived earlier in the summer, Nathan Blake and Alex Rae would follow within a month, and Kenny Miller and Dean Sturridge by the turn of the year.

Paul Butler was already in situe as captain while that younger group initially included Lee Naylor and Joleon Lescott and, later, Matt Murray.

It was an explosive cocktail which helped Wolves blaze a fearless attacking trail alongside Manchester City at the top of the Championship for much of the 2001/02 season, before agonisingly falling away late on and falling victim to a relentless run of form from Albion.

“I was blown away from the moment I arrived at Wolves,” says Cameron.

“I was really, really excited about the future and it had been a long time since I had felt like that.

“From just being around the place, from Dave Jones telling me his plans and what he wanted to achieve and how I could fit in, he sold it all to me and it was an easy decision.

“I always felt I was good enough to play in the Premier League and this was a real chance to go on and do so – everything about it felt right.

“Now obviously it didn’t happen in that first season, but Dave knew what we needed and went after a couple of players who knew what it was all about, knew how to deal with expectations and knew how we could take the next step.

“And so, he signed Paul Ince and Denis Irwin.

“Even then we didn’t start the season great, and did have to play catch-up a little bit, but that FA Cup win against Newcastle seemed to spark everything off and we only lost a couple of league games from there until the end.

“I have always said it, when you go into the play-offs on the back of winning games and with momentum that is always the best place to be.

“Football is all about confidence, whether you have it or whether you don’t.

“In that first year we were confident all season but somehow it just fell away and even though we were capable of beating Norwich in the play-offs, they went into it with that confidence and momentum which we didn’t have.

“The year we went up we had come from off the pace and the whole feeling was so different and that is why we were so much better equipped to make it through.”

By this point Cameron was an intrinsic feature in the Molineux engine room, his box-to-box energy, technical ability and eye for goal making him a key part of that promotion campaign.

He was heavily involved in the build-up to Rae’s wildly-acclaimed nerve-settler in the semi-final second leg at Reading, and his run and shot led to the corner from which Blake scored the second of Wolves’ three first half goals against Sheffield United in the final.

The Millennium Stadium on May 26th, 2003. What a day.

“That result was always going to happen,” Cameron insists.

“The players, the management, we all sensed it the whole week going in because we just felt super, super confident.

“We just knew that with the make-up of our squad and the way we’d been playing, if we hit our potential, they didn’t have a prayer.

“Man for man we were a better team, simple as that, we just needed to show it on the day and that is what we did.

“Even when they got that penalty in the second half big Matty stepped up and saved it and was just our day, an incredible day, and one to always remember.”

Cameron was also then a mainstay in Wolves’ first ever Premier League season, but sadly that wouldn’t prove anything like as memorable as the 90 minutes which had taken the team there.

The squad wasn’t strengthened sufficiently enough – as then chairman Sir Jack Hayward would later acknowledge – and by the time Wolves found some form over the second half of the season, it was too late.

And relegation was instantaneous.

Amid the frustration and disappointment however there were one or two moments for Cameron to savour.

His header past England keeper David Seaman secured Wolves’ first ever Premier League victory against Manchester City and his brace helped launch the miraculous comeback from 3-0 down at half time to 4-3 winners against Leicester.

Colin Cameron is interviewed at half time during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City at Molineux on May 15, 2022 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas - WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images).

“A lot didn’t go for us that Premier League season and injuries played a part,” Cameron explains.

“We lost Joleon (Lescott) and big Matty (Murray) and they were two players who would have made such a difference for us.

“And the gaffer never got the funds he deserved to make sure we could push on at the higher level.

“I would even say that one, just one proven Premier League goalscorer might have been enough for us but we never got it.

“On a personal level there were some good moments such as scoring in that first Premier League win and the second half – certainly not the first! - against Leicester.

“But overall, it was disappointing as I think we could have established ourselves far better if the gaffer had been given a bit more help.”

Life at Wolves then changed for Cameron.

With Jones dismissed a couple of months into the next season, Cameron admits he ‘didn’t see eye to eye’ with his successor Glenn Hoddle, and his personal influence waned as the new man tried to implement his own ideas and approach.

Cameron remained involved sporadically, at least until being sent on loan to Millwall towards the end of his fifth and final season with Wolves.

It’s fair to say that proved decision not particularly welcomed by the Molineux fanbase, who shouted Cameron’s name in a defeat at Plymouth, after which he was called back to, of course, score on his return against Coventry.

That perhaps proved his most poignant farewell moment, as the contract offer received at the end of the campaign was reduced to such a level that he felt he was no longer wanted, and he had actually joined the Sky Blues even before Hoddle handed in his resignation.

“I loved my five years at Wolves, and wish I had more,” he explains.

“Given the opportunity I would definitely have stayed for longer, and probably played out my career there given the chance.

“Obviously things change in football, Dave left and Glenn came in and we didn’t see eye to eye.

“That was the reason I was no longer there, and if things had been different, I would definitely have liked to carry on.”

All good things must come to an end, and over time that meant the departure of three of the most popular and successful central midfielders in Wolves’ recent history.

There were no shrinking violets in that Wolves squad of the time, and certainly no shrinking violets in the engine room.

A three-pronged midfield trio is perhaps more prevalent now than it was in the 4-4-2 days of a couple of decades ago and, so often, three – Ince and Rae – this week appointed permanent manager and assistant at Reading – and Cameron, didn’t go into two.

It certainly meant that standards couldn’t slip among three fiercely competitive personalities who shared a huge amount of mutual professional respect.

“At any club you need competition for places,” says Cameron.

“If you are going to get the best out of yourself, you need to have someone breathing right down your neck, knowing that you have to be at the top of your game or risk someone else taking your spot in the team.

“Even Incey wasn’t guaranteed his place, no one was.

“I would back myself and my ability but I knew I was up against two players who were more experienced than me, so I really needed to raise my game and I think that motivation was one of the reasons we had success.

“I think you could have picked any two midfielders from the three of us at that time and whichever combination you picked would have been equally as strong as the others.”

Having moved on to Coventry, Cameron would later play for MK Dons – when Ince was manager – and then back in Scotland with Dundee – with Rae at the helm – before Arbroath, Cowdenbeath and Berwick.

At the latter two he also served as player-manager, leading Cowdenbeath to the Second Division title in his first season at the helm, and later coached at the Edusport Academy which boasts residential academies in both Glasgow and Malta.

His most recent role was as assistant at Airdrieonians, which came to an end at the start of the pandemic.

Playing-wise Cameron not only reached the top level in club football but also picked up 28 senior international caps for Scotland, the first coming as a late substitute replacing future Wolves manager Paul Lambert in a 1-0 friendly win in Germany.

His quick free kick later set up Wolves team-mate Kenny Miller for a neat finish in a 1-1 draw - also with Germany - in a Euro 2004 qualifier shortly after Wolves’ play-off win, and he also scored twice himself, against San Marino and Lithuania.

So, what next for Cameron, who still has friends in the area whom he stayed with prior to taking in last weekend’s game?

Does he fancy getting back into football? Anything else on the horizon?

“Nothing really planned at the moment,” he replies.

“I am enjoying life and the thing I take a lot of pride in is my youngest daughter who is involved in athletics, so I spend lots of weekends taking her to meetings to compete.

“She is only 13, and she is faster than me already!

“My last job was as assistant manager with Airdrieonians and it ended on a bit of a sour note when Covid came along.

“I’m always open to opportunities but for now I’m just enjoying life and seeing what comes up.”

Cameron will be 50 later this year, and another noteworthy statistic is that when he scored his 25 goals for Wolves, from 188 appearances, the team never lost.

Eat your heart out, Ian Rush, as Wolves prepare to finish their season at Liverpool on Sunday!

Those sorts of statistics make it little wonder Cameron enjoyed such a great relationship with the Wolves fans, along with his relentless enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude, and it’s an alliance with the supporters which he cherishes to this day.

“I will never ever forget the fans,” he insists.

“That support I got even when I came back from the loan was amazing and, for the whole five years, the fans were unbelievable – they made it easy for me.

“Wolves will always hold a very special place in my heart, there is no doubting that.”

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