COLIN CAMERON has never been one for getting too far ahead of himself, which is just as well considering the obvious potential for the Hearts legend to get a bit carried away if he allowed himself to dream of what might become of his fledgling managerial career.
His entry into this line of work may have occurred somewhat under the radar as he stepped up to replace his Kilmarnock-bound mentor, Jimmy Nicholl, as Cowdenbeath manager back in June, but it’s safe to say Cameron is aware he has landed on his feet as he embarks on a mission to carve a fruitful career in management. After all, there are few more reliable starting points for young bosses in Scottish football than the one currently held by the 39-year-old.
The Central Park hotseat has proven to be a launchpad for the current managers of Scotland (Craig Levein), Finland (Mixu Paatelainen) and St Mirren (Danny Lennon), with the reigns of each of that trio defined by promotion-winning seasons.
With that in mind, Cameron is heading along the right lines, with his early days as a manager coinciding with Cowdenbeath sitting joint-top of the Second Division as one of only three teams in Britain with a 100 per cent home record. Not bad for a guy who openly admits management wasn’t in his thoughts throughout the bulk of his playing career.
“It’s still relatively early days but I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone so far,” says the former Raith Rovers, Hearts, Wolves and Scotland midfielder. “I’d be lying if I said management was something I always wanted to get involved in. Certainly in my 20s, all I wanted to do was play football. But once I got into my 30s, my thought process changed and I started to think ‘what’s the next step?’ Do I stay in football or do I look to try something totally new? For me, I thought ‘why don’t I try something that I know a bit about and see how it goes?’
“To be honest, I wish I had the [management] thought in my head earlier because I would have paid attention to the finer details. There are so many different aspects of the job that you never really think of when you’re just a player, things like planning training sessions, dealing with players calling off and adjusting the training schedule depending when the games are. Getting to grips with all that has been the biggest difference.”
As a man whose love for playing is still as strong as ever, Cameron’s transformation from irrepressible box-to-box midfielder to football club head honcho has been smoothed by the fact he is still able to don the boots now and again. Having originally arrived at Central Park as player/assistant manager under Nicholl, ‘Mickey’, as he’s been affectionately known throughout his career, couldn’t be more in his element in his current guise as player/manager. He’s all the more grateful to have been catapulted into such a perfect arrangement at a time when there are an abundance of relatively high-profile managers out of work.
“I started my playing career under Jimmy [at Raith] so it was nice that he also got me a foot on the ladder in the coaching side of things,” he acknowledges. “It was a huge help because there are so many people out there trying to get a job in football. Getting the opportunity to do the coaching side of things under Jimmy while I was still playing was something I was looking to do as opposed to just stopping playing and then going into management. This way it’s more of a gradual changeover where I’m phasing my way out of playing. Having said that, I’ve still got a passion to play and while I still feel the team needs me I’ll continue to play. I was fortunate that when Jimmy left, the chairman offered me the chance to become manager, it was a no-brainer to be honest. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve had great support from other people at the club.
“This is a club that offers people the opportunity to get their feet on the ladder and express themselves in terms of their coaching philosophies and methods. The likes of Craig, Mixu and Danny have all moved on to bigger and better things, but, if it hadn’t have been for the chance they were given at Cowdenbeath, they might not be where they are now.”
With a young squad, including on-loan SPL players Jordan Morton (Hearts) and Kal Naismith (Rangers, Cameron, whose next test comes in the shape of a third-round Scottish Cup clash at Bo’ness this weekend, feels he has a responsibility to ensure he gives his players the best grounding possible in the hope they can prosper.
“Playing for your country and winning cups and play-offs are the highlights of my career,” he recalls. “These are the moments you strive for and then cherish. I’ve got some very good young players here and I’m hoping they go on and enjoy success of their own because that reflects well on Cowdenbeath.”
Cameron can be counted among a quartet of iconic former Hearts players from the past 20 years now making a living as SFL managers. Indeed, aside from Gary Mackay, if you asked Hearts fans to pick out the four players who have done most for their club over the past two decades, the names John Robertson, Steven Pressley, Paul Hartley and Colin Cameron would be as prominent as any. East Fife, Falkirk, Alloa Athletic and, of course, Cowden, are now benefiting from the expertise of these legendary Jambos.
“It’s funny how these things work out,” said Cameron, who is ably assisted by another former Tynecastle colleague in Lee Makel. “Last month I was picking up my Second Division manager of the month award for September and Steven (First Division) and Paul (Third Division) were also there getting theirs. I caught up with Robbo a few weeks ago after our game against East Fife.
“I learnt a lot from him and definitely scored a few goals because of his intelligence so it was nice to get a beer with him after the game.”