AGED 41, Colin Cameron will undergo his 26th pre-season campaign this summer as player-manager of Berwick Rangers.
He stepped down into League Two with a determination to keep playing and managing after leaving Championship club Cowdenbeath in November. Many counterparts of similar age have long since swapped their strips for suits, but Cameron is nothing if not single-minded.
Aesthetically, Cowdenbeath’s Central Park and Shielfield Park in Berwick are much the same. Both are amongst Scottish football’s less salubrious venues and serve their local communities first and foremost.
Yet two leagues separate these clubs and Cameron is eager to drag Berwick up from the bottom tier of the professional game. He is fit and able enough to do that personally on the field, despite being a veteran of veterans.
“I don’t see why my age should be an issue,” said Cameron, who counts Hearts, Coventry City and Wolverhampton Wanderers amongst his 11 former clubs.
“Look at David Weir, who was still playing for Rangers at the highest level at the age of 41. I’m 41 myself now and I know midfield is more physically challenging than defence. At the same time, I don’t feel I’m struggling for fitness. If I did, I’d call it a day. I feel I’m still able to influence games and get about the park.
“Funnily enough, I just picked up a slight injury on Saturday against Elgin. My hamstring tightened up but it’s more related to my back. I’ve got a history of problems with my back and my pelvis dating back to my mid-20s. Because I’m back playing regularly, I haven’t been going to the specialist I see to keep me ticking over and that’s why this problem has arisen.
“I thought I’d be finished playing a long time before now, if I’m honest. I don’t have any timeframe in mind for retiring. I’ll just see how things go from now till the summer and see whether I can last the rigours of the rest of the season.
“I’ll rest over the summer and get ready for what will be my 26th pre-season. I don’t want to say this is my last season because I’m still enjoying my football. I don’t feel playing affects my ability to manage the team. Again, if I felt that was being detrimental then I would curtail it.”
If he is still enjoying it as he says, few would argue against him continuing. Being in amongst the hustle, bustle and banter that exists in a dressing room is something many footballers find hard to give up. It can be like an addictive drug to those who have had it around them every day for years. Cameron is no different. However, he feels it benefits him as manager to be in beside the players he will select in his team on a Saturday.
“I think it’s helped me get to know the players quicker being amongst them as a player myself. You see different things when you’re training beside them compared with what you see from outside the group. At the moment, we’re getting the best of both worlds. Robbie Horn, my assistant, is on the outside overseeing everything and I’m in amongst the lads taking part in training.
“Every club is different. There are different facilities, players, chairmen etc but I’m just enjoying being back involved. We have a good group of players and I’ve known Robbie since our days at Hearts, plus the chairman is easy to get on with. Things are always much easier when results are going well but everyone at Berwick has been great to me.”
So far, things are running very smoothly. Cameron was appointed in mid-January following the sacking of Ian Little and was swiftly named League Two Manager of the Month for winning his first two games in charge. He won three and drew one of his first four matches before a 3-2 home defeat by Elgin at the weekend stopped anyone getting carried away with Berwick’s play-off charge.
The move to the Borders has reinvigorated him and given him an appreciation of why working in football is a job to be cherished – regardless of the division.
“You’re soon forgotten about in this game,” explained Cameron. “There are a lot of good managers without a job at the moment. Whenever a position comes up there is always plenty interest from both young and experienced managers. Getting back into management so quickly is certainly pleasing for me, especially at a club I feel I can improve.”
The step down in leagues should not be confused with a lack of ambition on Cameron’s part. He is still fiercely competitive and harbours hopes of one day working his way back up the managerial ladder towards full-time football. That may come at a later date.
His CV remains strong given he led Cowdenbeath to the old Second Division title in his first season in charge in 2012, finishing eight points clear of second-placed Arbroath. Now, the hope amongst the Berwick board is that he can replicate that success at Shielfield. His start has certainly been encouraging.
“I’m as ambitious as a manager as I am as a player but you’ve got to learn to walk before you can run,” he said. “Cowdenbeath were great for me and I’m grateful they gave me the opportunity to get into management. I brought some success when I was there and I think I left them in a better position than they were in when I took over.
“People say this is a step down because I’ve come from the Championship to League Two. I feel I’ve got an opportunity to help Berwick progress as a club. Hopefully I can do that this season.”
Berwick are already showing signs of improvement and are in contention to make the play-off places, which could ultimately lead to promotion to League One. Cameron refuses to make any bold predictions but acknowledges the opportunity is there for another successful season to add to that CV.
“We’re four points off the play-off places and when I took over we were eight points off. In five games, we’ve managed to half that deficit,” he pointed out. “We lost at the weekend and I’m disappointed with that but there are 12 games left and still everything to play for this season.”
The rewards for leading the Wee Rangers to big glory could be significant for Cameron, and he knows it.
“I want to manage at the highest level and be in charge of a full-time club. That’s an ambition of mine. If I can be successful here at Berwick then whatever comes after that will come.”