Neil Lennon factor was the key to Cammy Bell's Hibs move
Cammy Bell admits he was taking a huge step into the unknown when he called it quits at Kilmarnock only hours before the January transfer window closed.
But, within minutes, he found himself in demand and on his way to undergo a medical at Hibs’ East Mains training centre while fending off approaches from other clubs who had got wind that he was now a free agent.
By the end of the night, he’d become Neil Lennon’s latest signing, part of a transfer merry-go-round which also saw midfielder Scott Allan return to Easter Road while striker Simon Murray and goalkeeper Scott Bain, who’d only arrived as cover for Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano a few weeks earlier, head for the exit door.
However, while delighted with the way things have turned out, 31-year-old Bell insisted he didn’t have an inkling of what was about to transpire as dawn broke on the final day of January.
“I’d asked Steve Clarke [Kilmarnock’s manager] a few weeks earlier about it because things hadn’t worked out for me as I’d hoped,” revealed Bell.
“I was actually training with Killie that Wednesday totally unware of what was going to happen. I then had a chat with the boss and we decided it was best that I move on. The whole decision was that I’d be a free agent although it was probably the first time in my career I hadn’t had something lined up.
“I felt I was at that stage in my career where I had to go and try something else, that there would possibly be opportunities elsewhere. I always had confidnece in my own ability, I knew it was the right time to shakes hands with everyone at Kilmarnock and I left on good terms.”
Having sorted out the red tape at Rugby Park, Bell texted Hibs coaching coach Alan Combe to let him know what had happened and looking for nothing more than a chat with someone he’d known from their time together at the Ayrshire club years before.
He said: “I didn’t know there were going to be ins and outs and Hibs that day but Alan phoned to say the manager was keen to have me over for a medical and then take it from there.
“I didn’t even go home but headed for Hibs’ training ground. As I was driving over, word got out about my situation and I got a few phone calls and a couple of offers – but I had already made up my mind that if I was going to be offered a deal, this was the place I wanted to come.”
Bell spent that evening watching Hibs defeat Motherwell alongside Allan, the paperwork completed minutes before midnight after which he booked into a hotel before enjoying his first training session with his new team-mates the next morning.
However, the former Killie, Rangers and Dundee United stopper insisted he knew from the minute he stepped through the door and the welcome he received that he’d made the right decision.
He said: “When I spoke to the manager when I came in, he told me he was delighted to see me and that he didn’t think he would get a goalkeeper of my quality and experience at the last minute.
“It was great for me to see how keen Hibs were to get me over here and to get things put to bed. I had a couple of offers from down south but I wanted to come here because they had made the move and wanted me here.
“Being wanted by a manager is key for any player. I have been in the situation a couple of times when I’ve been inherited by a new manager and they don’t want you there. I understand that, you are not for everyone. But to work with a manager who really wants you gives you that bit extra drive to do well for him and the club.”
Although he has emjoyed a few highlights in his career – playing in Europe for Queen of the South, turning in a man-of-the-match performance as Killie beat Lennon’s Celtic to lift the League Cup, winning League One with Rangers and saving three penalties in a sensational first half for United against Dunfermline, Scotland cap Bell has been assured by his new boss he still has much to achieve in the game. He said: “I know the manager from playing against him and I’ve been at a couple of dinners where I’ve been in his compnay. Watching from the sidelines I’ve admired him for what he has done in the game.
“He’s been fantastic for Scottish football as a whole and it’s good to have him back in the Scottish game because I think he was missed when he went down south.
“The character he is, the driven manager he is in that he wants to win everything is a great quality to have.
“I had a chat with him when I came in and he reminded me at 31 I have a long way to go and a lot of things to achieve – that was one of the first things he said to me. It’s great to hear someone who has achieved so much himself saying I’ve had a great career but there’s so much more to come.
“That was really refreshing to hear. Sometimes when you get into your thirties you wonder where you are going to be but I am still determined to win things and to be successful.
“I want that to be at Hibs – whether that’s to the summer or beyond, that will take care of itself.”
Bell accepts some may suggest he’s simply swapped the subs’ bench at Rugby Park for one at Easter Road given the recent performances of Marciano but he’s intent on pushing Lennon’s No.1 all the way.
He said: “Ofir has the gloves but I am here to push him and hopefully we’ll bring out the best in each other but I’m not here just to make up the numbers. I definitely want to play games and progress as a goalkeeper.”
Previously an outsider looking in, Bell insists Hibs are very much a club on the up, tracing the moment they began that trajectory as they day the Capital club won the Scottish Cup as he sat on the Rangers bench.
He said: “There’s a real feelgood factor which probably stems from that day. I remember the size of he support they had at Hampden and then when I played against them with Dundee United there was a full house at Easter Road and an incredible atmosphere.
“Watching from afar, Hibs are a well-run club, stable, with a great youth system, a great manager and board all pulling in the same direction.
“Since I’ve arrived, I’ve sensed everyone wants to keep moving forward, not getting ahead of themselves but taking one step at a time. Look at what has been achieved, a year ago they were in the Championship and today they are sitting towards the top of the Premiership table. Ask anyne who talks Scottish football and Hibs have been one of the most vibrant clubs, they are on the up and as they move forward I think they will become a real driving force in Scottish football in years to come.”