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Lee Camp just had to try the Premier League

IT is ten months since Lee Camp vanished without trace. Ten months since he swapped life as a Championship regular for life in the shadows with Norwich.

Between August 2009 and January 2013, Camp didn’t miss a single game for Nottingham Forest, his stolid presence the foundation for two successive top-six finishes.

Yet in the last year he has played just seven times, marooned in the reserves for Norwich and, since the summer, West Brom.

But the 29-year-old isn’t bitter. In fact, those days warming the bench at Carrow Road were everything he expected them to be.

“People always say: ‘Do you get frustrated?’ ” says Camp, now on loan at Championship Bournemouth. “But the truth is, I knew exactly what I was getting into.

“At Norwich, I wasn’t given any guarantees or promises. I was told that I’d be playing a supporting role behind Mark Bunn.

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“The incentive was that if he got sent off or injured – which he did – or maybe didn’t perform, then an opportunity for me would arise.

“But I didn’t walk into the building thinking I was going to play, so I couldn’t be disappointed when I didn’t. I knew full well I’d probably be on the bench. My eyes were wide open.

“It was the same at West Brom really. There were a few offers around during the summer, and I probably would have played. But none of them felt right. When West Brom came in, it did. But again, I knew I’d be relying on the misfortune of others to get a chance.”

So why go? Why, having had his fingers burned by a spell on the sidelines, would Camp sign for another year of training for nothing?

“Look,” he says. “When I joined Norwich, I knew it was only for six months. I knew I wasn’t likely to play. But it’s the Premier League, the place to be. You have to try.

“The fact is, I was never going to be signed as a No 1. I was never going to walk straight into a team. It just doesn’t happen.

“I either had to get promoted or earn my stripes as a reserve. So I had to take my chances. When West Brom came in, it was another chance and to hang in there.

Alex Mcleish did not want Camp at the City Ground

Alex Mcleish did not want Camp at the City Ground

“At the end of the day, it’s six months, a year of your life. To me, that’s worth sacrificing for the opportunity to play in the best league in the world. If it doesn’t work, you can always step back down again. You might never get the chance again.”

It is, though, a chance that would not have come but for the 18 months of upheaval that saw ­Nottingham Forest rattle through five managers in a year. Twice beaten in play-off semis under Billy Davies, the Scot’s sacking in May 2011 preceded a brief spell under Steve McLaren, a rescue act by Steve Cotterill and a relegation battle that the Reds only just won.

That season also saw the death of Nigel Doughty, the long-serving owner whose backing had so often kept the club afloat.

Then came the arrival of Kuwaiti owners, six months of steady progress and – critically for Camp – the shock sacking of Sean O’Driscoll just hours after a 4-2 win over Leeds on Boxing Day 2012. Alex McLeish was appointed, and Camp was soon on his way.

“Not all managers like the same players,” says Camp, a former England Under-21 intenrational. “And if a manager doesn’t fancy you as No 1, he gets someone else.

“I had a great relationship with Steve Cotterill, a great relationship with Sean O’Driscoll. Then Alex walked in and he wanted a change. That’s fair enough.

“I don’t look at it as personal. It’s just business. Those are the decisions a manager has to make. But to this day, I’ve never got my head round why they sacked Sean O’Driscoll. When we beat Leeds, it was one of those moments.

“You always get a sense in the changing room, especially when you get a bit of success or you’re challenging, where everything clicks. I remember a couple of years earlier, under Billy Davies. Around September time we beat Newcastle 1-0 in the late kick-off on TV, and we all got that feeling.

“You think: ‘We’re on to something here’ and if I remember rightly, that was the start of an 18-game unbeaten run.

“We all had that feeling after the Leeds game. It was as if everyone was suddenly singing off the same hymn sheet. I walked out that day convinced we’d be in the mix come the end of the year.

“Then the owners pulled the plug out and the club lost so much momentum. The new manager came in, left straight away, then there was no investment. Then at the end of January and they’re scrambling around for a manager again. They missed a trick in my eyes.

“But overall, I look back fondly on my time. I had a great rapport with the fans. And I would never bash the club, just as I’d never bash any club I’ve left.

“Everyone has a timespan at a club and all you can do is try to have a positive effect. I hope I did that.”

Watford v AFC Bournemouth - Sky Bet Football League Championship

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe

Now Camp is back in the Championship with Bournemouth, who want to extend his loan beyond its initial 28 days. So is this the end of his Premier League dream? You never say never,” says Camp, who has played three games for the Cherries. “When opportunities arise, you have to look at them, whatever the division.

“But I like being in the team, I like having a chance to influence things. I feel I’ve got something to offer and I’m grateful to Eddie Howe and the club for giving me the chance.

“There’ll be plenty of time when I can’t walk, my back’s gone, my knees have packed in. I’ll be an old man sitting around doing nothing.

“So while I’m in my prime I want to rack up as many games as possible. But I would never want to look back and say I didn’t give the Premier League a shot.”

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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