A sad end to Lee Camp’s Forest career
Lee Camp was only on loan at Nottingham Forest as he faced a late penalty at Pride Park in November 2008. His save from Nacer Barazite catapulted Camp from an ex-Derby journeyman to Forest hero. It was a relationship that endured as Camp signed permanently with Forest and became a central figure in two play-off campaigns.
Looking back it is nearly inconceivable that Camp, who looks set for the exit door, will be barely missed by some supporters who no longer hold the 28-year-old in anything like the esteem that they once did.
The comments on the matter from Alex McLeish make it clear once and for all – Camp does not want to sign a new contract and stay at the club. Everybody knows that this seemingly perfect marriage broke down in a matter of weeks when Billy Davies was sacked and Forest denied him the opportunity to join Premiership-bound Swansea. Gone was the confident strut on Saturday afternoons. Gone were the euphoric celebrations after three points. We have all missed it.
In today’s 140 character-led online society, I believe there is a tendency to over-simplify football matters. Players become pigeon-holed quickly on the #nffc hashtag and the terraces. Reid is always “fat”, McGugan “lazy”, and Camp I have frequently read is “mardy”. Stereotypes can have some foundation in the truth, but on the subject of Camp maybe we should look more closely and dispassionately at why the relationship may have soured from his point of view and whether it is anything particularly unusual in modern football.
The permanent signing of Camp from Queens Park Rangers was a perfect match for both sides. Camp was frozen out the first team picture, while Forest required a top quality goalkeeper. Camp was affordable at a reported initial fee of £100,000 and had already proven his capabilities emphatically on loan. Billy Davies knew the goalkeeper from his time at Derby County and made the excellent decision to give Camp the number one jersey and vice captaincy. He was a leader on and off the pitch. There was even talk of the England squad, before eventually he made his international debut with Northern Ireland.
Much has changed from those days – in fact far too much. Camp joined a club with a local owner, Nigel Doughty, who was backing a proven manager that summer with significant signings. Camp needed a new start and Forest provided it. Since the appointment of Steve McClaren Forest have had an 18 months that can be at best described as turbulent. Managers have come and gone at an alarming rate. There is little or no stability and Forest still look no closer to promotion despite another spending spree from the Al-Hasawi family.
There have been so many low points during Camp’s time at Forest. The McClaren reign was an unmitigated disaster characterised by poor players joining on high wages. This ended with sad exit of Doughty and his tragic death soon after. On the pitch Forest fans suffered the seemingly endless streak without a goal under Steve Cotterill, with players complaining about a lack of support from the stands. More recently, the surprise sacking of Sean O’Driscoll eroded hopes of a long term strategy to rebuild the club.
Camp is a vocal, opinionated character and would have had views on all of these changes and events. It would only be human to look at Swansea and think what might have been. The Welsh club have been the polar opposite of Forest in recent years and are the template for any aspiring Championship club. As much as we love Forest, in cold light of day it is not hard to imagine how an ambitious professional sportsman may have come to the conclusion that he would not achieve his dreams at Forest. Few players, especially talented ones, have the loyalty of fans. We would never give up our Saturday afternoons to watch another team, so it is hard to accept that our heroes may not feel quite the same. Even Stuart Pearce moved on eventually.
In the modern era, Camp is not alone in wanting to move on. Several popular players who might be described as “committed” on forums and tweets, such as Robert Earnshaw, Chris Gunter, Wes Morgan, Gareth McCleary, James Perch and Nathan Tyson, did not stay at the club throughout this difficult period. All had the opportunity to move on and did so. The situation with Camp is unusual now because generally a player leaves when his head is turned. Fortunately for the other players, circumstances worked in favour of a move, whereas Camp was forced to stay and face the bile of supporters who knew it was likely he wanted out. Like Harry Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur, it is never the same relationship with supporters once the eye has wandered.
Unfortunately Camp’s performances did dip somewhat after being denied the move and this led to various questions as to why his form has suffered. It is difficult to speculate, but I would stop short of calling him unprofessional. In the early days under Billy Davies, the team has a strong spine of Camp, Morgan and Paul McKenna. Today there is no such spine and it is unlikely Camp would be as confident in the back four as he was in 2009. Other players saw their performances dip – Chris Gunter and Luke Chambers to name two. As goalkeeper, you are last line of defence as mistakes happen. You only need to watch Match of the Day to see howlers from multi-million pound goalkeepers such as David De Gea or even Joe Hart. Camp in my opinion has slipped from being the best goalkeeper in the Championship, to just one of the best. He will be a great acquisition to any club at this level, or even above.
With so much change and his unique situation I feel there needs to be some second thoughts on how we view his Forest career. His time at Forest is clearly over and he needs to move on. Football is an emotional game, but I believe Camp will be difficult to replace and will be well regarded in years to come. The end arrives for every player, often with acrimony with big characters. Football supporting can be a fruitless exercise at times, especially if moments such as the Derby penalty save are not remember fondly and cherished. In the case of Camp it is real shame that the good times could not have lasted a little longer.