COLIN Cameron has achieved a lot in his career, but leading Cowdenbeath to a trophy in his first season as their player-manager is something to be proud of. Two second-half goals by Marc McKenzie yesterday secured them the Second Division championship at a sodden Central Park.
Cameron, who lifted the Scottish Cup with Hearts in 1998, has guided his team nine points clear of second-placed Arbroath with only two matches left. Having led the division for most of the season, few could begrudge them their celebrations here, conducted in front of nearly 1,000 spectators, one of whom was Gordon Brown, the former prime minister.
“To win the Second Division is a major achievement,” said Cameron. “I’m very proud. I couldn’t have done it without the players, or the chairman and directors who gave me the opportunity to get on the ladder. Hopefully, this has repaid their faith in me.”
Less than a couple of years ago, Cowdenbeath’s very existence was in doubt, with Spartans said to be interested in a merger. That was before Donald Findlay, the former Rangers director, took over as chairman and appointed Cameron, who was Jimmy Nicholl’s assistant when the club failed to remain in the First Division last season.
Now that Cameron has returned at the first time of asking, he knows what to expect in the tier above. “Part one of the challenge was getting up,” he said. “The harder part will be staying up. But the guys have been there. What was missing last time was that bit of belief that they were good enough. Hopefully I can instil that in them.”
If Cameron has ambitions to make it big in management, he is in the right place. Cowdenbeath has been the unlikely launchpad for a number of international managers in recent years, with Craig Levein, Mixu Paatelainen and the latter’s assistant, Michael O’Neill, all going on to lead their country. Add Danny Lennon to the list of those who have cut their teeth at Central Park, and you can see why the latest incumbent is credited with having a bright future.
He is still playing too. The 39-year-old midfielder pulled the strings yesterday, and plans to do so in the First Division, provided he emerges well enough from a clean-up operation that he intends to have on his troublesome knee.
Were Cowdenbeath to consolidate themselves in the division above, it might even move them a step closer to the new stadium they so desperately need. Many of the working-class romantics who cherish the old stock-car circuit, with its flaky paint, barbed wire and tinny loudspeakers, probably don’t have to go there every week.
Findlay does. He likes it as well, not least because it rests within yards of the house where he grew up, but even he recognises that it is not an asset with which to take the club into a new era. Plans already are afoot for a move to another ground, where Cameron’s preference would be for an artificial surface. That way, they can maximise their matchday income in the winter months, while ending their undignified trawl around Fife for training facilities.
Not that it was a bad atmosphere at the old ground yesterday, thanks partly to the torrential rain that sent many of those perched high on the far terrace scurrying for the stand. There, they refused to sit, preferring instead to do the bouncy and laugh at Dunfermline, who are likely to provide them with a tasty derby next season.
The contrast between the managers of these two sides could hardly have been more stark. As the bunneted Dick Campbell, another local boy, yelled instructions from his dugout, Cameron was able to exert an influence on the pitch, passing and probing from a deep midfield role.
But it was a struggle for the home side, who had to wait 73 minutes for their breakthrough. McKenzie beat the offside trap, raked a low shot into the far corner and embarked on a rather questionable celebration that involved lifting his leg, doggy-style, against the corner flag.
At least he chose not to repeat those antics after his second goal, ten minutes later. This time, he rounded the goalkeeper, plunged a shot into the empty net and stood, bare-chested, on an old stock-car tyre to take the acclaim of the crowd. Confidence like that will be handy in the First Division.