Last of the great eccentrics

MORE often than not he turns up for training late. On cold, damp nights he may not appear at all, and on match days team-mates and coaching staff invariably have to guess where he is going, or what he is going to do next. Cameron Little, you could say, is a glorious one-off.

But eccentric, eclectic or even infuriating as he may be, the Glasgow Hawks player - now at full-back in his third or fourth positional incarnation - is still one of the first names on coach Shade Munro’s teamsheet.

"He is very talented and knows the game inside out, and we have to find a place for him somewhere," says the long-suffering Munro. "The fact is the fans want to see unpredictable personalities like that."

It was Little’s ability to play the game off the cuff that undid Heriot’s FP, Hawks’ opponents in today’s second BT Cellnet Cup semi-final at Old Anniesland, the previous time that the sides met. Trailing by 13 points with five minutes to go at Goldenacre, Munro and backs coach Jim Barrie switched Little from No10 to full-back with Craig Hodgkinson coming on to take over the stand-off role. Both immediately crossed for tries, Hodgkinson converted both, Hawks won by a point, and Little had entered another phase of a multi-layered career.

He is 34 in August, and that step back to the No15 jersey may have rescued a career that he admits was running out of steam.

"I have enjoyed it there," he says. "The Heriot’s game was really the start of it. I scored one of the tries, and I quite enjoy the wide open spaces there. I would like to think I could go on for another year or two now, although obviously it does get harder the older you get, particularly the training."

Ah yes, the training.

It is no great secret at Old Anniesland that Little is not the most conscientious of trainers, though he insists that in the past 12 months he has made a greater effort, not only in terms of effort, but in turning up on time.

"I work as a risk-management consultant, and it involves a fair bit of travelling, often down south, so it gets harder to get out of the chair and go to training for 7pm. It’s tougher, too, because many of the guys are highly motivated. They are with the Scottish Institute of Sport and do a lot of training on their own, so I have to compete and do work myself."

Little was close to becoming a diligent worker in his one year as a full-time professional with Glasgow Caledonian Reds in 1997/98 when for the most part he played as back-up scrum-half to another outspoken character, Fraser Stott.

"I was 29 when I turned pro, and I loved it," Little recalls. "It was a real dream, but also done in the knowledge that it would be only for two or three years, and I could put my job on hold. It taught me self-discipline because it can be pretty boring. It would have been very easy to go home in the afternoon and fall asleep. It’s not as if you are earning big money like a Rangers or a Celtic player and can go shopping in Princes Square all afternoon.

"The powers-that-be now have to learn that players can’t be left to their own devices. But it was a great experience, and great fun, although I would have liked to have played a bit more. Fraser kept me on the bench most of the time, though. He was a feisty character, and tended to rub people up the wrong way. But pro rugby suited him, because he was very dedicated.

"Weights? I never touched them until I became a pro. We used to train at the David Lloyd Centre in Renfrew during the day with all the housewives, but there was a lot of looking around and not much work being done. So they transported us to the Palace of Arts, in Bellahouston, where it was real basic stuff with power lifters sweating over these enormous weights, and shouting and screaming while we cowered in the corner. Guys like Gordon Bulloch would get stuck in; Fraser and I would spend a lot of time stretching."

Little and his current coach Munro go back a long way - to their early days in the under-21 side at Glasgow High/Kelvinside before the merger with Glasgow Academicals begat Glasgow Hawks.

He won a medal when GHK lifted the shield in 1997, and has been in two cup finals, Hawks beating Kelso in 1998 and losing to Boroughmuir two years later. He will be on familiar ground today.

"I played for GHK when I left Glasgow High School, and then got caught up in the under-21s at GHK with Shade and others, most of whom have retired, unfortunately. When the Hawks started in 1998 and in my first year of pro rugby, there was a squad of eight or nine full-time players at Hawks, guys like Tommy Hayes, Chris Docherty, Glenn Metcalfe and Gordon McIlwham.

"My big regret was playing in Division 2 that year, because we played some fantastic stuff: our backs were devastating at times. We beat Watsonians - and they were champions that year - at Myreside, and beat Boroughmuir in the semi-final.

"The last few seasons have been tougher because we lost a lot of players, and despite what they say in the Borders we are not carried along by [chairman] Brian Simmers’ cash. Over the last three years we have had one professional - Glenn Metcalfe - back for one match, so there is something wrong with the system somewhere.

"To be honest, I didn’t enjoy last season so much, but I spoke to Rob Moffatt - who did his teaching degree at Jordanhill and had a placement at my primary school at Bearsden, so we go back a long way, too - about retiring, and he told me not to be daft, to play at as high a level as I could, and I have enjoyed this season. I can maybe carry on and play another two or three. Whether I am selected or not depends on Shade."

To which Munro is happy to respond: "The more Cammy Littles there are out there the better, as far as I’m concerned."