Good, Bad & Ugly catches up with Alec Cham­ber­lain

GOOD BAD & UGLY: ALEC CHAM­BER­LAIN

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Alec Cham­ber­lain was re­leased by Bobby Rob­son at the age of 18, the ‘farmer’s boy from Ram­sey’ feared he may be forced back to life in the fields.

Yet 33 years on, the goal­keeper has made more than 700 ap­pear­ances, played at Wem­b­ley and won three pro­mo­tions to the Pre­mier League.

Along the way he’s been bru­talised by Alan Shearer, jeered by Roker Park and al­most be­headed Sean Dy­che – not to men­tion be­com­ing a Wat­ford leg­end.

Now a coach at Vicarage Road, the 50-year-old guides us through the highs and lows of a ca­reer that spanned three decades and nine clubs.

FIRST CLUB

I was play­ing county foot­ball for Hunt­ing­don­shire and I had about five dif­fer­ent tri­als. One of them was at Ip­swich Town and thank­fully they of­fered me a con­tract.

It was the year they’d won the UEFA Cup and it was a priv­i­lege to go and watch them play af­ter youth team games. Frans Thi­jssen, Arnold Muhren, Terry Butcher, Mick Mills, Paul Mariner, Eric Gates, Alan Brazil – they were all the names I’d grown up watch­ing.

That was Bobby Rob­son’s last year as well and not many peo­ple can say they had some­one like that as their first manager.

Un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t have a great year. It’s tough when you’re com­ing straight out of school and I was a 17-year-old try­ing to make an im­pres­sion on one of the best teams in Eng­land. More or less the last thing Bobby did be­fore go­ing off to be­come Eng­land manager was re­lease about ten play­ers, in­clud­ing me.

But I met him again many years later when he was manager of New­cas­tle. He still re­mem­bered me and said some re­ally nice things about my ca­reer, which was a lovely thing to hear.

BEST MANAGER

I had a long time at Wat­ford and it’s hard to sep­a­rate Ray Lew­ing­ton and Gra­ham Tay­lor. Ray did an in­cred­i­ble job here un­der re­ally tough cir­cum­stances fi­nan­cially. He not only kept us in the Cham­pi­onship, he also made two Cup semi-fi­nals and made the club a lot of money.

But as a player, my most suc­cess­ful time was un­der Gra­ham. He won back-to-back pro­mo­tions in two dif­fer­ent eras and I was lucky enough to be part of the sec­ond one. He was a fan­tas­tic mo­ti­va­tor, tac­ti­cally he knew the game in­side out. He made me feel con­fi­dent ev­ery time I stepped on the pitch.

BEST TEAM-MATE

We’re go­ing back a bit here but I’ve got to say Tony Ad­cock at Colch­ester. He’s a guy I think could have made it to the very top.

Un­for­tu­nately he suf­fered a cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in­jury just when it was ru­moured that Liver­pool were about to make a bid.

He man­aged to carry on and have a good long ca­reer, but it prob­a­bly cost him that lit­tle bit of pace and mo­bil­ity he had at 19, 20, 21.

Even be­fore I signed for Colch­ester, I would go 20 miles up the road just to watch Tony play. He was a winger then, but later be­came a for­ward and struck up a great part­ner­ship with Keith Bowen.

His goalscor­ing record was fan­tas­tic, he could re­ceive the ball and turn ei­ther way. He would bend it into the far cor­ner, left foot or right. He could beat a man. He re­ally was a spe­cial player.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

Sun­der­land in 1995-96. Peter Reid had come in and had made it quite ob­vi­ous that he was try­ing to sign a new goal­keeper. Thank­fully he didn’t man­age to and I ended up play­ing the first 23 games.

Any­way, we had this young lad come in and train one morn­ing and af­ter­wards I’ve gone to see Peter just to find out the lie of the land and whether I’ll be get­ting a new con­tract. He said ‘No, and ac­tu­ally you’re not play­ing Sun­day’.

I said ‘What, who is then?’ He said ‘That young lad who trained with you this morn­ing’. It turned out to be none other than Shay Given and ob­vi­ously he did fanat­sti­cally well. Luck­ily for me, Shay broke his ribs and I came back in for the last seven games of the sea­son, kept five clean sheets and got all the glory!

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Keith Bowen, who I men­tioned ear­lier. We were a young bunch and when Keith came in from Brent­ford he was about three or four years older. He ab­so­lutely ran that dress­ing room. He was so quick, so sharp. No­body got away with any­thing. He had nick­names for us all and he re­mains my best friend to this day. He still de­stroys me - he’s a very funny man.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

Any­one who’s watched Match of the Day knows how much Sean Dy­che likes to talk. I used to share a car jour­ney with him for two years at Wat­ford and in all that time I could never get a word in edge­ways. I ba­si­cally used to just nod or shake my head.

Usu­ally, we had a ter­rific un­der­stand­ing on the pitch. But on one oc­ca­sion – a pre-sea­son game against Chelsea – things went awry.

Ba­si­cally, a ball got played over the top and, to this day, I swear I called for it. But in the heat of the battle, Dy­chey didn’t hear me.

So I’ve come charg­ing out the box to clear it, Dy­chey’s come the other way and in the end I ba­si­cally gave him a fly­ing head­butt smash in the face. I’ve burst his lips, ripped his tongue against his teeth, opened up a hor­ri­ble gash in his mouth.

Our physio ran on and said ‘Dy­chey, what’s the mat­ter’. And when Dy­chey showed him he went ‘Urggh no’ and looked away like he was go­ing to throw up.

It wasn’t nice at the time but when we watched it back you couldn’t help but laugh. And the best thing was I got a nice quiet jour­ney for the next cou­ple of weeks! Mind you, he’s never let me for­get it since. He still pre­tends I never shouted.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

Pro­mo­tion with Wat­ford in ‘99. We’d gone up the year be­fore, then came with a re­ally late run to fin­ish sixth in the Cham­pi­onship. I saved a cou­ple

of penal­ties in the play-off semi shoot-out against Birm­ing­ham and then we beat Bolton 2-0 at the Old Wem­b­ley

I’d been a sub­sti­tute at Wem­b­ley three times in the past so it was nice to fi­nally get on the hal­lowed turf.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

I had a dif­fi­cult first sea­son at Sun­der­land. I’d taken over from a cult hero in Tony Nor­man and one or two in­ci­dents didn’t en­dear me to the fans. We were play­ing against Stoke, live on TV. Mark Wal­ters was on loan from Liver­pool and he scored a free-kick, over the wall and in off the post. I don’t think I had any chance but the fans were frus­trated and the next time I touched the ball, three sides of Roker Park were boo­ing me.

That was my tough­est mo­ment on a foot­ball pitch but you ei­ther sink or swim. I came through it and by the time I left two years later we’d had a lot of suc­cess.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

Grimsby Town. They gave you a tough game in those days and when the weather was bad, it was re­ally bad. The wind and rain used to howl in off the North Sea.

I re­mem­ber play­ing against them with Sun­der­land in a game that should never have started.

The pitch was wa­ter­logged. Sleet and snow were com­ing down at the same time. We al­most got hy­pother­mia and it got aban­doned af­ter 20 min­utes.

On an­other oc­ca­sion I came on as sub be­cause Espen Baard­sen had torn his groin off the bone try­ing to take a goal-kick into the wind.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

The one that sticks out is Alan Shearer. In his pomp, he had a bit of ev­ery­thing. He could hit a vol­ley from any­where, his link up play was great.

His move­ment was clever, he had a bit of pace. And above all, he was ag­gres­sive.You knew that if he had a chance to leave some­thing on you, he’d take it.

I’ve got a cou­ple of pic­tures at home where he put me on my back­side. When a cross came in, you knew he’d be chal­leng­ing.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

An­field. When I was grow­ing up, Liver­pool were the dom­i­nant side. And I al­ways found An­field that lit­tle bit tighter than most big grounds. The at­mos­phere was al­ways in­cred­i­ble.

I didn’t have much suc­cess there but it was a spe­cial place to go and when you walk down those steps and touch the ‘This is An­field’ sign, it’s some­thing that you can al­ways look back on with pride.

AM­BI­TION

Just to keep go­ing! I was a farmer’s boy from Ram­sey who left school at 17. To still be in foot­ball 33 years later makes me feel very lucky. I want to stay here and I want to help Wat­ford back into the Pre­mier League.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

Best manager: Gra­ham Tay­lor

Tough­est place to go: Blun­dell Park

Fi­nal pro­mo­tion: Wat­ford 05/06

Big­gest achieve­ment: Wat­ford pro­mo­tion ‘99

Fun­ni­est in­ci­dent: Dy­che col­li­sion

Favourite place to go: An­field

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