Good, Bad & Ugly catches up with Alec Chamberlain
GOOD BAD & UGLY: ALEC CHAMBERLAIN
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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