The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 21 of 25
If form is temporary and class is permanent, then we shouldn’t worry too much about Nottingham Forest’s current league position when considering whether Northern Ireland’s number one is among the best players outside the Premier League. You decided he is and voted him one of the 25 best players in the Championship, which means Joe Harrison had to write about him.
Lee Camp (Nottingham Forest)
Lists of this type rarely feature an abundance of goalkeepers. Goalscorers or creators tend to grab both the headlines and the majority of positions in compilations such as this. Those charged with preventing their success, though often ignored, are no less crucial. Any football fan knows that a bad goalkeeper can fatally undermine an otherwise excellent team, whilst a good one can make a solid defence seem impregnable.
Nottingham Forest fans have perhaps learned this more than most in recent years. Billy Davies’s side were able to achieve consecutive top-six finishes despite scoring relatively few goals because they were even more parsimonious at the other end, with a defence built around their goalkeeper Lee Camp.
Camp began his career at Derby County and, after gaining some first-team experience during loan spells at Burton Albion and Queen’s Park Rangers, established himself as first choice for the Rams in the 2004/05 season. Despite making over 80 league appearances in the next two seasons, the signing of Stephen Bywater saw Camp displaced in the team. Eventually, he moved on loan to Norwich and then, again, to QPR.
Suffice to say, observers of Camp and Bywater in recent years may well question that decision. Having helped them to avoid relegation in the Championship during his loan spell, Camp joined QPR permanently for £300,000 during the summer of 2007, going on to be ever-present for the Londoners that season.
However, Camp became a victim of what was quickly becoming a circus at Loftus Road – managerial changes meaning that shortly after signing a new and improved four and a half year deal, he found himself out of the team and on loan once again. This time he was off to Nottingham Forest for three months, beginning in October 2008. Camp made himself an instant hero at the City Ground by saving a penalty against fierce rivals (and of course, his former side) Derby; always an advisable way to start. Though an agreement was not reached to extend his loan when it expired, he did return on a permanent deal the following summer.
The past two and a half years have seen Camp become an indispensable part of the side, the cornerstone around which Davies built his strong defence. He has now made over 100 league appearances for the midlands club, is popular with their fans and widely respected and admired by followers of other clubs. Many goalkeepers at this level are outstanding in one or two areas of their craft while having serious deficiencies in others, but as Pat Riddell, of Nottingham Forest blog Seat Pitch, explains, Camp is far more well-rounded.
“His command of the area as well as shot-stopping and distribution mark him out”, says Riddell. “While some believe he’s arrogant, Forest fans will merely point at a confidence and self-belief that filter through the players in front of him.”
Camp’s form and reliability have led to international recognition – capped by England at Under-21 level, many feel he was unlucky never to have made it into one of Fabio Capello’s full England squads. With no indication that this was likely to change, he eventually opted to play for Northern Ireland, making his debut against Serbia on 15th March 2011.
He was also the subject of numerous transfer bids this summer from newly-promoted Swansea City – considering what a revelation Michel Vorm has been, it says something about Camp that he was considered a higher priority target than the Dutchman. However, after staying at the City Ground, Riddell feels that Camp “hasn’t quite looked the same player this season” – offering possible explanations such as the effect on missing out on a Premier League move, being overlooked for the Forest captaincy, or “simply suffering from the departure of Billy Davies and the disastrous reign of Steve McClaren”.
It is of course also true that Camp is hardly alone among Forest’s squad in lacking form so far this season and he cannot have been aided by the uncharacteristically fragile backline in front of him during McClaren’s ill-fated time at the helm.
Steve Cotterill’s arrival may mark a turning point for Camp. Though Forest are still struggling for form and goals, they have begun to stem the flow at the other end, cutting out some of the glaring errors and lapses of concentration that cost them so dearly in the early days of the season. A squad of Forest’s quality must be expected to find form sooner rather than later and with a more stable and reliable back four, it is unlikely to be long before Camp returns to the sparkling form of previous seasons.
It is clear that however the remainder of Forest’s season pans out, Camp and his ability to single-handedly win points will prove crucial to them. As Riddell points out, at just 27 Camp is perhaps yet to reach his peak as goalkeeper and could easily have another decade to star in lists such as this – or even Premier League equivalents.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.