In sharp contrast to modern era, Raith Rovers and Hearts legend Colin Cameron remembers going toe to toe with Old Firm for most of 1997-98 season

Colin Cameron (right) and ex-team-mate Stephane Adam celebrate Hearts goal (Pic SNS)Colin Cameron (right) and ex-team-mate Stephane Adam celebrate Hearts goal (Pic SNS)
Colin Cameron (right) and ex-team-mate Stephane Adam celebrate Hearts goal (Pic SNS)
Given the almost complete stranglehold that Celtic and Rangers currently have over the rest of the teams in Scotland’s top flight, younger football fans might struggle to comprehend that Raith Rovers assistant boss Colin Cameron and his Hearts team-mates largely stood toe to toe with the Old Firm throughout the 1997-98 season as they sought an unlikely title win.

Hearts, managed by Jim Jefferies 25 years ago, were in contention with the big two for most of that Scottish Premier Division campaign, eventually finishing third on 67 points after 19 wins, 10 draws and seven defeats from their 36 league games.

But – vastly unlike the most recent Scottish Premiership season, which ended with winners Celtic and second-placed Rangers a mammoth 42 and 35 points respectively ahead of third-placed Aberdeen – Cameron’s Hearts were just seven and five points respectively adrift of 1998 champions Celtic – managed by Wim Jansen – and runners-up Rangers, bossed by Walter Smith.

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“The only place we really fell down that season was in games against Celtic and Rangers,” Cameron, 50, who scored 48 goals in 157 Hearts league appearances between 1996 and 2001, told the Fife Free Press.

It may seem unbelievable now given the Old Firm's dominance, but Colin Cameron (pictured) almost won league with Hearts in 1998 (Pic Fife Photo Agency)It may seem unbelievable now given the Old Firm's dominance, but Colin Cameron (pictured) almost won league with Hearts in 1998 (Pic Fife Photo Agency)
It may seem unbelievable now given the Old Firm's dominance, but Colin Cameron (pictured) almost won league with Hearts in 1998 (Pic Fife Photo Agency)

“Obviously if you're going to win the league, you really need to beat them.

“We tried to go toe to toe with them. To be honest, they were blowing everybody else away.

“We were scoring goals for fun. We had goals from everywhere on the pitch.

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“I think I was in double figures, Neil McCann was in double figures, you’ve got Stephane Adam and even Robbo (John Robertson) was still chipping in at that point, big Jim Hamilton was in double figures and David Weir was chipping in with goals.

“I had actually developed a pelvic problem leading into the last quarter of the season. It started as a wee strain and then, as games progressed, it got slightly worse and worse to the point that I was just training Thursday, Friday and playing on the Saturday.

“Because we were still in with a chance of winning the league, we tried to persevere to get through it but we kind of faltered in the last half-dozen games.

"And by that point, we were in the Scottish Cup final – which they would win 2-1 against Rangers at Celtic Park, with Cameron scoring the first from the penalty spot – and we knew we weren’t going to win the league, so I tried to rest and I took injections to see if it would settle it down.

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“I ended up playing the last game of the season up at Aberdeen with these injections. It got me through the game but I could hardly walk at the end.

“I was like ‘how am I going to get through this final?’ I ended up getting a cortisone injection, I think it was about 10 days before the final.

“That allowed me to train the full week of the final and it felt great.

"Obviously the problem was there but the cortisone masked it and I was able to train pain-free until the day before the final and then I felt it again.

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“For one last hurrah, it was just a case of ‘inject me with as much as you can and get me through this game’.

“It was just local anaesthetic to get me through the game but thankfully it never went to extra time because I had nothing left to give.”

Cameron, affectionately nicknamed Mickey, shares many Scottish fans’ frustrations at the current chasm between the Old Firm and the rest in Scotland’s top flight.

He added: “It’s unfortunate because for any neutral, you want to see a competitive league.

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“Really, every season at the moment, you’re just looking at who’s going to win it, Rangers or Celtic, and who’s going to get into the European places.

“Listen, anything can happen so it’s definitely not impossible for someone other than the Old Firm to win the league.

“Not in the short-term future but hopefully in time, yes, someone else can win it because I think Scottish football needs it.”

After leaving Hearts, Cameron signed for English top-flight Wolverhampton Wanderers in a £1.75m deal in August 2001. He scored the club’s first ever Premiership goal – a headed effort past ex-England keeper David Seaman in a 1-0 home win over Manchester City – before becoming a big favourite with the fans at Molyneux over the next five years as he scored 23 times in 168 appearances.

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“I remember we lost all of the first three league games that season,” Cameron said.

“The third game was against Man United away and we feared the worst.

“We only lost that game 1-0 but Henri Camara, who went to Celtic, had three one-on-ones in that game so it gave us a bit of confidence.

“We played Man City at home and our fans down there were unbelievable. They really got behind the team and supported you every game.

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“I remember the ball got cleared to Henri, he’s whipped the ball in and I just thought ‘I’ll take a chance here’ and I managed to get in between two defenders and scored with my head.

“It was nice to see it going in and the fact that we got a victory got that monkey off our back.

“It was just unfortunate that season that we weren’t able to stay up.

“I just felt we were one or two players short and I didn’t think Dave Jones (then Wolves manager) got the backing from the club to get the players that might have been enough to help us over the line.

“We didn’t lose a game I scored in for Wolves but I think that just means that I didn’t score enough!”

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