Stranraer’s English goalkeeper Cameron Belford is looking to make up for last season’s disappointment with a push up the table in League One this season.
The stopper, who started off his career at Coventry, is experienced enough now to know how tough a task it will be, in such a competitive league.
“Coventry were my local team at the time; they were in the Premier League. They are a massive, massive club. I was there from the ages 8 years to 17 / 18, and took that experience of playing at a big club, forward into my career.”
After leaving Coventry, Belford settled at Bury, where he has made the most appearances in his career, to date.
“I spent six years at Bury; I was only 18 at the time and for the first couple of seasons I was just experiencing a first team environment – sitting on the bench and getting a game here and there. My first ‘actual’ season at Bury, we ended up winning League Two, which was a phenomenal feeling. We stayed up the following season but after we got relegated to League One, I moved on. This was still the most successful period in my career, however, in terms of promotions and I will always look back on my time there with pride.”
The goalkeeper spent spells on loan at Southend and Accrington, before permanently leaving Bury in the summer of 2013.
“I was sitting on the bench for the first couple of months of the season and I thought, after playing so many games at such a youg age, I just wanted to continue that. That is why I joined Southend and I really enjoyed my time there: we were going for the play-offs in League Two but we eventually lost to the winners who won through that year. I then went off to Accrington and played a month there but then I went back to Bury and we ended up getting relegated from League One.”
Belford then dropped down to non-league, part-time football, in England – sandwiched between spells at Mansfield and Swindon.
“I had a good year at Tamworth – I played every single minute of every single game. I think I played 50-odd games in total. I had dropped down to non-league in the hope of getting back into the Football League, and I signed with Mansfield Town at the beginning of the following season,” explains Belford, who left Mansfield after just a few months. “Because the season had started I thought it would be really difficult to get another club; I went and played a bit of non-league football, lower down, and it was the first time in my career, I had dropped that low and I did find it difficult mixing the part-time football with the home situations, so I did fall out of love [with football] a little bit, but, I did end the season with Swindon Town, and we ended up going to the play-off final at Wembley that year, losing out to Preston. It all ended successfully and I moved to Wrexham the following season.”
Despite making 19 appearances for Wrexham, Belford moved on loan to Stranraer in January 2016.
“The manager [at Wrexham] decided he was going to take me out the team and we had a bit of a difference of opinion on that one. We decided it was best if I possibly found another club. As random as it was, the call came in from Brian Reid at Stranraer; there was a connection as, when I was at Tamworth, at that time, a few years back, Brian was manager of Nuneaton Town, which were Tamworth’s main rivals. He had been to a few games and seen a couple of my performances. He knew I was available, made the call and it all happened quite quickly. When the call came in, I saw it as a different experience and a new adventure for me, in terms of playing in a country I hadn’t played in before and in a league I knew nothing about. We had a lad at Wrexham at the time, Mark Carrington, who had played with Hamilton: he told me how he enjoyed his time up in Scotland and that I should go for it as it is a really good experience.”
The first six months of his career in Scotland involved a lot of travelling, but Belford and his family are now settled into life in Glasgow.
“Being full-time still, in England, [at Wrexham] we made the decision when the loan happened, to stay and train down south the first half of the week, then travel up to Glasgow and train on the Thursday – the club had sorted out the hotel for me on the Thursday and Friday nights. Play the game on the Saturday then travel back down for training again on the Monday,” explains Belford. “I’m not one to turn down playing football. The travelling wasn’t a problem for me as I was back enjoying my football and playing again. The club were sorting out accomodation for me and that made it a lot easier. You are only happy when you are playing football – I came up to Stranraer and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a good run of form and I kept a few clean sheets – I felt I was getting my form back to a level I knew I could be at: I had a very successful season and so did the club, albeit the end of the season wasn’t what we wanted and was disappointing, where we started in January to where we finished was a massive improvement and we all took heart from that. We are settling up here nicely now – my partner is working, my kids are in nursery…hopefully this season at Stranraer we can kick on further and make the transition a lot easier.”
With hopes high for another crack at promotion this season, the overall feeling of underachievement at Stair Park can only motivate the players heading into next season.
“I felt there was some unfinished business there [at Stranraer – after losing in the play-off final to Ayr]. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to stay. We had discussions before the season started, as I was out of contract at Wrexham, and we decided to go our separate ways leading up to the play-offs and while nothing was finalised at that stage, the play-off final made me want to stay even more to rectify not getting promotion. It didn’t quite work out that way last season – I think the defeat in the play-offs hurt us a little bit and that is how we started last season. It was still in our minds and we started very slowly. We fell well short of the standards we had set ourselves in season 2015-16 and also last season,” continues Belford. “It was disappointing for everyone – the fans, the team and the club as a whole. We didn’t want to be fighting relegation – we knew we had the squad to go and fight for promotion last season and I think we showed that, at the tail end of last season once the new manager [Stevie Farrell] came in, and in the form we showed.”
After the disappointment of last season, the experienced keeper feels Stranraer are capable of competing much better next season, despite the competitiveness expected once the League One campaign kicks off in August.
“The lads who have been kept on, myself included, have got a lot to prove to the manager and the club. We’ve made a few good additions, the squad is coming together nicely and there is no reason why we can’t be challenging at the top end of the table. A lot of people don’t like coming to Stranraer, it is a very difficult place to play. It is out the way, it is a long journey for them. We use that to our advantage sometimes. There is a big strong togetherness at Stranraer, they do everything they can for the boys – they look after your family and it is a well run club which does everything professionally.”
The BetFred Cup draw was made on Friday evening with Stranraer being drawn against Partick Thistle, St Mirren, Airdrieonians and Livingston in Group H. Speaking ahead of the draw, Belford told JordanBurtFootball.com
“I think the club profited quite well from the Rangers game at Ibrox last year. We also played Motherwell at home and they brought a great travelling support. I think it is great that the lads can go and test themselves against the best teams in Scotland. Some of the bigger clubs may view it as still being pre-season for them, whereas, it is all big games for us lower league sides. You want to be up there and prove yourself against the best players. I think it is a good format – it is a new one for me, playing cup games before the season starts but I think it works really well.”
Having been up north for 18 months now, Belford is aware of how tough the league is going to be next season, especially with three full-time teams in it.
“The standard of League One in Scotland is equivalent to the National League in England. I think the bigger teams, like Rangers and Aberdeen could probably hold their own in the English Championship, and obviously Celtic could do the same in the Premiership. I think the standard of teams in Scotland is quite close because financially speaking, as they are all in the same boat, really. But, I’ve found it a very good standard of football – there are a lot of good players in our league. I didn’t know what to expect and it has been an eye-opener for me in terms of how good the football is up here, across all the leagues. I said this to the manager – I wouldn’t sign for a club that doesn’t aim to get promoted and get out the league they are in because it shows a lack of ambition. That is what the manager wants and it is what the club want. There is a good chance we can get to the play-offs in the new season. It is going to be tough, playing against three full-time sides, but there have always been a couple of full-time sides [in League One] since I came to Scotland and they usually do well, but there is no reason why we can’t push to get out of this league, next season,” says Belford, before concluding, “At the moment, part-time football suits me. I’ve enjoyed the time off with my family because I’d not had many chances to spend time with them when I played full-time football, so, that was nice last season. Ultimately, I’ve always wanted to be a full-time footballer and if that opportunity came up again, then, maybe, but when you have the kids involved and the houses and things like that, it is sometimes difficult to go back full-time if it isn’t the standard you want it to be, so, I’ve got to take everything into consideration but at this moment in time, being part-time and playing for Stranraer is perfect for me and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”