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Dundee FC

The making of Dundee star Lyall Cameron: From Tannadice turmoil to Dens rebirth in his own words

Lyall Cameron has become one of the Dark Blues' hottest prospects in recent years.
George Cran
Lyall Cameron
Dundee star Lyall Cameron has been a standout star over the last two seasons. Image: SNS

For a professional footballer, being recognised at a driving range on a Saturday afternoon, during the season, then being asked: “Have you nothing better to be doing?” is likely to serve as something of a wake-up call.

Not least for a young player who isn’t sure yet whether he can even make it at the top level.

Lyall Cameron lived that very situation as a 19-year-old.

Soon after, a bounce game against Montrose lifted him from his youthful funk before a superb “now or never” breakthrough season made him a star at Dens Park.

Last term saw two Young Player of the Year nominations and a place in the Scotland U/21 setup, not to mention a regular starting spot at Dundee.

Lyall Cameron celebrates his first Scotland U/21 goal in Belgium. Image: Shutterstock
Dundee’s Lyall Cameron (right) celebrates his first Scotland U/21 goal in Belgium. Image: Shutterstock

But how did he get there?

This is the making of Dundee’s Lyall Cameron, in his own words.

Setbacks and how a young player deals with them are often the making of a serious pro.

Cameron endured a few of them in his fledgling career.

First, he fell out of love with the game and left the Dundee United youth setup.

“I really enjoyed being part of the academy but I think after a while I lost love for it a wee bit, I was played out of position,” Cameron recalled.

“They just weren’t willing to play me where I wanted to, they thought there were better players and I got pushed out to the side.

“That was hard and I struggled with that. And I’m not one who wants to be there if I’m not enjoying it and I wasn’t enjoying it.

Lyall Cameron is the first Dundee player to win the three main prizes at the DSA Player of the Year awards. Image: David Young
Lyall Cameron was the first Dundee player to win all the three main prizes at the DSA Player of the Year awards in 2023 – but it wasn’t all plain sailing in the years prior. Image: David Young

“At that age, it’s about enjoying your football and I wasn’t. That meant I wasn’t getting any better, too.

“So I decided to leave United and that was a big decision.

“It was a big shock because people don’t really move between United and Dundee.

“But I decided I was going to do it – and it was the right decision.”

The impact of Dark Blues coaching team Steve and Tony Murray saw Cameron rediscover that love for the game.

“It was just great fun,” the midfielder recalls.

One of his favourite moments in football came shortly afterwards.

But neither Dundee nor Dundee United were involved – instead it was at a schools football final.

“Initially when you were at the SFA Performance School you couldn’t play for the St John’s school team,” Cameron said.

“But I’d left the Performance School in third year to come and do a scholarship thing with Dundee.

“So in fourth year I started playing for the school team – I loved playing with my mates, it was great fun.

Lyall Cameron (right) celebrates after scoring for St John’s in the Senior Shield final at Hampden. Image: Lyall Cameron

“I think we won every trophy including the Senior Shield through at Hampden.

“By that time the Performance School boys could play too, so Fin (Robertson, of Dundee) was playing then, and Archie Meekison from United.

“We won 3-2 and I scored the third to win, an amazing feeling. I still think that is one of my favourite moments in football.

“Scoring with all your mates and family at Hampden was great.”

After his move across the city, confidence was building for the young Cameron.

That confidence would eventually help him become Dundee’s Player of the Year in 2022/23.

“I kind of always believed it when I was younger,” he explained.

“But I got the setback at United and they obviously didn’t think I was good enough.

“So there was a bit of doubt there but I always believed.

“I moved to Dundee and loved it and started to think I can play at this level.

“I started going up the levels and at U/18 level James McPake and Darren O’Dea were my coaches.

Cammy Kerr (right) has been a major influence on Cameron at Dundee. Image: SNS

“They were massive for me.

“Cammy Kerr was my coach as well along with Gary Ogilvie.

“I’ve had a good selection of coaches and they gave me the belief I could be a footballer.

“They thought I did have what it takes and that gave me confidence.”

Cameron’s self-belief took a major hit in his first start for Dundee.

The then 17-year-old was a surprise inclusion by then-boss McPake in a Championship clash at Dunfermline.

It didn’t go well.

Asked about the biggest setback in his career, Cameron immediately recalled that day at East End Park.

“Definitely my first start for Dundee, away at Dunfermline,” he added.

“Again I was out wide on the right. As soon as the game kicked off, I got the ball and just kicked it out the pitch. It wasn’t going well for me.

“I lost the ball and Kevin Nisbet goes and scores a really good goal.

Lyall Cameron made his first Dundee start at Dunfermline in 2020. Image: SNS
Lyall Cameron remembers his first Dundee start at Dunfermline for the wrong reasons. Image: SNS

“My confidence was shattered and I was taken off at half-time.

“I didn’t want to show my face in Dundee and I thought that was it. It ended up being two-and-a-half years until I played for Dundee again.

“My confidence was shattered and it was on TV so everyone saw it.

“You’re scared that’s your chance gone.

“That was a really hard period for me, I didn’t deal with it very well and it took me a good while to recover.”

A loan spell at Peterhead helped rebuild his confidence. So much that they wanted him back for a second stint.

However, discord between the clubs left Cameron in limbo – and heading for that driving range on a Saturday afternoon.

“There was a disagreement between Dundee and Peterhead,” he recalled.

“So I ended up with nothing to do on Saturdays, I’d be in the house on my own.

“I remember I went to the driving range one Saturday, there was no one else there.

“I got the balls and the guy’s said to me: ‘Have you nothing better to be doing?’

That went straight to my head.

“I ended up leaving the balls and I left, my head was gone.”

Lyall Cameron in action for Peterhead. Image: Darrell Benns

The desire to play in the centre of the pitch continued to be strong.

Yet Cameron was frustrated by the lack of chances he was getting in that position.

Now, at the top level of football in the country, he’s 100% a central midfielder.

But he admits his shorter stature may have played a part in the previous reluctance of coaches to play him centrally.

Was his height ever an issue when coming through the ranks?

Cameron replied: “Not directly. My technical ability was never questioned but I was pushed out to play in other places which maybe sums it up.

“You can’t play in the midfield. They didn’t say it was because I wasn’t big enough but in view there wasn’t any other reason why I couldn’t.

Lyall Cameron celebrates his goal. Image: SNS
Lyall Cameron (centre)’s diminutive stature has been no impediment to success with Dundee. Image: SNS

“I was shoved out wide, shoved out wide. Even on loan at Peterhead. You don’t have to be big out there.

“It was indirect but in the lower leagues I wasn’t being trusted to play central midfield.

“Even when I did, I thought I did well. I was good at it but I never really got trusted to do that until I went to Montrose.

“Stewart Petrie put his trust in me there and played me where I wanted. That changed everything for me.”

Montrose did indeed change everything.

Not least to get Cameron out of the limbo between Dundee and Peterhead.

He would join the Gable Endies for the final few matches of the season and helped them qualify for the League One play-offs.

The following season he got his chance in the Dark Blues first team. And, boy, did he take it.

“I played Montrose in a friendly and played really well. I got a phone call from Ross Campbell asking if I wanted to come and play,” Cameron said.

Lyall Cameron credits a loan stint at Montrose as a turning point in his career. Image: SNS

“Montrose were third but I couldn’t get a game for Peterhead, who were bottom.

“Montrose wanted me and I was like: ‘What’s going on here?’

“But I was delighted and there were 12 games to go. I think I played every game and we made the play-offs and that totally revitalised everything for me.

“I’m hugely grateful to Stewart Petrie and Ross Campbell for that opportunity.

“It’s a great club and I enjoyed every minute.

“I played in midfield as well and I thought: ‘I can play central midfield in men’s football.’

“That summer Gary Bowyer came in at Dundee and it was a totally fresh start in what was the final year of my contract, so at that time it was now or never.”

Cameron seized his chance and proved his worth. The big question now is, how far can the midfielder go?

Watching him answer it should be a thrill for Dundee fans in the season to come.