Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…
Few players in Premier League history made such contrasting impacts at their different clubs as Titi Camara, the former Liverpool and West Ham striker.
At Anfield, the Guinean remains a cult hero remembered with affection and respect. At West Ham, he is so deeply unpopular that the mere mention of Camara’s name still makes many Hammers fans involuntarily unleash a volley of terrible swear words.
So how can one man divide opinion in such emphatic fashion?
Camara signed for the Reds from Marseille for £2.5m in the summer of 1999 and made an instant impression, scoring the winner on his debut with a 25-yard strike against Sheffield Wednesday. It prompted Gary Lineker to quip on Match of the Day, “Camara has no negatives”, a joke you couldn’t do on TV these days because younger viewers would be too confused.
The goals continued in Camara’s first few months at Anfield, with Jamie Carragher even comparing him - and we kid you not - to Pele. “Every time you gave him the ball he was flicking it over someone’s head or scoring some great goals,” said the former club captain after Camara was voted 91st by the club’s fans in a list of 100 players who “shook the Kop”.
“The one thing that stood out about him was he seemed to play each game with great enthusiasm and a smile on his face,” recalled one fan on the LFC Reds forum.
But it would be Camara’s tears that would endear him eternally to the Liverpool faithful. In October 1999, after scoring a late winner at Anfield against West Ham, the striker fell to his knees and cried. Unbeknownst to the crowd, Camara’s father had died the previous day. As Gerard Houllier’s only fit striker at the time, Camara had insisted on playing.
The player’s second season on Merseyside was less accomplished, and he was demoted to the reserves before being sold to West Ham in December 2000 for £1.5m. After being handed a lucrative long-term contract, Camara declared that he had come to Upton Park to “score, score, score”. Over the following three years he enjoyed a variety of interesting experiences in east London, but scoring was not one of them.
Not that he didn’t have the chances. Stories are legion of Camara’s attempts to break his duck.
“I recall him trying an overhead kick at Upton Park once and he missed the ball completely,” said one fan, with others remembering when Camara “missed from 10 yards against Forest” or “swung at the ball wildly and completely missed it” against Oldham or “blazed the ball so high over the bar and stand that it probably hasn’t landed yet” at Leicester.
“A fat fraud” was how one Hammers fan on the Westhamonline site succinctly summarised Camara, whose physique was often cited as the reason for his failure to recapture his early Liverpool form.
Always on the ‘beefy’ side even during his purple patch at Anfield, Camara’s frame appeared even more substantial in his West Ham days.
“A man who obviously liked his burger and chips” was how one Hammers fan put it, while another recalled him sporting an XXL-sized kit during a match. Camara is especially noted by West Ham fans for his “not inconsiderable backside”, described by one supporter as being “like a rucksack” and possibly explaining why he once entered the field wearing “a huge over-sized pair of white shorts”.
“He made me cringe every time I saw him wear our shirt and when he missed another sitter I just wanted to smack him around the face and get him away from my club,” is the publishable version of Camara’s career highlights submitted by one Hammer, who got his wish when the player left England for the Saudi league in 2003.
After retiring in 2006, Camara briefly moved into politics as Guinea’s sports minister, but he most recently made headlines by announcing on Twitter that he would be signing copies of his new book at a Greggs bakery in Liverpool. Sadly for any West Ham fans who made the journey north to greet him, it turned out to be a hoax.