Ex-Leeds, Swindon, Bradford and Stoke man Chris Kamara: My dad forbid me becoming a footballer and I had to join the Royal Navy - but Portsmouth came to my rescue

Chris Kamara has revealed how his dad didn’t believe football was a suitable career, packing him off to the Royal Navy rather than signing for Middlesbrough.

Monday, 27th December 2021, 4:55 am

However, a chance appearance against Pompey would see Fratton Park provide the platform for 19 years as a professional footballer.

While Kamara is an instantly recognisable television presence, he forged a highly-successful playing career comprising nine different clubs, including Leeds, Swindon, Sheffield United, Stoke and Bradford.

In the 2020 book Played Up Pompey Three, the Sky Sports stalwart explained how he was spotted by Blues youth-team manager Ray Crawford while playing at HMS Vernon.

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And he went on to become a footballer after all – despite his dad’s strong misgivings.

‘A lot of people are unaware I played and managed in football – and it all started at Pompey.

‘As a 16-year-old, I joined the Navy and, within a short space of time, was drafted into their football team, but it wasn’t straightforward.

Chris Kamara entered the medial world when his football days ended - and remains a highly-popular television personality

‘My early Navy training was at Torpoint, Cornwall, where, coincidentally, the Navy’s football team trained, so I went along to watch and enquired if I could join the squad. Unfortunately not, explained the coach, and it was due to three reasons.

‘He told me: “The first is you are too skinny, the second is you are black and this lot will kick lumps out of you, and the third is you’re only here for six months anyway”.

‘I could understand his points. After your initial six months with the Navy, both parties had the choice of whether to continue. In terms of racism, certainly I was aware, that’s how it was in the 1970s, so wasn’t a problem.

‘Then, one night while I was running around the athletics track, the coach approached and said: “I’m two players short for a practice match, how about you play on one team and I play on the other?”. So I did – and managed to score twice.

Chris Kamara spent two spells at Pompey after recruited from the Royal Navy

‘I was subsequently taken away from my responsibilities and drafted into the Navy squad based at HMS Vernon, in Portsmouth.

‘Not long after, in November 1974, the under-18s had a fixture against Pompey’s youth team at HMS Vernon’s football pitches and, despite being aged 16, I was included. Pompey won 5-2, although I managed to score twice from midfield.

‘Afterwards, the Blues’ youth-team manager, Ray Crawford, asked the Navy coach, Henry Stenhouse, about me. Ray told him: “I need to speak to our first-team manager, Ian St John. I think we’d like to buy Chris out”.

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‘Well, in another few months they could have had me for nothing, upon the expiry of my opening six months in the Navy, and Ray was told as much. However, he insisted they wanted me now.

‘St John gave his approval the following day and Pompey paid £200 to the Navy, making me the manager’s first signing.’

Kamara would join a Blues youth team containing the likes of Steve Foster, Keith Viney, Leigh Barnard, Alan Knight, Peter Denyer, Dave Pullar and Billy Eames.

Through their impressive performances in the South-east Counties League, they would all soon be elevated into the first-team, primarily under Ian St John.

Kamara added: ‘The reason I was in the Navy in the first place was because my dad, Albert, wouldn’t let me accept the offer of a footballing apprenticeship with my home-town club Middlesbrough.

‘He was from Sierra Leone and, during the Second World War, the allies recruited from Commonwealth countries to work on ships, which included my dad, who joined the Royal Navy.

‘Now I would never make my kids do anything against their will, but back in those days you did what you were told by your parents. You either carried out their wishes or left home, there was no in between – you couldn’t defy your parents and remain living with them.

‘So dad made my brother join the Army and me the Navy.

‘He believed the armed forces would instil the discipline and opportunities to enable you to provide for a family, like he’d done. For him, football was not a job which could earn you serious money.

‘Dave Richardson, the manager of Middlesbrough’s under-16s, even came round our house to persuade my dad to let me sign – but he wasn’t having any of it. When I left school at the age of 16, I went straight into the Navy.

‘I thank my dad for it now because six of the lads who received apprenticeships were released at the age of 18.

‘That could have been me two years down the line, instead I took an alternative route into the game which saw me play professionally until the age of 37.’

Chris Kamara made 84 appearances and scored 10 times for Pompey from November 1974 until August 1977 and then August 1981 until October 1981.

Played Up Pompey Three is available from Waterstone’s, Pompey’s club shop and Amazon.

Played Up Pompey (paperback) and Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart are also on sale from the above.

Alternatively, contact [email protected] for copies autographed by those featured in the books, including the signatures of Michael Doyle, Benjani, Alan Knight, Guy Whittingham, Martin Kuhl, Sammy Igoe, Dave Munks, Sean Raggett and Lee Brown.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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