The story of the striker who was ahead of Harry Kane at Spurs but played once

Cameron Lancaster came through the Tottenham ranks with Harry Kane and actually made his Premier League debut before the England international, albeit he enjoyed just 15 minutes of fame before the wheels came off.

Lancaster and Kane were in the same age group in the Spurs academy, and back in 2012 the two strikers were among several youngsters tipped with a chance of establishing themselves in the first team.

Their careers at White Hart Lane would eventually head in rather different directions, but initially it looked as though it was Cameron who was most likely to make his breakthrough during a tumultuous time for the club.

“At the time it was good, but it was sort of all over the place as back then they were going through manager after manager,” Lancaster says.

“When I first went in there at under-14 or 15, it was Martin Jol and when I signed my pro contract it was Redknapp.

“They were bringing in quite a few foreign players, guys from overseas. My group had a lot of good talent in it, including a lot who are playing in the Premier League now.

“Overall it was really good – we had some really good coaches like Tim Sherwood, Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand, and you can’t really ask for a better striking coach than Les Ferdinand.”

Lancaster’s form for the youth team and reserves didn’t go unnoticed and saw him sent out on loan as a teenager, but he found the change in style a tough thing to adapt to at a tender age having been brought up with Spurs’ philosophy running through him.

“I think I went on loan a bit too young at 17 or 18 at Dagenham and Redbridge,” he says, “and you can imagine what sort of football they were playing.

“I wasn’t used to that sort of style of play, but the growing up part of going on loan definitely helped, I matured quite a bit in the four months there.”

Training with the first team

Upon returning to Spurs, Lancaster was regularly training with the senior players, including future Champions League winners Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, as the local forward looked to make the breakthrough at White Hart Lane.

“I was around 18 or 19, they picked a few of us out every now and again to go up to train with the first team for the experience when they were lacking numbers.

“The season I made my debut I dipped in and out quite a bit.

“Ledley King was still there, and there was Scott Parker, Modric, Bale, (Emmanuel) Adebayor and Louis Saha, who I learned a lot from by just watching him train. With his finishing and his movement, he was a good one to watch.”

Even though he was on the fringes of the first-team squad, Lancaster’s call-up from Harry Redknapp for the match against Wigan in January 2012 still came as a surprise, leaving the striker with hazy memories of the occasion after he replaced Adebayor in the 78th minute.

“I honestly didn’t think I was that close,” he says. “I was on the bench the year before I made my debut in the Europa League, but quite a few of us had that opportunity. I didn’t feel that close to making my debut or being part of the first team.

“I was training one morning and had quite a good training session. They were lacking in numbers for the game against Wigan and (Roman) Pavlyuchenko was about to be sold so that’s how I got my opportunity.

“It was all bit of a blur. I remember going out after training to get some brand new boots for the game.

“I remember warming up, then Redknapp called me over to say I was going on for the last 15 minutes and all he said was to go and enjoy myself, do a job for the team.”

Beginning of the end

Thanks to his progress, Lancaster was rewarded with a two-year contract as Andre Villas-Boas arrived as manager. His coaches were sure he would be able to make an impact at the club, but injury would put paid to his Spurs career.

He went from making his Premier League debut to never being close to the first team again. It’s a familiar story.

“It was Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand who came together and said that I had a real chance of cracking it at Spurs,” Lancaster says.

“That was the summer AVB came in and I started training with the first-team for pre-season, but it was literally within the first week I got quite a bad injury.

“I ended up snapping my groin off the bone and that set me back near enough a year. After that it was injury upon injury and I couldn’t get going to kickstart my career.

“I wasn’t too disappointed about not playing again as it was just a conveyor belt of talent at that club; if one year doesn’t make the grade they’re just going to bring in some younger lot and hope that they do.

“After that injury I got back for six months and then did my ACL, then by the time I’d come back my contract was up and I thought it was right for both us to call it a day there and move on.”

Life after the Lane

Upon his release in 2014, Lancaster joined Graham Westley’s Stevenage, but despite a debut winner against AFC Wimbledon, he didn’t win over the manager and left within six months for non-league St Albans ahead of a move to his current club Louisville City in America’s USL Eastern Conference.

“I went to Stevenage to get back into the swing of things, but that was straight off the back of my ACL injury. I was just trying to get fit, play some games and see where it would take me, but the manager there didn’t really give me enough time, I feel.

“Then I got the opportunity to come over here when I knew I was going to leave Stevenage so I went to St Albans to get fit and get ready to come over here so I could make a difference when I did.

“I had a few options, but I wanted a change of scenery, knuckle down and get my head back in the game, trying to make the most of things.

“I like travelling quite a bit so I wanted to get out and see the world a bit more than just staying in London.”

Lancaster settled quickly in Louisville due to his comfortable surroundings and the improving standards in the USA’s second tier, with the likes of Joe Cole moving to the league.

“I am just enjoying playing,” he says. “The facilities are great, the weather’s great, the league is really stepping up, especially in the last couple of years and I’m really enjoying my football and seeing where it takes me.”

Lancaster might have been overtaken by Kane, but things haven’t worked out too badly.

By Will Unwin

This article was originally published in July 2017.

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