Sheffield United: Campbell-Ryce hopes his old pals have a terrible night

Jamal Campbell-Ryce celebrates his equaliser against Oldham Athletic last weekend � copyright : Blades Sports Photography
Jamal Campbell-Ryce celebrates his equaliser against Oldham Athletic last weekend � copyright : Blades Sports Photography
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Jamal Campbell-Ryce pondered the question for a moment and then fixed his inquisitor with a cold, hard stare, writes James Shield.

“Am I looking forward to seeing my mates at Notts County again? No, not really because I hope they have a terrible night.

“I’ll be pals with them afterwards but during games there’s no such thing as a friend in football unless you’re on the same team and I’m a Sheffield United player now.”

Campbell-Ryce, the former Jamaica midfielder, was speaking as he prepares to face Shaun Derry’s side for the first time since leaving Meadow Lane during the close season. Conversation at the Redtooth Academy yesterday covered a number of topics, including his career, hopes for the future and, bizarrely, handshake protocol between players and managers.

But, when talk returned to a match which pits fifth versus sixth in the League One table, Campbell-Ryce left no room for doubt about why he joined United four months ago and what he wants to achieve come the end of the campaign.

“I came here to get promotion. There’s no point in beating around the bush or trying to pretend otherwise.

“What would be the point? We all know where this club should be and it’s up to us, as a group, to make sure that happens.

“I had a great time at Notts County. But, no disrespect to them, the reason why I’ve worked so hard all my career is to get to somewhere like Sheffield United. To earn the right to represent a club like this.

“It’s everything I expected and more. I’m fortunate enough to have represented some really good teams in the past and County are among them.

“But United are on a different scale. The expectation levels here, the amount of staff and just the whole stature really.

“It’s something I’m proud to be a part of and why, in my opinion, there’s nothing to be gained from playing down what we’re trying to do. After all, that’s why each and every one of us is here.”

Plain speaking is something Campbell-Ryce admires. Which, given Nigel Clough’s reputation for brutal honesty and frankness, is probably just as well.

Especially when, having made 79 appearances for this evening’s visitors, he initially found himself making cameos from the bench before being handed a first league start in United colours at Preston North End.

“The gaffer doesn’t mess about,” Campbell-Ryce said. “That’s one of the things I really respect about him and why he’s so good to work with.

“It was disappointing for me to begin with because I thought I’d done well enough during the friendlies to be in there right from the off. Obviously I hadn’t but I bided my time, worked hard and tried to be ready for when I got the chance.

“He (Clough) isn’t afraid to make the big calls. He’s not bothered whether someone is a big name or not. Everyone gets treated the same.

“He can muck in with the lads the same as his staff. But, when the need arises, he can also leave you in no doubt who is the manager and who is ultimately in charge.

“If we’ve done well then he’s more than happy to dish out the praise. If we’ve done badly then, no mistake, he’s also equally quick to let us know.”

Clough, who could include new signing Chris O’Grady in his squad for tonight’s contest, did the latter following last weekend’s draw with Oldham Athletic. Although Campbell-Ryce’s second-half goal secured United a draw - “I’ve told Jam to be quicker getting the ball out of the net when he’s equalised, not waste time celebrating in front of the stands” - Clough later described their performance as “below par” and “disappointing.”

A situation, with County yet to be beaten away from home in the competition this term and just a point behind them in the rankings, United must address.

“Shaun has done a terrific job there,” Clough said. “He kept them up last season and that will have given everyone there a huge lift.

“But they’ve kicked on and one of the reasons for that, looking in from the outside at least, is their spirit. They’ve got some good players but they also work hard for each other and stick together like glue.”

Campbell-Ryce, signed by Derry’s predecessor Keith Curle, is also an admirer of the 36-year-old’s methods but, as the sound of laughter drifted into the media suite, insisted United have the best of both worlds.

“We’re like a big family behind the scenes here,” he said. “That’s the best way I can put it and I think that’s one of the things which will stand us in good stead.

“We’ve got a games room up here and everyone hangs around to have a laugh and a joke after sessions. We also stay up here to eat our meals and there’s no division between the players and staff.

“It’s a really enjoyable place to be. Even the tea lady, Denise, joins in with the banter and is always having a joke at our expense.

“We’ve got good players here. A strong group with lots of options but you also need that spirit too.”

“Keith was brilliant for me and Shaun too,” Campbell-Ryce continued. “When I telephoned him over the summer to tell him I wasn’t going to be accepting their contract offer because Sheffield United were interested in me, Shaun was great about it and wished me all the best.

“I wish him the same but only after this match is over and done with.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1