Swansea City were 3-0 up and seemingly cruising midway through the second half of their FA Cup third-round tie at Tranmere Rovers last weekend when assistant manager Pep Clotet gave Adam King the signal he’d been waiting for ever since joining the English Premier League club from Hearts almost a year ago.
“Go and get yourself warmed up, you’re going on,” the teenager was told. It was the first time he’d heard those words as a Swans player and the adrenaline started coursing through him as he limbered up on the sidelines waiting for his big moment. Then Tranmere pulled one back just seconds before King replaced his fellow Scot Jay Fulton in the 71st minute. It made for a hairy baptism as the League Two side got their tails up and the crowd sensed a way back into the match. The 19-year-old kept his head in the middle of it all, however, and helped keep his team on course for what ultimately ended up a comfortable 6-2 victory.
“Tranmere had just scored when I went on and were applying a bit of pressure,” King told the Evening News as he reflected on his Swansea debut. “It was a little bit scrappy when I went on and their fans were up for it, so it was quite a lively environment. It was really good, I enjoyed it. We scored three goals in the time I was on and I felt I did very well.
“A few of our regular starting XI had been rested, but we still had Bafe Gomis, Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and boys like that playing, so it was great to be involved in.”
King had only been on the Swansea bench once previously, for a Premier League match away to Sunderland on the last day of last season, but didn’t make it on. In the build-up to last weekend’s cup tie, he had an inkling he might be involved but wasn’t sure enough to ask his football-daft parents Joe and Lisa to snub the Edinburgh derby – in which brother Billy was playing for Hearts – and head down to the Wirrall.
“Unless you’re starting you don’t get much indication in advance of whether you’re going to be involved because obviously the first XI work on their shape in training,” he explained. “I’d been on the bench at the end of last season, but this was the first game I felt that I might get a wee run-out.
“We took a bigger squad to Tranmere because we were doing two away games in the one trip. We went straight from London after the game at QPR [on New Year’s Day] up to Liverpool, and had a bit of training in between. That’s the reason we had a bigger squad than usual. Even then, the manager [Garry Monk] usually takes a few young boys with the squad for most games.
“I found out in the team meeting in the hotel in Liverpool before the game that I was going to be on the bench but it was only when the assistant manager told me to get warmed up in the second half that I knew I was definitely going on. It was too short notice to get the family down and also the derby was on the same day so they were all at that. They were apologising for missing it but I’m not too bothered about that.”
King moved to Swansea on a three-and-a-half-year deal as an 18-year-old last January despite having less than two and a half hours of first-team football under his belt at Hearts. The level-headed Portobello boy believes he has improved immeasurably since pitching up in South Wales. “The first year has been excellent,” he declared. “I’ve settled really well and I think I’m about 50 times the player I was when I first walked through the door. That’s come from training with world-class players. You learn something new every day. It’s just ‘pass-pass-pass’ all the time which suits me perfectly.
“It’s only a year ago that I was playing Under-20s with Hearts, so it’s gone really well for me in such a short space of time. To have made my debut less than a year after going down there, I’m absolutely delighted. My goal for the season was to get an appearance or two for the first team. That’s me made one, so hopefully there’s more to come. The management congratulated me afterwards and said I had worked hard to get my debut. That’s what it’s like down here. Right from the chairman down to the kit people, everybody’s been excellent since the day I stepped in the door. It’s brilliant.”
King, who made his Scotland Under-21 debut two months ago, is one of five players from the Swansea Under-21 squad who have been training regularly with the first team. His fellow Scots Stephen Kingsley, 20, and Fulton, 20, are among this number, with the latter having made five appearances, including two starts, since moving south at the same time as King.
“Five of the younger lads – us three Scottish lads and two others – have been training with the first team for a while now, so the manager’s trying to introduce us into that environment,” King explained. “Hopefully more chances will come to get games. Jay’s done really well when he’s played in the first team, so that gives me a bit extra inspiration. There’s going to be chances for the young boys this season and hopefully next season as well.”
King’s debut last weekend wasn’t simply a case of Swansea management throwing in a raft of youngsters for a cup tie. The ex-Jambo was the only player to make his debut and the only teenager in the match-day squad, reflecting his impressive form in the under-21 side.
“Because I train every day with the first team, I was already used to being around all the players that played last week,” he said. “The players have been brilliant with me since I came here. I’m training with the first team and playing with the under-21s so I’m getting high quality training as well as game time – that’s all you want.”
These are good times for the King family, with Billy, 17 months older than Adam, playing a big part in helping Hearts pull 13 points clear at the top of the Scottish Championship.
“I speak to Billy most days and keep an eye on his progress,” said King. “He’s doing well now and getting the plaudits he deserves for all his hard work. He’s kicked on this season and played a lot more games. He’s playing with a lot more confidence and getting his fair share of goals and assists.”
King is not surprised that Hearts have looked such a well-drilled outfit this season, having worked under head coach Robbie Neilson for five months when he was cutting his coaching teeth in charge of the under-20s. “Robbie was really good to work with, a really good man-manager,” said King. “He was always talking to me personally and giving me tips. You can see from the results Hearts are getting that he’s a good manager and hopefully he’s got big things to come as well. He works tirelessly every day. The under-20s training was quite intense under him and he’s taken that to the first team. The way he does training is the right way.”