Adam Eckersley ran away with the Scottish Championship title as a Hearts player just two years ago. Now he is experiencing the other end of the spectrum in Scotland’s second tier.
The full-back signed a short-term contract to join St Mirren until the summer and is desperate to help the Paisley club avoid relegation. If successful, he expects the euphoria to mirror that of May 2015, when Hearts were crowned champions by a 21-point margin from second-placed Hibs.
Eckersley’s joy was short-lived at the time as Hearts decided not to renew his contract. He subsequently moved across Edinburgh to Hibs and then headed to Canada last January to play for FC Edmonton in the North American Soccer League. He returned to Scotland to be reunited with St Mirren manager Jack Ross, the Hearts Under-20 coach during Eckersley’s time at Tynecastle.
The 31-year-old revealed he and his wife plan to stay in Scotland long-term, but for now the only priority is helping St Mirren stay in the league. They are currently five points adrift at the bottom of the Championship but have a game in hand on third-bottom Raith Rovers and second-bottom Ayr United.
“From where the club is just now, getting them out of this situation would be very satisfying. It would probably almost be like winning the league, albeit in reverse,” Eckersley told the Evening News. “After my first week here, I knew this wasn’t a team that should be going down. If we do manage to avoid the drop, it would be something I would be proud of. It would be a great achievement.”
A heel injury ruled him out of Wednesday night’s impressive 2-0 win over league leaders Hibs. He will also miss tomorrow’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Celtic.
“It’s tough because you always want to play against the best teams in the country. Celtic haven’t been beaten this year so I’d love to have gone into that game and given it a real go. However, there are other things at play at the moment. With the situation in the league, I need to stay focused on that and getting myself back to 100 per cent. I’m not quite there yet. There are a lot more league games coming so I want to be ready for them and try to get the club out of this situation that they’re in.”
The relationship between Ross and Eckersley rests on a strong bond forged at Riccarton two years ago. The Mancunian took to Ross and admired his coaching philosophy, so he had no hesitation picking the phone up when it was decided he wouldn’t return to Canada.
“I was waiting on a few clubs getting back to me in America. My Mrs told me about a week before I was due to get something sorted out that she didn’t want to go back there,” he explained. “She couldn’t work in the States because of visas and she wanted to get her career up and running. We have two small kids and I was away maybe two weeks out of the month. It’s a 16-hour journey to away games from Canada down to Puerto Rico, which is a long way to play a game of football. It just wasn’t the ideal situation. We went to Canada with the intention of not coming back but it just wasn’t what we thought it was going to be.
“My Mrs said she enjoyed Scotland and did I know anybody there. The first thing I did was give Jack Ross a call. I said to him: ‘Jack, do you know anybody up there who needs a full-back?’ He said: ‘Yeah, we do.’ So that was me. Jack said: ‘You know me from Hearts and you know how I want to play. I want to get the ball on the ground and move it side to side. Basically the football I enjoy. It suits me because it allows me to get forward. I felt it was a good fit. It’s always easy when you’re going to play for someone you have a lot of respect for and who you want to play for.
“Jack has got an open-door policy and he’s very approachable. You can go straight to him with any problems and he’s very comfortable to be around. We spoke to each other daily at Hearts. We used to speak about the games so I knew his take on what was and wasn’t acceptable in games.”
The Eckersleys now plan to put down roots in Scotland after moving into a home in Paisley. “Me and my wife spoke about this a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think we’ll be moving on again, more due to our kids,” said Eckersley. “I’ve moved them around from pillar to post for the last three or four years. There comes a point where it’s not fair on them because they need some stability. I don’t think I’ve done great by them by continuing to move them about. I think we’ll be staying put in Scotland for a while. I’ve got no plans to be moving on.”