Teenage hopeful Angus Beith believes Hearts have cultivated the perfect environment to allow hungry young players like himself to progress smoothly from the youth ranks to the first team.
Even though the club is now free of the restraints of administration, there is still a clear focus on developing homegrown talent. Of the 24 players who lined up in Hearts’ first two friendlies of the summer in England, 20 of them were aged 22 or under and 16 came through the academy at Riccarton.
For someone like Beith, who has been at the club since he was nine and is closing in on his competitive debut in the first team, seeing young players continue to flood the squad sends out an encouraging message and makes the transition to the top team far less daunting.
“I’ve progressed through the age groups, so I know most of the boys who are already in the first team,” the 18-year-old Buckstone boy told the Evening News. “It makes it a lot easier to come into the first-team set-up when you know most of the boys already. They’re so easy to talk to and get along with.
“You look at someone like Scott Robinson, who’s one of the main players in the team. He plays my position [midfield] so he’s someone I look up to but, because he’s come through the academy, I’ve known him for years and I feel really comfortable around him. And then there’s guys like Sam [Nicholson], who is a regular and is just a year older than me, so it’s such an easy environment to come into. If the team was full of older heads, it would probably be a bit more intimidating to come into it but I looked around the pitch in both games in England and I had mates from the academy playing in all positions.”
Like most young players at Hearts, first-team involvement for Beith has come earlier than anticipated. Just months after leaving Boroughmuir High School and signing on professional terms, he was rewarded for his impressive form in the under-20s with a debut in the friendly against Bundesliga side Wolfsburg last November.
The midfielder made it on to the bench a few times in the second half of last season, but never got as far as the pitch. If evidence of the past few days is anything to go by, it won’t be long before he finally samples top-team action, with Beith singled out for praise by head coach Robbie Neilson after being the only player in the squad to play more than 100 minutes in the two friendlies against Ludogorets Razgrad and Dinamo Bucharest in Leigh.
“It was a great experience to go away with the first team for the first time,” he said. “These sort of trips bring the team together. There was a lot of bonding for everyone and we did a bit of singing in the hotel as an introduction for the new boys. It’s amazing that I’m not even the youngest in the squad at the moment. Of my age group, Jordan McGhee’s the one who’s had the most first-team exposure, so he’s the one the likes of myself, Liam Smith and Liam Henderson will be trying to emulate this season.
“It was great to get a taste of it last season but it was probably a bit too soon for me because physically I wasn’t quite there. I didn’t expect to be involved at all so early because I was only 17, but it was great. It was brilliant to see how the guys prepare for games – I learnt so much. Hopefully, I can build on that this year and play a competitive game in the first team.”
Beith, whose mother Sarah is a huge Hearts fan, currently specialises as a holding midfielder but is keen to become more of an all-rounder in the mould of the impressive new recruit, Morgaro Gomis, whom he has played alongside in the two friendlies so far.
“Centre-midfield’s my best position but I played left-mid on Sunday and I’ve played left-back a few times,” he under-20s, I sat a bit more and was quite defensive but I want to add more of an attacking side to my game, get in the box and score goals.
“Gomis is so easy to play beside.
“He has come in and looks like a real player. I can learn so much from him. He talks me through the game at times and, if there’s something I’ve done wrong, he’ll tell me what to do. He never shouts or gets on your back, though. He just gives you encouragement and that’s what you want as a young guy coming into the first team.”