Callum Paterson believes Hearts’ turbo-charged start to the season – unbeaten in their first 12 Championship matches – played a huge part in his shock call-up to Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad.
And instead of turning out for the Tynecastle outfit’s Under-20 side against Ross County in Dingwall this afternoon he finds himself preparing for two huge internationals, Friday night’s European Championship showdown against the Republic of Ireland and then next Tuesday’s mouthwatering clash with the Auld Enemy, England.
Today the Gorgie defender admitted to having been left stunned by the sudden turn of events, drafted in after Stoke City star Phil Bardsley suffered a groin injury in his club’s 2-1 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane.
And although he admits it will take an even bigger twist of fate to see him get any further than the bench, he promised to lap up every minute of his time with Strachan’s players.
He revealed: “I’d been to the cinema with Sophie my girlfriend – we went to see ‘Gone Girl’, not my cup of tea but she enjoyed it – and saw I’d missed a call from Frank Reilly, one of the SFA’s administrators to say Gordon Strachan wanted to speak to me and that I had to phone him.
“It was a massive surprise but obviously I am delighted to be involved and I’m looking forward to it.”
A quick trip into Tynecastle to collect his boots and shin guards preceded a dash to the Scotland HQ at the luxurious Mar Hall Hotel on the banks of the River Clyde, determined to do his best to impress Strachan and hopefully ensure his name remains in the manager’s mind in the future.
But, he insisted, Hearts will also benefit, the 20-year-old said: “It’s going to be great for me. I wasn’t expecting to be involved in the squad but now I am here I’m going to try my hardest.
“Gordon Strachan just told me to knuckle down, to get my training done and to try to impress him which I’m certainly going to be doing.
“I think it’s also a great compliment to Hearts, to the manager and staff and the way the boys have been playing this season. It shows you that if you are doing well no matter what division you are in you have a chance. I’ve been happy with the way I have been playing. Hearts have been doing well in the Championship, we’ve been getting the results and we’re enjoying being top of the table.
“There’s the pressure that comes with that but last season and the season before weren’t great, sitting bottom of the table, relegation and all the problems at the club. But that’s all fixed now, everyone wants to win games, that’s what we have done and we’re looking forward to continuing to do that through the season.”
Paterson also believes establishing himself as boss Robbie Neilson’s first choice at right back has been of huge benefit to him after finding himself playing a variety of positions including centre forward over the past couple of years.
He said: “I’ve always said right back is where I feel most effective for the team but the club had been going through problems, we had a threadbare squad and I was happy to play anywhere to get on the pitch. But I feel it’s good for me now, I’m more settled .”
Although he had been named in Scotland’s Under-21 squad for next Tuesday’s friendly against Switzerland in Thun, Paterson admitted being promoted to the full squad was the perfect pick-me-up following his red card in the Edinburgh derby, the sending off ruling him out of Saturday’s win against Raith Rovers and this weekend’s trip to Falkirk. His Gorgie team-mates, Sam Nicholson, Jordan McGhee and Jack Hamilton, have all been given permission by the SFA to delay reporting to the Under-21 squad by 24 hours to allow them to face the Bairns, a dispensation unnecessary in his case.
He said: “It’s never a good idea to be sent off and find yourself suspended but this is a bit of a silver lining for me. I don’t know if the club might have asked for the same dispensation for me had I been available but I’m confident the boys can get the result we want at the weekend. I know I can train and focus on Scotland for what are going to be two huge games. It’s a different environment, different players, different coaches, a real change of scenery for me.
“I’ll be training with guys like Darren Fletcher who plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world so that’s a massive thing for me, to watch and learn from what players like him do in training.
“And being part of it all at Celtic Park on Friday night and again next Tuesday will be an unbelievable experience for me. Usually when players are called into an international squad for the first time it’s for a run-of-the-mill friendly but they don’t come any bigger than this, a vitally important European Championship match against Ireland and then England, two great occasions.
“I think every wee boy grows up dreaming about playing England but I might actually get the chance to do it.
“I don’t have too many happy memories of Celtic Park but hopefully these two games coming up will give me a couple of nights to remember.”