Hearts striker Cole Stockton held talks with Motherwell about a potential summer move to Lanarkshire. He eventually opted for Tynecastle and faces what might have been his new employers today at Fir Park.
The player revealed how Motherwell tried to tempt him north when he was leaving English National League side Tranmere Rovers. They were put off by Tranmere’s demands for a transfer fee, although Hearts managed to secure Stockton for free when he signed a two-year contract in June.
He has been a peripheral member of the Edinburgh club’s squad so far, appearing as a substitute in three Betfred Cup ties and one league fixture at Kilmarnock. He is again expected to be on the bench this afternoon when Hearts travel to Motherwell, the club who coveted his signature.
“I did speak to them in the summer. At first, I was more wanting to stay down in the north west area of England,” said the man from Huyton in Merseyside. “Then I spoke to Austin MacPhee [Hearts’ assistant coach] and I thought: ‘I fancy that.’ I couldn’t wait to come up here.
“I only spoke to Motherwell once or twice over the phone and nothing came of it. I think Tranmere wanted a fee but somehow we worked our way round it and read into it that they weren’t going to get one. That was that.
“It’s mad how it’s worked out. It’s all written and panned out for you, isn’t it? I’ve just got to enjoy my time up here now and make the most of it.
“No disrespect to Motherwell, they are a good footballing team and a big club. Hearts just sucked me in straight away.”
Motherwell know all about the merits of scouring the National League market south of the border. Their star striker, Louis Moult, was procured from that very division two years ago. It is an untapped resource, according to Stockton.
“It definitely is. I think people get the perception of, ‘oh, he’s come from the Conference’. I don’t think it’s like that. I’ve been there, I’ve been in League One with Tranmere and League Two with Morecambe so I know what they’re like. Against the top five teams in the Conference, you’re always expecting a good game.
“Obviously you’ll go to North Ferriby away on a Tuesday night, and that’s just pulling your sleeves up. You’ve got to get on with it. Last season was all worth it because we got to play at Wembley [in the play-off final]. Although the result wasn’t what we wanted all those horrible away trips were worth it for that.”
Asked about Moult being proof of the non-league talent in England, Stockton replied: “He’s a good example. Just believe in yourself.”
The 23-year-old is sticking to his own advice whilst awaiting a chance at Hearts. He is prepared to be patient whilst Kyle Lafferty and Esmael Goncalves occupy the forward berths for now.
“I’m enjoying it, I’m just looking to get into the team permanently now,” said Stockton. “As a centre-forward, you’ve got to be patient. It’s been slightly harder because it’s a better standard but that can only benefit me in the long run. I’m patient enough so I’m looking forward to my chance.
“The tempo of the training sessions is quicker and the quality of some of the lads is very good. It’s going to benefit me and I feel like I fit in well.
“You’ve got to be patient. You can’t just spit your dummy out if you’re not playing because it’s not going to benefit you, is it? I feel I’ve been patient enough so I’m looking forward to getting a chance. I feel at home here. Coming into the club every day, the lads and the staff are all brilliant with me. I don’t really go into the city a lot. I do when my family are up or my bird wants to go shopping. Apart from that I’m happy to stay at home.”
Stockton consulted a friend in the former Motherwell midfielder Steve Jennings about what to expect in Scotland. He received a glowing recommendation of the Ladbrokes Premiership and an instruction to take the opportunity to join Hearts.
“I spoke to Jennings and he just said: ‘Good luck, you’ll love it up there. Just play your normal game and they’ll accept you for that.’”
However, the player admits he hasn’t exactly stuck to playing his “normal” game. An eagerness to impress coaching staff at Riccarton saw him trying different things which he wouldn’t normally do. He insists he has now reverted to type in recent weeks.
“At first, I wasn’t playing like I normally do. I’d got it in my head that I have to impress and sometimes you start changing your own game. I’m like, ‘hang on a minute, what am I doing that for because that’s not me’.
“In the past month I’ve settled in a lot and played my own game a lot better. Match fitness comes into play so once I’m fully match fit and played some games I’ll feel a lot better.”