Edinburgh’s footballing stock has plummeted recently as first Hearts and then Hibs suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Scottish Premiership.
Whilst talking up an enthralling looking second tier containing Rangers and both Capital clubs, the Hearts midfielder Jason Holt doesn’t deny it is a blow for the city.
For the first time since the Scottish league was established 125 years ago, Edinburgh will not have a top-flight football club next season. Holt grew up watching Hearts compete in Champions League qualifiers and win Scottish Cups, whilst Hibs were involved in the UEFA Cup and Europa League and also won the League Cup.
Now, the landscape has changed significantly. The demise of Edinburgh’s football teams adds huge excitement to next season’s Championship but the city and its football heritage has taken a battering. “It can’t be a good thing. Both clubs want to be in the top league and I think they belong in the top league,” admitted Holt.
“As soon as we got hit with the 15-point deduction, we still had belief we could stay up but it didn’t happen. We went down and now Hibs have gone down as well. We had a difficult season with administration but we’re already looking forward to next season. From the fans’ point of view, there will be Edinburgh derbies and I think that will excite people.
“Although the [two] clubs are in the Championship I think the fans will still be looking forward to it. Also, most of the teams in there are in central Scotland. That allows more fans to travel to the away games than usual. In the Premiership there is a fair bit of travelling.”
Fresh from being granted a 12-month contract extension by Hearts, Holt is mindful of the task ahead after recovering from a broken metatarsal bone earlier this year. He wants promotion at the first time of asking. “I got back into the team and they’ve extended my contract now,” he continued.
“I’m looking forward to going again next season and we’ll try to bounce back as soon as possible. I think all the players who got extensions were looking to next season straight away. We’re all looking to see what impact we can make on the team and hopefully we can have a successful season next year.
“I think there will be a few new players coming in but ultimately we want to get Hearts back to the Premiership. There’s no doubt it will be an exciting league and a good standard as well. The Scottish Championship is always a good standard but, with Rangers, Hibs and ourselves there, it’s going to be exciting. I think the other teams in that league will be excited to play against Rangers, Hibs and Hearts. It will be a good experience.”
There are positives and negatives to the situation but those are on the backburner for Holt at the moment. He is on Scotland Under-21 duty this week and may have an important part to play in tonight’s European Under-21 Championship qualifier with Holland in Paisley. The young Scots, sitting fourth in Group 3, realistically need a victory to maintain their chances of qualifying for next year’s finals.
“It will be a different type of game to what a lot of us are used to every week. It’s always good going up against top-quality sides. You want to play the best and you want to try and beat the best,” continued the 21-year-old.
“I think any player would like to just play patient football and build up the play. It’s not always like that in games and it varies week to week depending which team you’re playing. You need to adapt to how the other team play.
“Going into any game, you’re looking to win. You know what to expect from Holland. They’re always a good team, very technical and they keep possession of the ball. We need to get in their faces and stop them playing.”
Holt is joined in the squad by Hearts colleagues Callum Paterson, Kevin McHattie and Jordan McGhee. “Since my injury, I’ve played a decent number of games so I’m obviously happy at getting called up,” he said. “It’s always great to come away and train with your country and represent them. I’m just happy to be here and be in amongst the boys. I wasn’t surprised at the call-up. I had played games for Hearts and I thought that was enough. I knew there was an under-21 game in May so I knew if I got back playing I would have a chance of getting in.
“It was a frustrating time being out injured. Just to get in that starting line-up for the first time since my injury [against Hibs on March 30] was a big relief. Now I want to do a good job against the Dutch and push on from there.”
Competition for places is fierce, however, within Billy Stark’s group. Every player can call upon some degree of first-team experience at club level. Some, like Holt, are regulars. The current Scotland Under-21 group – including promising youngsters like Stevie May, Stefan Scougall and Stuart Armstrong – is as strong as it has been for several years.
“That’s a good thing from my point of view,” said Holt. “A lot of boys around my age are playing first-team football week in, week out. It can only be good for the national team and player development. Maybe it wasn’t the case a few years ago, but now players are getting thrown in a lot younger by their clubs. That can only stand them in good stead. Experience is key at the end of the day. We’re still confident of qualifying. We’re going into this game looking for three points.”