WHEN it comes to the matter of youngsters at Hearts finding their feet in the first team, Walter Kidd knows what he’s talking about.
He broke through as a raw 19-year-old in the late 1970s soon after being plucked from the Junior ranks and went on to be a highly-regarded long-serving right-back, to the point where he has just been named in a best-ever Hearts XI, chosen by club legend and Evening News columnist Gary Mackay.
During his 15 years at Tynecastle, Kidd – who goes by the nickname Zico – also saw at first-hand how the likes of Mackay, John Robertson and Dave Bowman came through the ranks and then eventually went on to become seasoned Premier League club campaigners.
With Hearts manager John McGlynn currently attempting to funnel extra youth into the side, Kidd senses the club he loves are in for a difficult season, but one which could go on to be rewarding in the long run if enough of the youngsters prove themselves up to the task of playing first-team football.
He said: “John’s been playing a few players out of position and trying things out, but once he gets a settled team, with a steady back four, hopefully things will settle down and he can bring more kids in gradually. It’s going to be a very hard season for the club, though, because it’s hard to bring kids in and get them to settle in right away. Right now I’d be happy with just making the top six. Usually kids will come in, have half a dozen good games and then go off the boil a bit, so you’ve got to be able to take them out and put others in.
“Consistency is the hardest thing to get from young players. They’ll often do well to start with because they’re thinking ‘oh yes, I’m in the team’ but there comes a spell when they go off form and you then have to look to take them out the team. That’s the hard bit for Hearts because we’ve not got a big squad to put others in. If you can’t take them out when they have a slump, there’s a danger of them dipping really badly.
“John’s dealt with kids before, though, so he’ll have a good idea of when to pull them out and when to put them back in again. I think we’ll get a few coming through at Hearts.”
Callum Paterson is the new kid on the block currently making the biggest impact at Tynecastle and Kidd, who has been involved in coaching the youth teams at Livingston, can relate to what the 17-year-old is going through as he bids to establish himself as a first-team footballer in the SPL.
“Gary Mackay, Davie Bowman, Ian Westwater and John Robertson were the main ones that came through when I was at Hearts,” he recalls. “I saw them come to the club as young as 16 and then come right through. They took their time to get in but once they got their chance you could see they were quality players and they never really dropped out much after that, although Ian moved on.
“I remember when I first broke through, it was a great feeling. But the hardest part is staying in the team. Managers are always looking to improve the team, so you get new players coming in all the time, but I always managed to keep everyone at bay and keep my position, until Alan McLaren came on the scene in the early 1990s. You looked at Alan and just knew he was a player. I can relate to what guys like Callum Paterson are going through just now. You’re buzzing that you’re in the team but it can be very difficult. It will be especially difficult for Callum because he’s only 17 but he’s done very well so far. He just needs to keep his head down and keep improving. When you stop improving, that’s when you come unstuck.”
Kidd is a regular in the Tynecastle crowd these days and was in the away end at Anfield a fortnight ago as Hearts pulled off one of the greatest results in their history, so he is well-acquainted with how things are shaping up under McGlynn.
As a former foraging right-back, he is particularly encouraged by the partnership developing on the Hearts right, with Paterson having been moved up to right-midfield and Ryan McGowan dropping back to right-back after some early-season experimentation from the manager.
“At this moment in time I’d keep Callum at right midfield and keep Ryan McGowan at right-back,” said Kidd. “Callum gave away a penalty a few weeks ago playing right-back but nine times out of ten he won’t be in that position if he’s playing in midfield. Having McGowan playing behind him will also be a steadying influence. I know McGowan’s only a young lad himself but he’s improved ten-fold in the last year.”
While these two young Riccarton products harbour ambitions of writing themselves into Hearts folklore, Kidd already has the distinction of being singled out as the club’s greatest-ever right-back by Hearts’ record appearance holder. Speaking at the launch of Gary Mackay’s Hearts Dream Team book, Kidd jokingly suggested that he had only been chosen as he remains such close friends with his former team-mate. “I think Bobby Parker was also in his thoughts, but he’s probably picked me because I played with him for a number of years and because we know each other so well. It’s a great honour to be picked by someone like Gary because he’s Hearts daft, sometimes to his detriment.”
• Gary Mackay’s Hearts Dream Team, Black & White Publishing is published today, priced £11.99