Adam Eckersley did not have to think twice about joining Hearts when the opportunity to move to a city close to his heart arose.
After six years in Denmark, the 28-year-old former Manchester United left-back was initially keen to return to England. However, Eckersley considers Edinburgh as a home from home after he and his Danish wife Elisabeth tied the knot here a couple of years ago.
“I met Elisabeth after I had been in Denmark for five months and we hit it off straight away,” he explained. “But we couldn’t get married in England because you have to live there for seven days and while the season was on in Denmark we didn’t have the time to do that.
“So Scotland was the place we could come and get married quickly and then get back to business. I got married in the City Chambers, right near the Castle. I was here for two days and got a chance to walk around and I basically fell in love with the city.
“It has a lot to offer, a lot of nice places, houses, so it’s fantastic. My wife loves the place even more than I do.
“As a footballer it is much easier to settle in if you are in nice surroundings and stuff like that. When I first went to Denmark I struggled because I went from a big city like Manchester to a city with 70,000 people and it was a big culture shock to me.
“Everything shuts down on a Sunday, you can’t buy food in the big supermarkets. But Edinburgh is a huge city – expensive – but it’s fantastic. Denmark is not a bad country to live in but the tax kills you once you’ve been there six years.”
Eckersley has charisma and looks sure to emerge as one of the most vocal members of the Hearts squad. Having been schooled at Manchester United, learning – often the hard way – from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Roy Keane, pictured, and Cristiano Ronaldo, he will not be daunted by the prospect of aiding his new club’s Championship promotion push.
Recalling his time as a youngster at United, he said: “I was in a year when I had the last few months with Beckham, I had the new Ronaldo, a lot of the big players. There was Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rio [Ferdinand], Roy Keane, the list is endless. Then there is the manager himself, Rene Meulensteen, Brian McClair, Jim Ryan. I’ve had a lot of experienced people around me while I was growing up.
“I could not ask for a better upbringing. Even at under-18 level, I was actually playing against Beckham and Roy Keane was on my team. It was six-a-side and I was training with the first team and it was one of the first times I had been there. Beckham was swinging balls in from the side – I was meant to be marking him – and Ruud van Nistelrooy was putting his head on the end of them. Keano turned round to me and said, ‘will you stop those ****ing crosses’! I just looked at him and I was thinking in my head, ‘the best full-backs in the world can’t stop these crosses, I’m 18. What is it that you want me to do’. I s**t myself and just went, ‘okay Roy’.
“Becks just kept on whipping them in and Ruud kept on sticking his head on them. I got in my car as fast as I could after that and drove home and tried to forget about it. It’s the only way you learn though. People like that guide you and it’s a good environment to grow up in. With people like that you learn fast and you learn the hard way. That’s the way I like to be and I think I’ve taken that from him as well, I’m sure I’ll impose that on some of the young players here.”
Eckersley will never forget the time he got on the wrong side of Ferguson and his eagle eye. “He had his eye cast over everybody,” explained Eckersley. “He knew what everyone was doing all the time, he knew if you’d been out gambling. He had his spies out and I don’t know how he did it. He knew exactly what you were up to all the time.
“I went to the casino and I’m in the gaffer’s office the next morning, ‘what are you doing gambling?’ I was 18. I don’t know how he finds these things out. He told me the story about Keith Gillespie and how he was a gambler. I was in the office for 30 minutes getting a rollicking about gambling and the effects of it. He was a great manager, man-to-man he was fantastic. He gives you the rollicking, expects you to take it on board, then that’s it.”
So what are his memories of working alongside the man deemed by many as the greatest player in the world? “Getting absolutely abused in training, a few times,” he says of Ronaldo, who is just seven months older than him. “There was one time that I did really well against him and I thought, ‘I’m actually a very good player’. When you’re injured you’re all in the gym together so you get to interact with the first team so I spoke to him a few times. He’s a fantastic guy and a great professional.”
In Edinburgh derbies, Eckersley will encounter a familiar face in the shape of Hibs full-back David Gray. “He was a year below me at United but I played a few games with him,” he said. “He’s a nice guy. I played Call of Duty against him when I was in Denmark. He found me online. I’m not a geek or anything like that. I was so bored and the shops were obviously shut. We had a few battles on the computer – I took him down, of course.”