David Templeton on THAT move from Hearts to Rangers, 'Davie Cooper' burden and what's next after hanging up his boots aged just 32
It will remain among the strangest Scottish transfers for all time. Newspaper reports of David Templeton scoring for Hearts against Liverpool at Anfield were not even fish and chip paper by the time news had broken that he was signing for a club in the fourth tier of Scottish football.
They were of course unusual circumstances, unlikely ever to be repeated. Rangers might have been in the Third Division but they were not having things their own way. They had dropped points in two of their opening three league games and with a signing embargo set to be implemented from September 1, 2012, they needed reinforcements.
The Ibrox side looked east to Hearts, who were in Europa League qualifying play-off action against Liverpool. Rangers, meanwhile, were preparing to host Elgin City following a League Cup tie against Falkirk.
The very obvious delight of the travelling fans when Templeton’s shot squeezed through goalkeeper Pepe Reina’s hands to give Hearts the lead against Liverpool was shared by the Tynecastle club’s owner Vladimir Romanov, as it probably put another £100,000 on the player’s value.
Normally the talk is of money tricking downwards in football. In this rare case, it splurged upwards – around £700,000 of it. Romanov had been counting on this windfall.
“We played the game and then stayed over in Liverpool,” he recalls now. “The transfer window was that day. I nearly went in January to Bristol City so I knew there was a potential chance I’d be leaving. I could have gone anytime in the summer but then it happened on the last day of the window.
“I was travelling back up and my agent phoned me and said: ‘can you go straight to the Hilton near Murray Park?’” he recalls. “I was on the bus. It was in the media and obviously I had to act as if nothing was happening. I spoke to Ryan McGowan because Hearts had accepted an offer for him as well although he ended up not going.
“I had not made my mind up yet. On the way my agent got a phone call basically saying that if I did not accept it then I would not play for Hearts again, the usual stuff. Obviously, the fans did not know that at the time.”
Another club, which he refuses to name but could be speculated as playing in green and white hoops, also came in for him, but their preference was for the winger to see out his contract before signing in the summer for nothing. Templeton could not afford to take the risk of breaking his leg and putting any future move in jeopardy. He signed for Rangers and accepted the ensuing flak.
Templeton had gone from giving Hearts fans one of their biggest-ever highs to being declared public enemy No 1. The feeling of betrayal was compounded by the wounding slight: Rangers in the fourth tier are a more enticing proposition than Hearts in the top flight. For fans of a club with a proud history and grand intentions, that was hard to take down Gorgie way.
Templeton got it in the neck when he returned to Tynecastle with Rangers and was named sub, which meant warming up in front of the old main stand enclosure. “I was getting slaughtered all the way down! They were calling me a rat, money grabber!”
Of course, the footballing landscape had become warped in 2012. Rangers were still able to pay the players considerably more than Hearts were at the time. A four-year contract could set a player up for life. This is a consideration brought into sharper focus after what has befallen Templeton recently. “There is more to life than football,” he says.
We are sitting in a Glasgow café reminiscing about his career at the end of the second full week of life as an ex-footballer. He is only 32.
A chronic hamstring problem has finally terminated the career of one of Scottish football’s erstwhile brightest stars. Even recently, in these later, injury-affected years, he could be relied on to help change a game, as illustrated in his cameo from the bench for Hamilton Accies earlier this season. Templeton came on with 25 minutes left and his side 4-1 down at Raith Rovers and helped set up two goals in a remarkable 4-4 draw.
Two games later, more hamstring trouble. Another MRI scan, some more heart-to-hearts with wife Robyn and Accies manager Stuart Taylor, among others, and it was all over for David Cooper Templeton. What a cross that was to bear. Given this name by his father in tribute to the Rangers and Scotland winger, Templeton could easily have felt enervated by the comparison. Instead, he met it head on, even changing to become a winger at Hearts after making the breakthrough as a striker at Stenhousemuir under Des McKeown.
Dad Henry, a skilful player for Ayr United in the late 1980s, has since drifted from his son’s life while Templeton junior has recently become a father himself, following the birth of Rhen. There is no football-inspired middle name. There is no pressure on extending the Templeton footballing heritage. Indeed, being able to play with his son without feeling constant pain was a major reason why he decided to hang up his boots.
“If I did not have my son I would probably have stayed and tried to go down different avenues and see if there were other ways to sort it,” he says. Templeton revealed he was even considering stem cell treatment and could still go down that route.
Admiration for the winger increases given he made his way in a tough world while searching out his own mentors, among them the likes of McKeown, Jim Jefferies and Paulo Sergio, despite the latter leaving him out of the 2012 Scottish Cup final squad for the 5-1 win over Hibs. Templeton reckons he played his best football, including scoring a goal for the ages in an Edinburgh derby in 2010, under the supportive Jefferies.
Sidelined by a ruinous knee injury at Rangers, there were times when all he needed was an arm around his shoulder. Football can be brutal. When his contract with the Ibrox club ended, at the end of the 2015/16 season, he went to watch their Scottish Cup final defeat to Hibs and then … went home. There was no further contact.
He had missed almost the entire season after a perfectly fair block tackle from St Mirren’s Stuart Carswell damaged ligaments in his knee in Mark Warburton’s first league game in charge.
“At the end of that season, when my contract was up, I was still injured at the time and I had it in my head that I would just retire then,” he says. “Then I saw the surgeon and managed to sort it. If I had known about the injuries to come, maybe I would just have called it a day back then.”
That would have meant missing out on two spells at Hamilton Accies as well as a longed-for taste of English football with Burton Albion, where he played under Nigel Clough and reached the Carabao Cup semi-final.
It’s heartening to know he is not scunnered with football completely. He will continue watching as well as coaching the Under-14s at Accies. He is also in the process of establishing a soccer school with former Ibrox team-mate Kyle Hutton in areas of Glasgow not currently patrolled by former professional footballers offering such a service, which isn’t easy. “Charlie Miller is in Toryglen, for example. You don’t want to be stepping on someone’s toes!” he says.
As much as anything, he is simply looking forward to going to watch football for enjoyment – although he won’t be at today’s meeting between Hearts and Rangers, his two old sides. “I wouldn't want to pick an end to sit at,” he says. He has transferred his loyalties since growing up a Celtic supporter.
“Obviously there are people who are massive fans who play football and yet who would say I will never sign for such and such… for me, now, I am a Rangers fan, I am a Hearts fan, I am a Hamilton fan …
“I support whoever I played for. If Celtic and Rangers play in the Old Firm, I want Rangers to win. You support who you played for.”