He won’t celebrate if he scores during his first game at Tynecastle in more than five years. Despite the somewhat tasteless way Hearts’ Russian hierarchy chose to portray his exit in 2012, David Templeton still reserves plenty affection for the club which launched his career.
The baby face has gone, replaced by defining features and a more manly beard to accompany his renaissance at Hamilton Academical. The winger is now 28 and a key player for the Lanarkshire club as they prepare for Saturday’s visit to Edinburgh.
He can count three goals and an assist in Accies’ last four matches – proof that he is now fully recovered from the medial knee ligament injury which claimed almost two years of his career. One of those goals came against Rangers, the club for whom he left Hearts. More of that later. He tried not to celebrate scoring at Ibrox and plans to show similar decorum should he find the net at Tynecastle.
“I wouldn’t celebrate, just out of respect. I tried not to do that the other week against Rangers. I think I’ll always be that way. It just brings grief that you don’t need,” said Templeton in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“I loved it at Hearts, I played my best football there and the fans were always good with me. I’m looking forward to going back. It will be good with the new stand, which makes a massive difference to Tynecastle. It will be great to play there in front of an even bigger crowd.”
Templeton’s last appearance at Tynecastle was against Liverpool in the first leg of a Europa League play-off tie in August 2012. He would go on to score arguably his most memorable Hearts goal in the return leg at Anfield, just hours before signing for Rangers. His departure still grates.
“Basically, I was forced out,” he explained. “Hearts needed the money badly. Players weren’t getting paid and there was the threat of going into administration. They basically said I had to sign for Rangers and, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t play again. I would train with the Under-20s. It wasn’t great.
“When I left, they put out a statement saying they offered me so many contracts. They didn’t, though. They offered one. They also said I had such a bad attitude and was dying to leave. All of it was nonsense and it wasn’t nice seeing that coming out after I’d spent five and a half years there. I loved the club as well.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone at the club. It was a weird feeling. I was scoring at Anfield and the next day on the way back up I had to go and meet my agent straight away to go to Murray Park, and that was it done. I was no longer a Hearts player.
“I didn’t actually know the deal was going through until we were nearly home. We were just getting close to Edinburgh and that’s when my agent phoned me. I’d kept it quiet because I didn’t know exactly what was happening. When I met my agent and heard about Hearts saying I wouldn’t play again, that kind of swayed me.”
Criticism for moving from Scotland’s top flight to the fourth division followed, unfairly or not. Rangers were starting again after liquidation but still paid a reported fee of almost £700,000 for Templeton. His four-year contract there ended disastrously in summer 2016 when he was released whilst fearing his career could be over due to injury.
A block tackle in the last minute of Rangers’ first league game of the 2015/16 season was the start of a nightmare 21-month period. “I did my medial ligament before at Stenhousemuir so I knew the feeling. I knew it was torn,” said Templeton. “After a few weeks, I still had a bit of pain and knew it wasn’t right. I got an injection, which helped, but as soon as I kicked a ball it broke down again. I went to different surgeons trying to get to the bottom of it.
“It was worse mentally than it was physically. After the first operation, it started to heal but I was still in pain. That’s when it started to get really tough. I was thinking: ‘Is this going to get sorted? Will I get back?’ Not knowing if I’d come back made it hard mentally.”
A second operation using a microscopic camera identified another tear and, finally, a solution. Templeton still had to recover and find somewhere to train in order to start rebuilding his career. He spent months as a free agent, rejected a move to Edinburgh City, trained with Dundee United and went on trial with the Canadian club Vancouver Whitecaps. A phonecall from Hamilton’s director of football Ronnie MacDonald earlier this year was the break he needed.
“I was looking for somewhere close to train. I was carrying a bit of weight and I wasn’t fit or sharp,” admitted Templeton. “Ronnie phoned me and said he wanted me to sign for Hamilton. He didn’t want to see me in training. Knowing I was signing, I wasn’t under too much pressure to impress. It was great to know they believed in me before I’d even played for them. It was a nice feeling, especially with the knee injury I had because I know that puts teams off.
“It’s not as bad an injury as you might think. It could have been sorted inside four months, but instead it took 21. I owe Hamilton a lot for taking a gamble on me.”
He has always been a Premiership player in ability. Fitness levels are now nearing what they should be.
“For some strange reason, I feel I’m better playing at the higher level. I feel I do well against better players, which is quite bizarre. I thought I did well when I was at Hearts so it’s great to be back in the top flight again. With the way I’ve played in the last month, I can now see that I can still play at this level.
“To be fair, I’ve never been the fittest player in the world. I’m not naturally fit. I just needed a run of games for match fitness. I was coming off early and I only played my first 90 minutes for Hamilton at the weekend there. I felt a lot better for it.”
Restoring his career, and reputation, means everything to David Templeton.