Exclusive: James Hill talks about a permanent Hearts move as his Bournemouth loan deal nears an end
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As a footballer, James Hill feels alive again. Joining Hearts on loan has revitalised the Bournemouth defender after too long watching from the sidelines in England. Time in Edinburgh is drawing to a close but a return at some point in the future would be given serious consideration.
Hill is contractually obliged to report to his parent club for pre-season training this summer. His lucrative Bournemouth deal runs until 2026 and, aged 21, he understandably still harbours ambitions of establishing himself in England’s Premier League. Hearts helped him regain belief and gain perspective for that task.
There have been peaks and troughs throughout 14 appearances in maroon since arriving in January, but Hill talks with genuine enthusiasm about life at Tynecastle Park. Should a future opportunity arise to become a bona fide Hearts player, he would be seriously tempted.
“It would definitely be in consideration because everyone at Hearts has been amazing,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “They’ve made me feel at home. I’m not out of place here. I feel like a massive part of this squad. When you have that belief, the sky is the limit.
“I owe it to the players, the manager, and also [former manager] Robbie Neilson when he was here. They made me feel like a player again. I haven’t felt like that in a long time – I can’t lie, it’s been difficult. I’ve been really honoured to pull on the Hearts jersey.
“I’ve learned so much. You play against different calibre of players in this league, physical and technical. The group at Hearts is incredible and the standard of this league is a surprise when other players step in because there is such quality.
“There are highs and lows but you have to stick together as a group. That has taught me about the frustration side of the game. You have to try to stay level-headed and just keep going. You can go places you don’t think you an actually get to if you keep believing.”
Hill’s performance against Celtic on Sunday was one of several positives Hearts could derive from the 2-0 defeat. A well-publicised argument with Tynecastle fans at Pittodrie in March led to the player apologising, and Sunday’s strong display at right-back was a major step on the road to redemption.
“That situation came across in the wrong way. I was only trying to say that I give it everything and that game didn’t go to plan. It never changed the way I want to perform for Hearts,” he explained. “I’m wearing the Hearts jersey so this is my club at the moment. This is all I'm focused on until the final whistle goes in the last game of the season.
“I love it here, it’s been amazing and I just want to keep going. Everyone said I had a really good game on Sunday but I think that should just be the norm. I need to stay in the starting XI and try to do that again in the next game and the next game. It doesn’t stop until the last kick of the last game.
“I love the fans here, they are incredible. Since the start they have been behind me and that has really helped. They were properly behind us from the first minute on Sunday and that showed in the first half. It helped put pressure on Celtic and they couldn’t get out.
“The lads were incredible. I think we dominated the first half and caused major problems going forward. We took the game to Celtic and had a couple of chances. The [Alex Cochrane] sending off kills us a bit. A couple of us were back in time to try and defend so I can’t really say if it was a clear red card. We dug deep and gave it everything. They scored the two goals but credit to the boys, we left everything out on the pitch.”
Versatility is a huge advantage for any player in the modern game and Hill is no different. He is very much a centre-back to trade, but the ability to deputise at right-back will be vital if he is to make an impact back at Bournemouth. His diligence in direct opposition to the quick and direct Celtic wingers Daizen Maeda and Jota proved the role is well within his capabilities.
“I’ve always wanted to start games, but if not then you need to support the person starting ahead of you. Going in at right-back, it’s a job I have to do,” he said. “I need to show I can play centre-half and right-back. It’s nice to add that to my game but there are things in the changing-room you don’t actually see.
“Right-back is new for me but the boys are actually helping me out before the game. They’re telling me what to watch out for and what I can do to benefit the team. This group are always trying to help each other. I hadn’t played right-back in a while but it gives you belief when the lads are right behind you.”
He might be deployed there again this weekend at St Mirren. Although an important summer lies ahead, Hill does not allow himself to think any further ahead than Saturday. “I’m not focusing on the end of the season. I know it’s round the corner but it’s about the next game for me because it’s so important for Hearts. I’m a Hearts player so I will keep going and giving 100 per cent.”