Harry Stone has all the answers as he prepares to be Hearts' No.1 goalkeeper
Standing near a group of preadolescent Hearts fans, Harry Stone is fielding questions even before our interview begins.
“Are you a goalkeeper? Can I get your goalie gloves? Can you get Stonesy for me?” The bombardment doesn’t faze him despite being only 19. “I’m Stonesy,” he replies. Pretty soon they will all know exactly who he is – the long-term successor to Craig Gordon
That’s fairly weighty expectation for any teenager to cope with but young Stone has exactly the right temperament for it. He deals with the kids confidently and politely before responding to a marginally more sensible line of questioning from the Evening News.
Being a goalkeeper, he’s doubtless heard all the puns like ‘Stone’s Throw’ and will have been compared to a wizard more often than most Harrys. But his chosen career path is a serious business and he knows precisely the target to aim for. When Gordon retires, Stone wants to step in for a seamless changing of the guard at Tynecastle Park.
This year’s pre-season friendlies are a taste of what might come for one of Riccarton’s latest youth academy graduates. Stone kept a clean sheet in a 45-minute outing at Linlithgow Rose on Saturday before another 73 minutes without conceding at Spartans on Tuesday night.
Show fans what he’s about
He commands his penalty area at 6ft 3ins tall, catches and handles the ball comfortably, plus he possesses the agility to make breathtaking saves when called upon. Whether it is opposition strikers, media journalists or starry-eyed kids posing the questions, Stone invariably has the answers.
“It’s great to get some minutes with the first team. I can show the fans who come along what I’m about,” he says. “They would have heard stuff but they haven’t really seen me play anywhere. This has been good to get some experience and get some minutes in the legs to prepare me for the season.
“I’ve been slowly acclimated so there weren’t too many nerves. I can imagine for some of the younger boys just coming in for the first time that there might be a few. For me, I have a bit more experience and I’ve also had a few loan spells in the lower leagues. They got me a bit more used to this kind of environment so I was okay.”
Those loans were at Spartans and Albion Rovers, plus a one-off outing for Stirling Albion. Two months in Coatbridge at the end of last season saw Stone help Rovers move away from the League Two relegation zone with some impressive saves in the process.
Another loan this season could be the final stage of his development before challenging for that first-team place at Hearts. “At the moment I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think it would be good [to go on loan again]. The best thing for me is to play games so we will have a chat and see what is to come,” he says.
“At the moment, I’m just focusing on pre-season and trying to play for Hearts as much as I can. All the feedback I’ve had from the coaches has been positive. They feel I’m doing well and they’re making sure I keep at it, so it’s been good so far.”
He comes across as an articulate and pensive young man who is eager to learn from established names like Michael Smith, Craig Halkett and John Souttar. Not to mention Gordon himself. “It’s the consistency of what they do. They’re at it for the full 90 minutes,” he points out.
“They are always fully concentrated and that’s something to learn from at my age. You look at how they approach the game and how they play for the full 90.”
One area of learning has taken a back seat for now. Stone’s academic ambition was to be a doctor and he achieved five ‘A’ grades in Highers at school. He also studied Advanced Higher Chemistry and Biology but sport has taken precedence over medicine. It is yet another question he answers unequivocally.
“I’ve spent the last year concentrating on football and as we move on I think football will be the number one focus,” he explains. “Maybe in the coming years I’ll take up a course of some sort. I know they do part-time uni degrees. That’s something I’d be interested in.
“For the moment, as I’m starting off in my career, I think it’s good for me to focus on the football 100 per cent. I want to make sure I get off to the best start I can.
“I would look at studying something medical in future, but obviously a full medical degree would be impossible to do part-time. It would take about 20 years. I’d look at something similar in that field which would keep my brain ticking over.”
He laughs at suggestions he is too intelligent to be a footballer. “I was at Spartans for six years before I joined Hearts [in 2015]. It really just started as a pastime, something I really enjoyed doing. Then it slowly became an opportunity to play full-time and do this as a career.
“As soon as Hearts picked me up when I was 12 or 13, that was it. I got told by my parents, ‘Hearts want you for a trial’. I was like, ‘wow’. It was a nice feeling to know that someone thinks you’re good at what you do. My parents were really proud. From that moment, I set my eyes on playing for the No.1 spot here.”